Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thousands of Rwandans protest over Kabuye's arrest

By Etienne Ntawigra and Melanie Tomsons

After Rwandans heard that Rose Kabuye, director general of state protocol, was arrested at Frankfurt's airport on Sunday, thousands of Kigali city residents were gathered yesterday in streets in protest against the arrest.

Despite the heavy rains, protests took place in different corners throughout Kigali, Rwanda's capital, and met at the German Embassy in Kiyovu, a suburb of Kigali, where the demonstrators were chanting "Free Rose!", "Free Rose!", "We want our Rose back".

A French inquiry in 2006 alleged that aides to Kagame were involved in the assassination of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, although the identity of the assassins has never been determined. Kabuye is the first Rwandan official arrested on this warrant. The killing of the president quickly plunged Rwanda into the 1994 genocide. Kagame's government has denied involvement and countered with evidence that France itself was deeply involved in the genocide, as France at the time backed the majority Hutu party in power. Since then, Rwanda has ceased diplomatic relations with France and has issued warrants for French officials it believes are implicated in the genocide, including former President Francois Mitterand.

Protests have continued today in different regions of the country where thousands of people, including villagers, were walking in streets in demonstrations against Kabuye's arrest and gathered in public places such as stadiums where they listened to the words of their local leaders.

The demonstrators were also asserting Rose Kabuye's innocence and insisted that she is one of brave people who stopped the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, therefore there is no reason to arrest her.

"Rose is innocent; she is ready to prove it"; "Germany shame on you! 70 years after the Holocaust, you arrest a woman who stopped the genocide"; "Why don't you arrest genocidaires on your soil such as a priest Wensislas Munyeshyaka and Munyandekwe" demonstrators touted highly on their placards.

Protestors condemn Germany that is currently home for Ignace Murwanashyaka, the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDRL), an outfit composed of perpetrators of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis.

Many of Kigali residents listened carefully to the news on Monday to hear that Kabuye was arrested in the German city of Frankfurt as she arrived at the airport on state duty on Sunday. People could be heard in the markets animatedly discussing Rose's arrest in different places on Monday. Restaurants and buses were filled with the buzz of some people asking "What does France really want?", "We support our leaders, we don't want France to disturb us."

Some citizens remembered the indictments issued in 2006 by French Judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere, against nine senior government officials and made comments on that.

"How can Bruguiere indict the former members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) that stopped the 1994 Tutsi genocide including Rose Kabuye?," wondered Alphonse Rukara a 47 year old as he got emerged from the Volcano bus park in central Kigali.

"We Rwandans strongly condemn the arrest of Rose Kabuye by the Germans; This shows the way those from the poor countries are humiliated by the so called rich countries," said Immaculate Ingabire, a veteran journalist who spoke on behalf of the citizens.

"Rose has no case to answer and she is ready to stand trial…all we ask is for her to get the justice she deserves because she is our hero," she added adamantly.

"What we request (is that) the French assure us of her security before they bring her back here," said Evanys Nyinawankusi, a 55-year old who said she had walked many kilometres in protest over Kabuye's arrest.

"Rose is a woman who deserves respect and honor, she has devoted her life to the restoration of the rights of Rwandans and women in particular; she is our leader and is really innocent… I can't imagine how those people arrested her over these erroneous and stupid allegations?" questioned Marie Louise Mukarutamu.

"Attacking our beloved leader means attacking all of us, we can't keep quiet as long as she is not back to our Rwanda. We believe and hope she will be free and sent to us as soon as possible," Mukarutamu added hopefully.

Rwandan Senator Aloysia Inyumba said that the arrest in Germany of Rwanda's Director of State Protocol, Rose Kayange Kabuye, is not about her alone but it is about Rwanda as a country.

"Rose is a hero and a liberator for this country so this is unfair. Again this does not end on an individual (Rose Kabuye) but it is about Rwanda as a country," Inyumba, who was part of the demonstrators at the German Embassy, underscored.

The peaceful demonstration, especially in Kigali, was held under a heavy deployment of riot police that controlled the masses. Protests that began on Monday in the afternoon are expected to continue and no one knows when they will stop. Some people think that they will end when she will be back to Rwanda.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Can you help our peacebuilding tournament?

