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Flag of RwandaEmail your questions on Rwanda.. 

The former International Development Minister, Clare Short has sent a series of exclusive reports for the Today Programme about the political situation in Rwanda following the genocide of the 1990's.

** The webchat took place on Thursday 3 July 2003 **

Portrait of Clare Short

Clare Short in Africa.

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In what capacity did you go to Rwanda to report on the current situation? Did you go as former Cabinet member, a journalist or an expert?

I went at the invitation of the Today programme as me, the former International Development Secretary (now a back bencher) so not a neutral journalist but a responsible politician with a lot of background knowledge.

Are you prepared to repeat the experience in Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa? When you were still a Cabinet member you were saying that you wanted peace in all these three countries.

We need peace in all three countries and all three countries security depends on peace in the other two. There is a peace agreement for Congo it needs to be implemented urgently then the fighting in the East can be brought to an end and the Rwandan forces in the East disarmed by the UN. The small-fry sent home to Rwanda and the leaders, who are still advocating genocide, sent to the international court in Arusha set up to deal with the leaders of genocide in Rwanda. This will make Rwanda safe, give development to Congo and make it make it much easier to drive forward the peace process in Burundi.

You have signed the agreement between Rwanda and Britain about the Plan for development, reduction of poverty and good governance in Rwanda. Four years later, how far has Rwanda gone down that path ?

Rwanda has made astonishing progress. We commissioned an independent agency to review progress and actually hold the UK to account as well as the Rwandan government. They have more children in school than has ever been in the history of the country. The whole country is secure. They have nearly completed the debt relief programme with the IMF and the World Bank. Poverty has been reduced significantly. They've adopted a new constitution by referendum and they're about to have presidential and parliamentary elections. But Rwanda remains a very poor country - still traumatised by the genocide. So there's a lot left to do.

In one of your reports you mention Kagame as the man who led Rwanda to the step the country has reached now. Do you forget the fact that Mr Pasteur Bizimungu, who is now in jail - had been Head of State since 1994 ? 2) Why didn't you ask to see him in jail or campaign for his release?

No I don't forget that - and I met him on a number of occasions. But he was an unstable man who didn't provide clear leadership. I'm not well informed about the details alleged against him. I understand that he was linking himself with groups that had been implicated in genocide. But I don't know chapter and verse. But when he was President and Kagame Vice President, it was widely recognised that the thoughtful leadership was coming from the Vice President. In answer to your second question Ambassadors cover his case regularly and make appropriate representations. The UK follows the case. I would not dream of compaigning for someone who had been implicated with the forces responsible for genocide.

Did you realise that you visited Rwanda just after the MDR party - a historical party in Rwanda and the main opposition party- had been banned. Human Rights Watch had just released a report warning on the current situation in Rwanda?

Yes I did - and I support the banning of MDR. It was recommended by the parliament which includes representatives of many parties in Rwanda. And the reason was that it refused to change its founding principles which advocate division between Hutu and Tutsi. It was given a long time to reform itself but refused. A new constitution makes clear that no party which advocates divisionism between Hutu and Tutsi will be tolerated. I talked to the recently returned former Prime Minister, who is standing in the presidental elections and was a moderate member of MDR, and strongly encouraged to found a new moderate MDR out of the better elements of the party. I find Human Rights Watch reports on Rwanda consistently biased and political rather than human rights monitoring.

Should the individuals who admitted carrying out acts of genocide just be allowed to walk away from their trial as free men?
Joe Allen, Brighton

Rwanda's problem that it had at one time it had 300,000 people in prison charged with genocide. Very few lawyers, because most of the lawyers had been killed and it would have taken 300 years to process all the cases. Also, the genocide affected every village throughout the country. Rwanda had to find a way of punishing the leaders and organising reconciliation for those who participated but who were followers. That is why it has set up the Gachacha hearings to enable local communities to hear apologies from lesser offenders and decide whether they'll allow them to resettle in their midst. I spoke to many genocide survivors and widows who said we have to reconcile otherwise there is no future for the country.

What can be done to ensure that UN posts are filled by competent people and not just ones who are there to line their own pockets at the expense of the people who they are supposed to be helping? (I am not claiming blatant corruption, but a more insidious form where they take the money in salary, expenses .. but don't appear to deliver anything.
Brian Barber

I agree with you that this is a problem. Appointment to UN posts is too political in my view. Obviously the UN must balance nationalities and ensure that there are people from all over the world working for the UN. But this tends to lead to political nomination rather than selection by competence. I have talked with Kofi Annan about providing finance to build up screened groups of competent people with a track record of achievement - women and men and all nationalities from which UN appointments could draw. It isn't done yet, but I hope we can move in this direction.

Which members of the Cabinet believe that donating money to developing countries was as important as spending money on domestic issues such as education, health service etc….
Paul Burns, Cheshire

Our total spend on development is moving up to £3.6 billion. On Social Security alone we spend £110 billion. On health it islike £90 billion. On education something like £60 billion. On defence more than £30 billion. Britain could easily afford to spend the £8 billion which would get us to the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GDP. It is a matter of will not expense.

Who decides which countries of the developing world get what level of aid? Are ex-British colonies a higher priority to the British Government?
Michelle Charding, Nottingham

Half of Britain's aid goes through multi-lateral institutions - World Bank, UN, regional development banks and, the EEC (where sadly money is not well spent). This is important because clearly every country in the world which is poor needs help with its development. The tradition is that Britain works in its bi-lateral programme with its former colonies - France does the same, etc - but we broke out of this in Rwanda. France and Belgium had bad history there. They needed a country not tangled in their bitter history to help them move forward and we've also started a small programme in Congo and Burundi. We have a big successful programme in Mozambique, which wasn't a British colony, and a small one in Angola. We have a very successful forestry programme in Indonesia. But underlying your question is a very important point: too much development has been driven by post-colonial great power rivalry, especially the Francophone-Anglophone split in Africa. We must get rid of it.

