Rwandan Women’s Rights Activist Wins 2004 John Humphrey Freedom Award

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2004 John Humphrey Freedom Award

An untiring source of hope and justice for survivors of the 1994 Genocide

Montreal, July 8, 2004 – Rwandan human rights activist Godeliève Mukasarasi is the winner of the 2004 John Humphrey Freedom Award, Rights & Democracy announced today.

A survivor of the 1994 genocide, Ms. Mukasarasi has gone on to make an invaluable contribution to the promotion of human rights and democratic development in Rwanda as the founder of SEVOTA, a support group for the widows and orphans of the April 19, 1994, massacre of Tutsi in the town of Taba, and as a social worker with the Women’s Network for Rural Development.

“Through her courage, her enthusiasm and her unwavering commitment, she has succeeded in gaining the trust of victims of rape and sexual violence, particularly women who contracted HIV-AIDS, as well as in breaking the silence and in helping these women obtain justice,” said Kathleen Mahoney, Chairperson of Rights & Democracy’s Board of Directors.

Ms. Mukasarasi has worked actively for several years to improve the status and fate of women in her country. Her commitment has proven incredibly influential and SEVOTA now involves close to 80 organizations, including the group Urunana, which is made up of 230 Tutsi and Hutu women survivors of the genocide.

She has facilitated the testimony of women survivors of the genocide from Taba and throughout Rwanda before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and has helped rape victims gain access to medical care at the national level.

Thanks to the contribution of the women of Taba in documenting crimes of sexual violence during the genocide, a historic legal precedent was set on October 2, 1998, when the ICTR imposed the first ever sentence for sexual violence perpetrated in the context of civil war and recognized rape as an act of genocide and torture.

Rights & Democracy’s work in Rwanda began prior to the genocide of 1994 and continues today. As part this commitment, we support the efforts of promoters of Rwandan human rights to build a society based on trust, tolerance and respect for democracy. More specifically, through its coordination of the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, Rights & Democracy is actively involved in the struggle against impunity. In this regard, along with our partners, we work to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence are prosecuted before the ICTR.

“Having failed in their duty in Rwanda, the major powers and the international community today have a responsibility to prevent crimes against humanity and to reinforce conflict-prevention mechanisms and the international justice system exemplified by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Canada must take a leading role in bringing an end to situations similar to that which caused Rwanda’s descent into incivility and extreme violence a decade ago,” said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy.

Created in 1992, the John Humphrey Freedom Award is given each year by Rights & Democracy. Named in honour of John Peters Humphrey, the Canadian law professor who prepared the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the award includes a $25,000 grant as well as a speaking tour of Canadian cities (in December 2004) aimed at raising public awareness of the recipient’s work on behalf of human rights.