Never Again in Gisenyi, Rwanda is holding a Peacebuilding Football Tournament on 31st August. The chapter requires 1000 USD to be able to buy footballs and pay transportation costs for the young participants.

Thank you so much for your support for Never Again in Gysenyi in the past.Their groundbreaking work in schools in Gisenyi caught the attention of the governor of Rwanda's Western province who has said he would like to encourage Never Again clubs in schools throughout the province by the end of the year because their work has been so helpful for peacebuilding among the kids. And if the tournament goes well the education authorities have said they will replicate it next year across the province.

We would be enormously grateful if you would to donate to help them realise their project. The schools have long wanted to host football tournaments but have never had the funds to buy footballs. The theme of the tournament is how youth can use sport to help prevent genocide. Never Again in Rwanda sees sport as a way to bring young people together in the spirit of peacemaking, healthy competition and fun.

The tournament is being coordinated by Ladislas Nkundabanyanga, a school teacher and founding director of the Never Again clubs in Gisenyi.

The best way we have of getting funds to them at the moment is through PayPal. In order to contribute, please send funds (click on the link "Send Money") to our account at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it from with the reference Football. If you don't have a Pay Pal account, let me know and we can work out a better method. A donation, however small, makes a big difference.

Please note that we cannot provide a tax receipt for this donation, but will send you pictures and a report from the games.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Slow Road to Hell

Here's an article I wrote on the crisis in Zimbabwe:

The Slow Road to Hell

For these last few months Zimbabwe which was formally known as Africa´s bread basket is turning into a basket case of intimidation, torture, and murder. For those who appose the so-called president Robert Mugabe they are met with blows and some are even killed by his loyal gang of punks (of what their commonly know as "war veterans"). This week the opposition suffered an enormous blow with the withdrawal of Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now seeking protection at the Dutch embassy. With the international outrage in full swing, world leaders have condemned Mugabe and say that the "results" for the elections can´t be considered legitimate. For these last few decades, Mugabe has risen to the top (or cheated his way to the top) and has been slowly draining the life of his citizens by using any means to crush them. He has stopped food conveys from delivery food to those who can´t even afford anything at all, since inflation has gone up these last few months. For a man who at first was the darling of the west when he took power from the apartheid government of Ian Smith, his makeover has been a slow and hellish train wreck. So, what can the U.S. do to stop this madness? Not much. Peter Godwin, British journalist and author of "When a Crocodile eats the Sun" his memoir of growing up in Zimbabwe, says in a recent interview at CNN that the two exports that the country lacks of is oil and terrorist (Iraq, need I say more?) Given that reason, the U.S. doesn´t have leverage in Zimbabwe or anything to get in return. But fortunately our neighbor, Canada has taken slow but concrete action against the Mugabe government by shunning senior government officials and suspending financial aid to the regime. Might not be much, but it´s certainly a start. The international community has to take a firm stand against this ruthless dictator soon, or we might end up with another disaster, similar to the Rwandan genocide of ´94. But there is no doubt that things can and will get a lot worse before they get better.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Memories of the heart: Return to D.C.

In our minds, billions of images, sounds, colors, thoughts, and feelings speed before our eyes. But the most beautiful and extraordinary of those memories live within our hearts. When I first went to D.C. a little over a month ago, I was fulfilling a dream that I had longed for. I never in a million year excepted to return to D.C. so soon, nor did I ever excepted to be one of the winners for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience’s annual Darfur essay contest. From the moment I entered the contest, I only wanted Mia Farrow, Mark Gearson, and John Prendergast (the judges) to read my essay. The prize to Washington D.C. meetings with NGO’s, and attending the Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Capital Rotunda seemed so out of my league. So when I got the call that I won the most surreal and wonderful feeling came over my body. A certain euphoria one doesn’t experience that often. This would be the first time that I was traveling all alone, without parental supervision. This new found freedom felt so good and yet scary as mom dropped my off the airport. Lucky, I managed to navigate the labyrinth of airport security just fine (and was only in line for about 10 minutes) Now I have to point out that I haven’t been on a plane for over 8 years and I was totally nervous on flying. I can remember quite clearly as the plane was picking up speed “Just fucking takes off already!” Holding on to my book “Shake Hands with the Devil” (reading it for the millionth time) for dear life and closing my eyes, my head started to float and my body started falling. “Are we falling?” I timidly asked the passenger next to me, in which he assured me that we weren’t. Talk about a first impression! But sure enough we landed safely at Regan National Airport.