If it's wrong in your view to use force to get rid of dictators like Saddam Hussein, what do you think we should do to Robert Mugabe when he seems not to take any notice of international sanctions or condemnation?

I didn't rule out the rule of force to get rid of Saddam Hussein. I thought we ought to be willing to use force to back up the authority of the UN. But we should have exhausted all other means before declaring war. But again this is a very important question. We've had Milosovic, Saddam Hussein and Mugabe where we've got dictators oppressing their people and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and we don't have an instrument in the international system to deal with these people. I hope that when we get the international criminal court, we will have procedures for indicting such leaders, arresting if they travel, and possibly considering military action to arrest rather than declaring war on the people that they oppress. This needs much more consideration and discussion.

The Holocaust is a compulsary part of the National Curriculum for History. Should the genocide in Rwanda also be a compulsary part of the History Curriculum and what do you think are the lessons of these events from what kind of perpective should they be taught in classroom history?

We now have Holocaust Memorial Day and I know that next year the Rwandan genocide is going to be a major theme. It is important that the Rwandan genocide is more widely known. The world is shamed by how we looked away only nine years ago. The Genocide Convention (1948) obliges us to act against genocide and we failed to do so. I don't think we should burden the national curriculum with more obligitory elements but I think we should provide materials on Rwanda which the Aegis Trust is doing (it has materials available for schools). Children need to know that this wasn't something that happened in Europe 50 years ago and then finished. It's happened again in Kosovo and absolutely terribly in Rwanda.

Does Baroness Amos have the experience and passion to become a successful Development Minister?

I asked her to speak on development in the House of Lords when she was a whip. She cares about development. I'm sure she'll do her very best.

It is obvious you care deeply about some of the problems that are happening in Africa. With this in mind - do you regret resigning the post of International Developmental Secretary?
Angela Smith, Yorkshire

I regret having had to resign. I loved my job and we had become the most radical player driving forward improvements in the international system. But I couldn't defend the mess we were making in Iraq and the way we got there. Therefore I couldn't remain in the government.

You focused on home-grown development efforts in Rwanda. Do you think there is only a very limited role for UK and other foreign charities in the third world, (apart from sudden disasters like floods etc)?
Andrew Heavens

No, but I think NGOs need to re-focus what they do. In the past they ran projects to try to do some good, often when local systems were breaking down and not working. I think they need to shift to supporting local people to demand that services should be provided by their governments. NGOs and churches can often act as providers as part of a universal service. But charitable projects that don't drive a demand for reform aren't sustainable and don't reach enough people.

What is the main failure of the US administration in regenerating a post-war Iraq?

The failure is American and British. I think it was a failure to prepare, partly because of the deceitful way we got to war, and partly because of the politics of the Washington administration where the Pentagon and the State Department were competing about who would choose the next government of Iraq rather than facing up to what needed to be done. What should have happened is that the Coalition should have accepted its Geneva Convention obligations to keep order and keep civil administration running, then the UN humanitarian system could have taken over in more immediate relief (and was fully prepared to do so). The UN through a special representative of the Secretary General should have consulted the Iraqis to put together an interim government leading to consultation on a constitution. This wouldlead in time to elections, as is happening in Afghanistan, and the World Bank and the IMF should have helped the interim administration with economic reform so it was all done transparently and for the benefit of Iraq. The UK breached the Attorney General's advice and the UK and US breached the Geneva Convention in the early days in not proceeding like this, but then the Security Council Resolution broadened their powers but it still seems they are failing to honour that resolution and giving the UN representative an equal say in the formation of an interim government. I fear the Coalition will get bogged down, there will be more trouble, and the people of Iraq will suffer. We must try to avoid this. It will be a disaster for everyone.

Bye everyone, I hope people in Britain will take a continuing interest in Rwanda. It's astonishing how they're recovering from hellish events. But they will need continuing support. Britain has been a crucial partner. British people can take pride in this and I hope more people will follow events and help Rwanda to continue to make improvement.

Human Rights Watch response to Clare Short's comments:

"Since 1991 Human Rights Watch has factually and accurately documented human rights abuses in Rwanda. We reported the massacres of Tutsi (1990-1993) that presaged the 1994 genocide andwe worked tirelessly to halt that genocide as it was taking place. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the genocidal government and established a coalition government that itself committed serious human rights abuses at home and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, we documented those abuses. In our most recent briefing paper, "Preparing for Elections: Tightening Control in the Name of Unity" (available at our website:, we report the "disappearances" of Rwandan citizens (including a member of parliament and the formervice-president of the Supreme Court) and attacks on civil society and the press. On the eve of elections, the RPF-dominated government has asked the courts to dissolve the chief rival to the RPF, the Democratic Republican Movement. It claims that this party is "divisionist," a characteristic that has not previously disqualified it from holding power for nine years in the coalition government.

The British government is the second largest donor to Rwanda, providing more than twenty-five percent of its budget. Although a self-described "critical friend," the U.K. has abstained from public comment on grave human rights abuses by the current government. It is remarkable to find Clare Short, until recently the minister responsible for programs promoting good governance, civil society, and civil and political rights approving the dissolution of the only political party that might have posed a challenge to the RPF in the upcoming elections. There are legitimate concerns about the manipulation of ethnic loyalties in Rwanda, but they should not be used as a pretext to silence dissent."

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