(New York) - Rwandan children still suffer the devastating consequences of the 1994 genocide and the war that preceded and followed it, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
In the 80-page report, "Lasting Wounds: Consequences of Genocide and War for Rwanda's Children," Human Rights Watch documents the widespread abuse and exploitation of children in 1994 and since.
In the violence nine years ago, hundreds of thousands of children were killed and maimed, physically and psychologically. Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned and many now try to cope on their own. Families all over the country have opened their homes to needy children but, themselves living in poverty, they have not always respected foster children's rights.
Some children are exploited as domestic servants in exchange for some food and a place to sleep. Thousands have fled to city streets, only to find themselves harassed and arrested by law enforcement officials.
"The Rwandan government has repeatedly promised to remedy the human rights problems that many children still suffer, but words are not enough," said Sara Rakita, author of the report. "These children have already suffered terribly, and they need protection from further abuse."
"Lasting Wounds" documents the trauma that many children experienced during the genocide, and that still affects them today. One child recalled spending the night alone in the bush after having fled her home. She told Human Rights Watch, "There wasn't anyone else, just bodies, lots of bodies. I didn't know any of them, just my little sister. I found her on a hill where she had gone to hide."
One orphan explained that he now lacked bus fare to travel to the government office where he could get the documents needed to obtain government assistance for his sister's school fees. He said, "I didn't study. She can't study. Do you see how much that makes us suffer?"
One thirteen-year-old head of household said that when she and her siblings fell ill they had no money to see a doctor or buy medicine. Often sick herself, she said, "It is too big a burden for me."
Thousands, accused of having committed genocide while they were children, have spent six to eight years languishing in Rwanda's overcrowded prisons. No longer children, many are finally due to be provisionally released next month after undergoing reeducation in "solidarity camps." Those who maintain their innocence have been left in prison. Rwanda recently created "gacaca" courts to deal with the massive backlog of genocide cases, but these new jurisdictions come too late for those who lost their adolescence in prison.