“Is this your first time here?” The taxi driver asked.
“No, this is my second time here.”
It felt so good to be back here, I thought to myself as the sights glided past my eyes. It was such a gorgeous day as people walking their dogs and kids.
I happen to make conversation with the driver who had been here at the U.S. for several years and is from a country in Africa (can’t remember). Lucky, I had packed light unlike my last time in D.C. so before I knew it I was lying in my cozy and comfy bed in my ultra fancy hotel suite.
“They gave me the ultimate hook-up!” I exclaimed as I explore the bathroom.
So far, I navigated through the airports, survived the plane ride, and managed to find my hotel in a whole day. I must say at the time I felt very proud that my very first time traveling far away from home. I really didn’t feel scared or intimidated, on the contrary I felt very liberated from being with my parents. I could finally be an adult!
On that night, I met Kadian and another museum staffer. Kadian was Program Director for the Committee on Conscience and the one who broke the news to me and Jonathan the good news. We had a great conversation all four of us over five star Italian cuisine.
Lying in bed I still couldn’t believe my good fortune on winning. This whole trip would be like floating on cloud nine.

Riding on the metro in D.C. to me was enjoyable, unlike the metro here in Miami is slow and unclean. Of course, it can get very crowded with tourists and natives trying to get to work. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold (I forgot to bring my sweatshirt since I was in a rush) that I couldn’t slip on my sandals.
Seeing the Holocaust Museum up ahead, I felt so elated to see it again. A feeling of pure euphoria that made me want to jump up and down like a crazy person since I was so damn happy to be back.
Me and Jonathan went in before everyone else for our guided tour to the permanent exhibition. Our tour guide asked both of us questions on what we saw in the pictures, which allowed us to think and feel more in our surroundings. I must admit that it made me think a lot more than the last time I went. After our tour we met Michael Graham who’s in charge of “World is Witness” a blog site in partnership with Google Earth, documents and maps places where crimes against humanity like genocide has taken place. He explained the work the Committee on Conscience has done to raising awareness places like Darfur and others where crimes against humanity are taking place.
We caught up with Kadian and went out to lunch at this lovely Japanese restaurant. She also introduced us to her co-workers, whom were just as nice as her. I could absolutely see myself working with these amazing people if I work hard enough.

Our first stop was Genocide Intervention Network where it’s completely run by young people. Walking in to their headquarters, I felt such a vibrant atmosphere which is what every work place needs. As I admired the atmosphere I suddenly stopped dead on my tracks: Adam Sterling, the director of the Divestment Task Force and featured in the documentary “Darfur Now” I just couldn’t believe my eyes! I told him I admired his work and he of course thanked me and congratulated me on winning.
Our first meeting was with John Bagwell, the student coordinator for STAND (Students Take Action Now: Darfur) and he explained his work and the work of GI-Net and of STAND. GI-Net was created by a couple of students from Swarthmore College, including Mark Hanis whose grandparents survived the Holocaust. They wanted to not only raise awareness about Darfur but wanted to involve ordinary people to the already growing movement. Thanks to those dedicated students, GI-Net has grown and thrived. As we left, I did manage to get a picture with Adam (see my entire photo album “Days of Remembrance”)
We then made our way to the offices of ENOUGH! where we met the acting executive director, Cory Smith. The ENOUGH project was founded from frustration and hope. Cory talked about the organization and even gave us a drafted report about how the evangelical community can help in regards to Darfur. I then asked Cory if John Prendergast was anywhere around to sign my copy of “Not on Our Watch” which he wrote with Don Cheadle. He was actually but he was super busy in a meeting. I was totally bummed, but still held hope than any moment he would open his door. It didn’t happen (Some days ago I got my signed copy of “Not on Our Watch” in which John wrote “Ruth, thank you for standing up for Darfur. John Prendergast.”)
The last stop we made was at Save Darfur. Luckily, we had to take a taxi (my feet were killing me!!!) since it was a long way on. We were to meet Jerry Fowler, the new President of the collation and former director for the Committee on Conscience. Couple of minutes later, he walked in and congratulated us for winning. He had a good likeability that one notices when you first meet him and going to his office you could see he was a well read and well informed scholar. Most of the books he had were about crimes against humanity (“A Problem from Hell” “Becoming Evil” and “Conspiracy to Murder” just to name a few.) He had this one photo of him and a group of kids on top of his file cabinet that might have been when he had gone to Chad in 2004. His expression in the photo was one of total bliss and I could tell he not only enjoyed what he does, but he finds deep meaning in his work. After we left, we bid a farewell to Kadian, which was her last day working for the museum and retreated to our rooms to gussy up for the Gala dinner.

