Home > Research and expertise > Research highlights > World regions and development > Aid agencies neglecting Rwandan genocide survivors


Aid agencies neglecting Rwandan genocide survivors

Culture of racism is perpetuated by failure to focus on survivors

Aid agencies are neglecting genocide survivors in Rwanda, contributing to their continuing marginalisation and impoverishment, according to new LSE research.

Noam Schimmel, a PhD student in LSE's Department of Media and Communications, spent four months in Rwanda interviewing Tutsi survivors and researching the impact of development methods. His paper, published in Development in Practice, illustrates how aid agencies do little to acknowledge survivors' vulnerability and take steps to empower them to realise their rights. It also provides examples of aid programmes that are reaching genocide survivors and urges aid agencies in Rwanda to design and implement programmes explicitly for genocide survivors.

The paper, Failed aid: how development agencies are neglecting and marginalising Rwandan genocide survivors, echoes many of the concerns raised by Patrick Iregura and Serge Rwigamba, two Rwandan genocide survivors who visited LSE in 2009 as guests of the Annual Fund and spoke about their experiences and the need for greater development aid to be directed to genocide survivors.child-rwanda-genocide

Mr Schimmel, who served as an intern in the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, discusses how the development community working in Rwanda prior to the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis implicitly supported anti-Tutsi government policies. Peter Uvin, of The Fletcher School, Tufts University in the US, described in his book, Aiding Violence, how in 1972 and 1973 thousands of Tutsis working for foreign aid projects and embassies lost their jobs or were killed.

Mr Schimmel says: "Given the magnitude of the moral failure of the development community in its refusal to stand up to anti-Tutsi racism before the genocide, and the genocide which ensued after years of complicity with a racist and dictatorial regime, one might reasonably expect that development organisations that have returned to Rwanda or begun to work there for the first time would make special efforts to integrate concern for the rights and needs of Rwanda's most vulnerable and marginalised community, the survivors of the genocide.

"But development agencies are doing no such thing. For all the rhetoric in which development NGOs almost universally engage, insisting that they prioritise the most poor, vulnerable, and marginalised of social groups and that they deliberately seek to empower them, genocide survivors are today of only tangential concern in most current development projects in Rwanda that are led by international NGOs and aid agencies."

He identifies a number of areas in which development aid agencies should work to provide for the rights and needs of Rwanda's genocide survivors:

  • Funding anti-retroviral medicines and health-care services for all genocide survivors.
  • Training a national cadre of social workers and psychologists to help to reduce trauma and facilitate the rehabilitation of survivors. This is especially urgent for victims of rape and related sexual violence, and for orphans.
  • Working with the Rwandan government to develop a national plan to ensure that without delay every genocide survivor has access to a nutritious and adequate diet, decent housing, education, and vocational training/an income-generating activity and/or financial support. According to Survivors Fund (SURF), 20,000 households of vulnerable survivors have no place to sleep and often lead a transitory life because they have no permanent home. There are at least 50,000 children who each need 150 a year to cover their school fees.
  • Assisting asylum applications by genocide survivors who feel unsafe living in Rwanda. This is essential for those survivors who have no other option but to live in the same towns as genocide perpetrators who have been released from prison, including those who tortured and murdered their family members. Such genocide survivors are being re-traumatised and cannot rebuild their lives and find a sense of physical and psychological security in Rwanda. Many are ostracised, taunted, and intimidated, and some are tortured and killed.
  • Partnering with the Rwandan government to improve and expand the Rwandan justice system and prison facilities. Tens of thousands of perpetrators of the genocide, many of whom engaged in mass murder and mass rape and torture, are being released due to a lack of funding and the inability to maintain overcrowded prisons. This creates a sense of impunity, endangers the rights and well-being of genocide survivors, and severely undermines the prospects for reconciliation in Rwanda.

He argues that aid agencies have evaded their responsibility to genocide survivors by advancing "insensitive and morally obtuse" arguments about the need to focus on reconciliation and peace building.

"These are worthy goals in their own right, but they should not be pursued at the expense of the human rights and welfare of genocide survivors. Doing so will not only further marginalise and harm these survivors, but will perpetuate a culture of racism such as that which saturated Rwanda from 1959 to 1994 in the form of the Hutu Power philosophy, which propagated the belief that Tutsis have fewer rights and less human dignity than their Hutu co-citizens."


Useful links

To read the full article:  http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a921556568 |

See also Department of Media and Communications' 'Who's who' page about Noam Schimmel|