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close this bookRwanda in its Regional Context: Human Rights, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation (North South Centre)
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View the documentBurundi: the spiral of fear
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Introduction

THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON RWANDA IN ITS REGIONAL CONTEXT: HUMAN RIGHTS, RECONCILIATION AND REHABILITATION was organised by the North-South Centre and the Dutch National Committee for Development Education (NCO) from 16-17 September 1994 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague,. The Conference was held under the joint auspices of the Secretaries General of the Council of Europe and the Organisation of African Unity.

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Mr Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, then President in Office of the Organisation of African Unity, kindly accepted the Honorary Presidency of the Conference and was represented by Mr Habib Ben Yahia, the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Council of Europe was represented by its Secretary General, Mr Daniel Tarschys, by a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, Mr Alexander Tchernoff.

In a Declaration on the future role of the Council of Europe in European construction, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 5 May 1989, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Council of Europe state that the primary objective of the Council is to promote co-operation in Europe. "However," the Declaration continues, "the Organisation must remain open to the world on account both of the growing interdependence of international relations and of the universality of its values and principles. It will consolidate its traditional ties of friendship with the major democracies of America and other continents. Within its political dialogue, it will pay attention to events in the world where its principles and ideals are being either violated or promoted."

The Council of Europe's Heads of State reinforced this statement in their Declaration adopted at the Vienna Summit in October 1993: "We also affirm that the deepening of co-operation, in order to take account of the new European situation, should in no way divert us from our responsibilities regarding North-South interdependence and solidarity."

The Rwandan tragedy represented an event where the Council's principles and ideals were violated in a most horrible manner. As Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Hans van Mierlo, commented in his opening statement to the Conference: "There seem to be no limits to man-made disasters and, indeed, a man-made disaster it was".

In his welcoming speech, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe described the initiative to convoke this Euro-African gathering as "a matter of urgency" and stated that "the tragic events in Rwanda, with still hundreds of thousands of suffering refugees and displaced persons, called for urgent and immediate action". They also required practical steps and possible long-term strategies for reconciliation and reconstruction, he added, which included the development of a society based on the respect of human rights and the cultural identity of all its members.

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Tunisia stressed in his statement, presented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that the holding of the Conference bore witness to the great importance which the organisers attached to the humanitarian dimension of North-South relations. He used the occasion to reiterate his appeal to the entire international community, and to Europe in particular, in which African countries invested strong hopes for increased support both for the peace process and for development in Rwanda and Africa in general.

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Mr Pasteur Bizimungu, appealed to the participants to stand by the people of Rwanda at this difficult time, to reflect on the meaning of the dramatic events - on the why, the how, and also the why not and, starting from this tragedy, to try to reconstruct a new history of hope and freedom.

The Conference brought together two hundred participants from more than forty countries, representing governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities and non-governmental organisations (the "quadrilogue"), as well as representatives of the media. Over the period of two days, this Euro-African forum discussed the Rwandan situation in its many different dimensions and complexities and offered a wealth of ideas and proposals, which are set out in this report.

The Minister for Development Co-operation of the Netherlands, Mr Jan Pronk, facilitated the organisation of the Conference and played an active intermediary role during the event. His deep concern about the course of events in Rwanda and developments in the region led him to take several initiatives to promote humanitarian assistance and policies towards reconciliation. The Dutch National Committee for Development Education (NCO) took the opportunity to spread additional information and to raise media discussions both on the developments in the Central African region and on Euro-African relations, by acting as co-organising body of the Conference.

The Conference gave rise to THE APPEAL OF THE HAGUE, which lists a number of concrete proposals for follow-up to the discussions. As stated by one of the participants at the closing session: "What is important now is to make sure that these words do not remain mere letters on paper but that the necessary action is taken to implement these ideas and to find solutions to the many problems."

It is encouraging to note that, shortly after its adoption, the Appeal was endorsed by NGOs enjoying consultative status with the Council of Europe, as well as by the Liaison Committee of Development NGOs to the European Union, which co-operated in the organisation of the Conference and which represents 700 organisations engaged in development co-operation. The ACP-EU Joint Assembly also referred to the Appeal in its resolution on Rwanda adopted at its session in Libreville in October 1994. Similarly, the Council's Parliamentary Assembly Standing Committee as well as the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography and Sub-Committee on Refugees endorsed the Appeal and adopted Resolution 1050 on "Rwanda and the Prevention of Humanitarian Crises". In the Resolutions, the North-South Centre is referred to as the Council's platform for reflection and initiatives in this field. More endorsements by politicians and institutions will be needed for words to become acts.

During the closing session of the Conference, participants called on the Council of Europe and the Organisation of African Unity to form a follow-up committee with the support of Conference chairman, Ambassador Ami Mpungwe, who presided over the Arusha peace negotiations.

In view of the complex and inter-related developments in the region surrounding Rwanda, a short analytical section has been included in this report with reference to Burundi. This has been written in a context of hope that lessons will have been learned from the Rwandan tragedy which might help to prevent history from repeating itself.

The North-South Centre was asked to actively pursue a process of seeking implementation of the Conference proposals, bearing in mind the Conference's final appeal to the OAU, the Council of Europe and the European Union "to initiate a process towards a new relationship between Africa and Europe, aiming at genuine equal partnership based on the quest for sustainable socio-economic development, security and respect for human rights, democracy and good governance."

In this connection, the North-South Centre took the initiative to convene a Euro-African Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and Partnership on 2 May 1995 on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. The Centre has also pursued several follow-up initiatives in the region, in co-operation with the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations.

MR JOS LEMMERS,
Executive Director.
The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe.

MR TON WAARTS,
Executive Director,
The Dutch National Committee for Development Education (NCO).