If there was ever a moment where I felt nervous of making a good first impression at a major social event, then this was the night. But as I entered the Ritz Carlton (right in front of the Marriot) I felt quickly at ease when I started to make small chat with some people and munch on some of the spring rolls and other goodies they served. As I made my way around the crowd, I spotted a man chatting and his name tag read “John Heffernan” and quickly recognized him from the itinerary. He was the one whom would take Jonathan and myself to the Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Capital Rotunda. When I introduced myself he was very happy to see me and I quickly realized that he was one of the nicest fellows I have ever met. He had an easy going personality that made me feel very comfortable with myself, which I think is a great trait.
Entering the ballroom was like walking into a dream filled with colors and glass. The soft lights made the room glow like a candle. At this year’s tribute dinner, the museum was honoring Father Patrick Desbois, a French priest who discovered after extensive research the mass slaughter of Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust that no one knew about until now. I could hear the crowd gasp as photos of human remains in shallow graves flashed before our eyes on the screen.
As I made my way out, people congratulated me on winning the contest (the Museum’s director mentioned us as the winners at the beginning of the presentation) I spotted Wolf Blitzer from CNN among the crowd, which was totally weird since I see him on TV in the “Situation Room” every afternoon and now seeing the man in the flesh was just crazy!
That night, lying in bed I knew that the next day was my last day in D.C. before I go back home. I didn’t want to ever leave, my hotel suite, the museum, and the people I’ve met so far. The sadness rushed over my bones, slowly luring my body prisoner captive of this sad truth. After that, I went to sleep.

Walking in to the Capital Rotunda, I was struck by the beauty of the various statues of past presidents and oil paintings not to mention the amount of people attending this year’s ceremony. The ever reliable John Heffernan accompanies us to the ceremony and the three of us chat about his experiences in Sudan where he worked for Physicians for Human Rights.
The U.S. Army band got their groove on with the national anthem followed by the presentation of the division flags that liberated the concentration camps. Afterwards, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Salli Meridor spoke about the close relationship that both countries maintain after all these years and made sense since Israel is celebrating its 60th anniversary of independence. We also heard from Josh Bolton, the White House Chief of Staff who’s father Seymour Bolton was part of the efforts to establish the Museum. He said of how we must hear the echoes of the Holocaust, Bosnia, and Rwanda to making sure that we mean “Never Again.” But what was most moving was the Kaddish, which is commonly known as the mourner’s prayer. The cantor’s voice exploded into the hearts of those who were there and almost moved to tears from the whole magnitude of the words and the way he sang them.
After the ceremony was over, I said a fond farewell to Mr. Heffernan, and caught up with Bridget Conley-Zilkic, the Project director for the COC and one of the moderators for the “Congo Global Action” conference. Later on, we met up with Michael Graham during our last lunch at “Sonoma” restaurant. It felt nice to speak to people who are passionate for the same things as I was and this made it more hard for me to think that in a couple of hours I’ll be going back home. After our goodbyes, Jonathan and I went to the Marriot to get our thing and wished each other a safe trip.
Riding on the metro for the last time was a time for me to think about all the things I saw and the people I met along the way. As I made my way to the airport, I caught up with a great friend of mine and spoke while browsing books at Borders and had to part, since my flight was leaving soon.
As I boarded the plane, I knew I had left a part of my heart here in D.C.

It’s been over a month since that trip and still I feel a deep warmth I’ve never felt: that people thousands of miles away, like and respect me for who I am. I still think about Mr. Heffernan and kind of regret not talking to him during the trip. He is without a doubt one of the most inspiring human beings I’ve had the privilege of meeting. I also deeply admire Jerry Fowler from Save Darfur for his devotion for the people of Darfur as well as his deep regard fro humanity and just meeting him alone instilled in me a determination to not only following my dreams but to become the voice for those whom have none.
I’ve realized that my calling is within the wall of the Holocaust museum, for which that calling is so strong that I want to spill my heart to the place.
I hope someday when I’m working there, I can inspire some young person to follow their heart just like those special people who have inspired me.

