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Rwanda: the new European commitment


International Conference in the Hague

The 'International Conference on Rwanda in its regional context', held on 16 and 17 September in The Hague (Netherlands), was the first high level meeting on this country since the start of the most recent crisis. In the unfolding tragedy that is Rwanda, unspeakable horrors have been visited upon the population and continue to be experienced by those who become refugees. The trauma of having loved ones snatched away, or daily staring death in the face, mingles with the fear of reprisals which is felt by the guilty and innocent alike.

Organised by the North-South Centre (Lisbon, Portugal) and the National Committee for Development Education (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), under the patronage of the Council of Europe and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Conference brought together politicians, NGO representatives, researchers and witnesses to the tragedy. The person whose arrival was most eagerly awaited was the new President of Rwanda, on his first visit abroad.

Following the initial 'paralysis' induced by the revelations about events in Rwanda, there was a need to pick up the threads quickly. The events were so harrowing to all who witnessed them, whether close at hand or from a safe distance, that many must have wondered how they would have reacted if they had been caught up on one or other side (if indeed, there are only two sides). Above all, why had such a terrible situation arisen?

The fact that the Hague Conference was organised by two study centres from countries which have never been involved in the history of Rwanda (Portugal and The Netherlands) helped to give the event the stamp of neutrality which was essential to its effective functioning. During the initial plenary session, speeches were delivered by Rwandan President, Pasteur Bizimungu (who was accompanied by three of his government ministers), as well as by ministers of the former government which has been accused of involvement in the tragic events. A representative of the Twa community, know as the Pygmies of Rwanda, who are very much in the minority compared to the Hutu and Tutsi, was also present. In his speech, he demanded protection for the Twa people, stressing the fact that his community had suffered most in the massacres of spring 1994 (20 000 out of a total Twa population of 29 000 are thought to have perished).

In addition to hearing from prominent Rwandans, the conference was addressed by the Dutch Foreign Minister (Hans Van Mierlo), who opened the session, his ministerial colleague in charge of cooperation and development (Jan Pronk), the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe (Daniel Raschys), the Foreign Minister of Tunisia (Habib Ben Yahia) on behalf of the President-in-offfice of the OAU, the President of Tunisia (Zinc El Abidine Ben Ali), the Director-General responsible for international relations at the European Commission (Ivo Dubois), the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations who heads the Economic Commission for Africa (Layashi Yaker) and many other prominent people.

The plenary session was followed by three workshops on the following subjects:

- Building confidence and working towards reconciliation in Rwanda: democracy and the protection of the rights of the individual;
- Rehabilitation strategy and preventive diplomacy in a regional context;
- Images of Africa: public awareness, education and information.

As well as the prominent people already mentioned, members of European and African governments and representatives of many international bodies, including the United Nations, the Red Cross, the EU institutions and non-governmental organisations, also participated in the working sessions.

For a new Europe-Africa partnership

The resolutions, drawn up on the basis of the workshops and the forum of governments and NGOs held at the end of the Conference, took the form of an appeal in favour of continuous support from the international community for the Rwandan refugees and displaced persons within the country, on the one hand, and the effective establishment of an international tribunal to bring to trial the perpetrators of what the participants consider to be a planned genocide, on the other. To do this, the final press release considers the organisation of an international conference of the United Nations, the OAU, inter-governmental organisations and NGOs on humanitarian aid to be a matter of urgency. It invites these bodies to support the efforts of the new Rwandan government to forestall acts of vengeance and reprisals, and also to provide appropriate aid for the rehabilitation of the country, stressing the special needs, such as 'professionalisation' of the local press, to prevent excesses similar to those of the former Radio des Milles Collines, accused of having encouraged the massacres. In exchange for this support, the new leaders of the country should undertake to respect the principles of democracy, human rights and those of the press, and to promote reconciliation and dialogue. To ensure lasting peace, the Conference also calls for financial and material aid for Rwanda and its neighbouring countries and the establishment of a 'long-term observatory' to forestall conflicts, together with limitation and transparent control of arms supplies to the countries of the region. And, to conclude, the Conference urges strengthening of the structures of the OAU, especially the African Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of Peoples, and the creation of an African Court to ensure respect for these rights. This appeal to the international community is addressed more specifically to the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OAU, in respect of the urgent definition of a true partnership between Europe and Africa, based on equity and aiming for lasting socio-economic development.

European Commission, supportive, but cautious

Already, prior to the Conference of The Hague, one of the European institutions, the European Parliament, had taken the initiative of sending an important mission to Rwanda, from 21 to 31 July, led by Lord Plumb, Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly. On their return, its members presented their preliminary confusions to the Council of the European Union. They recommended recognition by the countries of the Union of the new Rwandan government and called for significant Community aid in many fields, such as technical assistance for the judicial system, government administration, the banking system and the police force. They also requested significant aid for rehabilitation of infrastructures, as well as medical assistance and food aid, for both the refugees outside the country and the local population. They advised that the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) should be sent to the spot as a matter of urgency to coordinate the activity of NGOs. These recommendations by participants in the mission were taken up in the form of a resolution, on 15 September, the eve of the International Conference on Rwanda, by the Parliament meeting in plenary session in Brussels.

The European Parliament mission was followed by another by the 'troika' (the three Ministers for Foreign Affairs, of the country holding the rotating presidency of the European Union, the country preceding it and the country which is to take the next turn) from 28 August to 3 September to Rwanda and neighbouring countries.

Following this mission, the European Commission decided to grant humanitarian aid of ECU 5 million to Rwanda, which is to be used primarily in the electricity and water distribution sector. ECHO has already allocated ECU 200 million to the victims of the Rwandan and Burundian crisis since October 1993, to which are added ECU 60 million in food aid. The European Commission is currently examining a plan for ECU 100 million for a programme to rehabilitate the Rwandan economy. It also declares itself to be ready, in liaison with the Member Stat" of the Union, to give assistance in setting up an International Tribunal to judge the serious crimes committed in the spring of 1994.

But the promises made by the European Commission representative in The Hague were made on the basis of the 'good democratic intentions' shown by the new Rwandan government. He specified that this 'consideration is not exclusive of a certain vigilance as to the legal guarantees offered to the population'. There are worrying reports, drawn up recently by human rights organisations, of bloody revenge perpetrated by partisans of the new Rwandan regime. It is true that these are not believed to be on anything like the same scale as the earlier mass killings, but the international solidarity from which the new regime benefits could well be undermined, if it does not manage to control the situation and keep to its promises. On the other hand, the claims of people close to the former government about the formation of a guerilla movement aimed at destabilising the Kigali authorities, strengthen the argument of delegates to the Hague Conference concerning the urgency of involvement by the international community in order to avoid a repeat of the horror.

Hl Goutier