Photo: With Jerry Fowler, President of Save Darfur.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Response to Peter Worthington's Column

Last week, Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington, in criticizing Senator Roméo Dallaire's support for the return of Omar Khadr, attacked the record of Roméo Dallaire in his handling of the Rwandan genocide.

Worthington did himself a great disservice by dishonouring and misrepresenting the record of (Ret.) General Roméo Dallaire, as well as grossly over-simplifying the plight of child soldiers in war zones.

His personal and below-the-belt attacks on Roméo Dallaire also contribute to the overall weakness of his arguments in the case of Omar Khadr.

His first error is in characterizing Dallaire's contributions to human rights as an "abysmal failure" in reference to his time in Rwanda. As someone who has spent time working in Rwanda side-by-side youth who have been affected by the genocide, I have spoken at great length with Rwandese people who fittingly hold Roméo Dallaire in high regard. They do so because he was one of the few strong voices for intervention during the genocide. Worthington needs to do his homework and see that it was General Dallaire who cabled the United Nations informing them of his plans to raid the weapons caches in Kigali that were to be used in the forthcoming genocide.

It was UN bureaucrats who vetoed his attempts time and time again. Rather than beef up their presence as General Dallaire requested, the UN reduced the number of soldiers they were given.

As a professional soldier, Dallaire was faced with the limited mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), which only permitted his troops to observe the situation in Rwanda. Dallaire, in Shake Hands with the Devil, noted that his troops were not even properly armed to defend themselves.

Dallaire was a soldier with orders that he disobeyed at his own peril. What would Worthington have had General Dallaire do? Violate his orders and attack the Rwandan military and extremist militias who vastly outnumbered them 740 to 1?

Instead, he kept up as much pressure as he could and gave media unprecedented access to his compound in order to tell the world what was happening.

No single man did more to raise attention to the human rights violations occurring in Rwanda and he continues to exemplify the voice of humanity by spreading the message about the responsibility of the international community to protect human rights globally and to eradicate the use of child soldiers.

Every loss of life during the genocide was a tragedy, including that of the 10 Belgian peacekeepers, but it was not one that Dallaire ignored – it was quite the opposite. If Worthington had dug deeper, he would have discovered that Dallaire initially discovered the bodies of his peacekeepers in a Rwandan military-controlled area and could not act immediately because of the volatile situation. Again, as a professional soldier, Dallaire would have acted inappropriately if he risked more deaths by acting rashly.

Worthington also disrespects Roméo Dallaire's pain by referring to him as a "poster boy for post-traumatic stress disorder." Worthington further rubs salt in the wound by then implying that this has brought Roméo Dallaire "wealth and status." Perhaps Worthington never considered that Dallaire was forever marked by his experiences and that he has something very important to tell the world - words that should not be belittled or mocked.

Whatever one thinks about Roméo Dallaire's ideas about Omar Khadr, it is undeniable that he is experienced in dealing with child soldiers. The Interahamwe that participated in the Rwandan genocide included a large number of young people, mainly indoctrinated by adults. Looking at the example of post-genocide Rwanda where many of these youth are being successfully re-integrated into society, Dallaire hopes to introduce useful lessons into the case of Omar Khadr. Senator Roméo Dallaire never denied that Khadr did serious things, but only suggested that his age and impressionability may reduce his culpability.

Worthington himself admits that "Khadr had little choice but become what his father and family made him." When it comes to the issue of human rights, and global humanitarianism, we have a moral obligation and we should indeed be bending over backward to bring Omar Khadr to Canada. Dallaire makes a great point in arguing that once we disregard universal standard of human dignity, we can often become no worse than our enemies.

Melanie Tomsons

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This link is related to my article "Never Again, all over again: Darfur"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Once upon a dream: Spring Break in D.C

All of us have dreams. From winning the million dollar lottery to a honeymoon in Paris, we want our dreams to come true. One of my many dreams was to go to Washington D.C. and be where history’s heart beats loud and proud. It’s a history lover’s dream to go there, and in this Spring Break I made that dream come true. In early March when my mom was vacationing in Nicaragua, I heard about a conference being held at the Holocaust Museum about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since I wanted to learn more about the Congo and see Washington D.C. with my own two eyes, I jumped on the chance to go. With a lot of support from my dad (who himself went with a friend in the sixties and actually saw Kennedy in a bathrobe) mom agreed to go with me as my “Babysitter” And so we set off the bus (plane tickets were too expensive and I’m not too fond of flying 30,000 feet) driving passed Georgia, North and South Carolina, and to our final stop Arlington, Virginia. Along the way, we stopped by gas stations and food joints meeting a plethora of folks. In Georgia mom and I experienced the talked about “Southern Hospitality” with some friendly store clerks striking up a conversation while getting some grub for our journey. When we reached Arlington, I found out that our hotel was a long way off the Holocaust Museum: Maryland! Mom wasn’t too happy with my act of utter stupidity. This was one of many lessons I learned about traveling and getting ready, but more about that later. We took the metro rail to Maryland and while there I asked some students how to get to our hotel and suggested we go to the visitor’s center at the University of Maryland. The campus was absolutely beautiful! The pink spring blossoms fell softly as groups of students walked without a care in the world. Despite the fact that the hotel (which they looked up the address on their computers) was a 40 min walk, they were so kind and helpful. Ok, I may be boring you so I’ll skip this and go to my first visit to the Holocaust Museum. When I first laid eyes on the grey building, I felt such a pure joy. I know I may sound morbid; of course the subject matter is a tragedy. A tragedy beyond description! Anyway, the permanent exhibition they had outlines the whole history of the Holocaust. Before entering, each person gets a passport and it tells the true story of someone who either survived or died during the Holocaust. My passport tells the story of Eva, who was born in Romania and went into hiding with her family until the end of World War II. All the different artifacts-a Hitler Youth uniform, a anti-Semitic children’s book, documents, letters, photos-seeing them was like breathing in another reality. Something that’s so close to the touch, but yet far away. After the exhibition, I went to one for children called “Daniel’s Story” who tells the story of Daniel and his family before and during the Holocaust. It’s an interactive exhibit that the kids are allowed to touch things from Daniel’s home and room. Then afterwards, mom and I went to the Hall of Remembrance where there were a section of each of the death camps and it had candles to light in memory of those who died. It felt very nice to walk in procession with other people, but it was also a time for personal reflection. Now let me go straight to what happened at the conference. It was a cold and raining Monday and I cursed at the rain for wetting my straight (semi-poofy) hair along with ruining my business attire. But all that was forgotten when I walked into the conference. Most of the speakers were from the DRC (sadly I wouldn’t have a chance to meet Romeo Dallaire since I was informed that he had to cancel. Bummer) The atmosphere was very friendly and diverse since most of the speakers came from the Congo, donned beautiful dresses bursting with color. During the introduction to speakers, a man came to sit next to mom and I knew he looked familiar to me and then read his name tag “Jimmie Briggs” He is a journalist and author of one of my favorite books “Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers go to War” When I met him he was such a gentleman and took a picture with him!!!(I guess this was compensation for not being able to meet Sen. Dallaire) I learned so many things about the dire situation in the DRC. Millions of people have died since the 1990’s making it one of the worst humanitarian disasters since WWII. One of the speakers described the Congo as “the trigger of a gun” and how now even after Mobutu’s iron grip over the country still remains in chaos. It was a bit overwhelming to hear all of this so I needed to go outside and see the cherry blossoms. Being surrounded by thousands of tiny blossoms was absolutely breathtaking. For someone who appreciates nature, I think D.C. is very environmentally friendly. On our last day in D.C., I decided to have a last hurrah and see even more. Mom and I went to the Smithsonian, U.S. Capital, Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, and more cherry blossoms. It kind of sucked that we had to leave, I felt so at home in D.C. But of course, my heart cried for home and I missed my dad a lot. I would like to think now that I had left a piece of myself when I left Washington D.C. I look forward to returning to the place so rich with history, kindness, and a place to find your true calling in life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Darfur, untamed

It has now been almost six years since the Sudanese government has wreaked havoc and mayhem in Darfur. To date, an estimated 400,000 or more civilians have been killed by the Arab militia known as the “Janjaweed” They have also been accused of raping thousands of women, torture, and murder in what has been called by the U.S. government as “genocide” It is of no surprise that when genocide or an crime against humanity occurs anywhere, the world really can’t bring itself to do something. A good example of this is the genocide in Rwanda, when as the world and the UN stood back for 100 days and watched over 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis murdered by the Hutu extremist. Not only did the UN Security Council (along with the U.S.) knew full well what was happening, but refused to do anything to put an end to the genocide (which the U.S. government refused to use the “G” word). Today, Rwanda is a painful legacy of shame and inaction that makes some wonder, how could this have happened on our watch? Don’t we recognize that every single person in this world is human and deserves dignity and respect no matter where they live or who they are? If world leaders have learned their lesson from Rwanda, why is it that six years later, Darfur still is untamed and people keep dying everyday? But the true heroes of Darfur are the ordinary citizens, especially the youth whom are carrying the initiative to make sure Darfur goes unnoticed. All over the world, people are making there voices heard for those who can’t speak and holding their governments accountable for the continuing disregard of blood being spilled. In any case, Darfur could once again become inducted in the “Hall of Shame” for the whole world and we only have the gods of history to judge us.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Excellent Column in the Toronto Star by Roméo Dallaire

A great column published in the Toronto Star today by Roméo Dallaire emphasised Canada's responsibility to protect:

A leading middle power goes AWOL from Darfur: Canada championed the `responsibility to protect' but has been virtually absent from the scene
Canada championed the `responsibility to protect' but has been virtually absent from the scene
We Canadians should be mad as hell that the genocide in Darfur, now entering its sixth year, rages on unimpeded while our leaders stand by and do nothing. It's not as if we don't hear daily about this ongoing crisis. If we plead ignorance, then it is willful ignorance.
Detailed UN and media reports from the ravaged area tell of more massacres and more violence against inhabitants and 2.2 million displaced persons. Systemic rape as a weapon of war has become a major feature of the conflict. Darfuri boys between the ages of 12 and 18 are singled out and murdered. Non-governmental organizations seeking to bring desperately needed relief to the population are looted and attacked. Darfuris fleeing to Chad suffer in squalid, unsupplied camps while cross-border attacks by the janjaweed militias occur unabated.
Why does the slaughter, which has already claimed 200,000 to 300,000 lives, continue? The brave but beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force (AMIS) attempted unsuccessfully for several years to stem the tide of violence and human rights violations. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1769 six months ago to relieve the AMIS forces and create a combined UN-AU force, dubbed UNAMID, to stop the killing and ensure distribution of humanitarian aid.
On Feb. 18, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes summed up one offensive in west Darfur that illustrates UNAMID's daunting challenge. He said their assessments have revealed the extent of the violence inflicted on 160,000 civilians in the northern corridor connecting El Geneina and Kulbus, including the 20,000 currently at risk in Jebel Moun. "The civilian population has experienced widespread displacement, property damage and significant trauma and loss of life. Approximately 57,000 civilians have been displaced due to the offensive." Compounding their plight, the Khartoum government has grounded all humanitarian aid flights to these besieged people.
So why is UNAMID still not fully deployed? Bluntly speaking, it's because Sudan is obstructionist, China is complacent, and Canada and the rest of the international community are AWOL.
The Sudan government is a major obstacle to peace efforts in Darfur. It has foot-dragged, niggled and pontificated against UNAMID every step of the way, even in the face of Resolution 1769. The reason is clear enough: Khartoum and the janjaweed militias want to buy time to torture, drive out and kill as many Darfuris as possible before the combined UNAMID becomes fully effective.
Standing solidly behind Khartoum is China, a Security Council member and the major supplier of weaponry and engineering support enabling Sudan to carry out its bloody agenda in Darfur.
The Chinese deny this, of course, but it was China that watered down Resolution 1769 to create loopholes permitting delay and weakening the resolution. Chinese officials have recently made soothing statements about their eagerness to stop the bloodshed, but no meaningful action has ensued. China's weapons still clatter into Sudan while Sudanese oil flows back to China – it's the perfect genocidal storm.
As the 2008 Olympic Games approach and China squirms in the international spotlight about its role in the genocide, every country should bear down on China to act resolutely to end the Darfur tragedy.
For Canadians, the big question must be: What is Canada doing to help Darfuris? They are under attack by their own vicious government. Whatever happened to the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) principle that Canada championed so stridently at the UN in 2005? Aren't we morally obliged, after all the arm-twisting by our diplomats at the UN to adopt R2P, to be a model state when it comes to applying R2P measures in Darfur?
Canada has been virtually absent from efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis. Now is the time to lead by example by committing serious resources to the UN, which is in desperate need of our high-quality troops and leadership.
It is not acceptable for Canada to point to Afghanistan and say that mission precludes a leading role in Darfur. The military told the Martin and Harper governments that it could handle two major international operations.
To his credit, former prime minister Paul Martin appointed an advisory group and had begun contributing real resources, but Stephen Harper promptly fired the group and contributions stalled. As a leading middle power, are we incapable of handling two problems at once? If we are capable, why aren't we moving on Darfur?
Canada has become hypocritical. Instead of demanding a meaningful, robust military presence, Canadians and their elected officials throw aid money at the problem to buy peace for our consciences.
Maybe we should stop prattling about our country's greatness and accept that we are no better than any other world power, middle or otherwise, where unbridled self-interest and fear of casualties dominate debate.
To prove otherwise, Canada should set aside its economic interests and show its mettle by expressing to oil-thirsty China our willingness to cut PetroChina out of the Alberta oil-sands project if it continues to arm the Sudanese.
More than ever, we need to find the statesmanship in Canada to intervene in this massive human rights tragedy. We said great things after the Rwandan genocide, but we have done nothing. And Darfur is not our only failure: We did not intervene to stop the slaughter in the Congo and we are leaving Sierra Leone too soon.
Speaking to the Conference of Defence Associations recently, Harper said there are times when political will must use force to bring peace and security to besieged peoples.
Canadians must ask themselves: If not Darfur, where? If not now, when?Senator Roméo Dallaire is the author of Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Never Again, all over again: A letter to the future President

A letter published in the California Chronicle by our own Ruth Gonzalez. Congratulation Ruth!

Dear Mr. /Ms. President,"With great power, comes great responsibility." As corny as it sounds (Sorry Spiderman) it rings true. Your job as our "Commander in Chief" and "Leader for the Free World" comes in a time when our country and the world especially are involved in conflict after conflict, which seems to have no end. I would like to bring up my concern and growing outrage toward the continuing genocide taking place in Sudan´s Darfur region. This five year old conflict has already claimed the lives of over 400,000 non-Arabs and millions uprooted from their homes, due in larger part to the Sudanese militia known as the Janjaweed. Just knowing of the pure evil that they are causing and the simple fact that the world does not seemed that moved to take concrete action to ending this madness, just makes me ashamed and sick as a human being. For over the last 60 years, the phrase "Never Again" has been passed by the lips of politicians, presidents, world leaders, and the world over. But as the century progressed the names like Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda have become part of an already disdainful legacy of indifference and apathy. But yet as the killings continue, there is also hope. For the first time in history, there is a huge movement of mostly young people that are rallying together as one voice to putting an end to the genocide and already it has proved effected. We can only do so much. Now this is where you come in. You have the tools and influence to really make change not just in Darfur, but in other areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Uganda. Your predecessor has done some good by publicly saying that these atrocities are wrong and authorizing sanctions, but that isn´t enough. Pressuring countries like China to stop their businesses with Sudan can help and supporting the International Criminal Court can mean a world of difference. The ICC, with the support of the U.S. Government, will help bring those responsible to justice.
In retrospect, there have been moments in history where the human spirit can shine a light through the darkest of times: the liberation of the Death camps in Europe, the trials in Nuremburg, a small band of peacekeepers staying during the Rwandan genocide when the world looked away. And now, ordinary people are joining together and voicing their outrage at the continuing genocide in Darfur. But we also need someone who can lead the way towards the end of this crisis and helping the people of Darfur to a better future. Professor Elie Wiesel once said "Remember: Silence helps the killers, never his victims." If the world continues to stay silent while Darfur burns, then we all are helping the Janjaweed in killing the innocent and when this ends, history will have no mercy towards us. I can only fear that the US, whom is a great preacher in human rights, can only turn away because of our own sovereignty and self interest getting in the way of what is just and righteous: that all humans are the same and have every right to be treated as such. Hopefully you can see this within your own conscience.The choice is up to you to take action.Respectfully Yours,Ruth Gonzalez