Interview: H.E. Immaculee Uwanyiligira, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda in The Hague


As 2012 is drawing to a close, we decided that for our final Newsletter we needed to go out with a bang!  This is why we've asked H.E. Immaculee Uwanyiligira, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda in The Hague for an interview after hearing her deliver an excellent speech during the Lecture ’Rwanda and the Restoration of the Rule of Law’ that was organized by the Hague Academic Coalition (HAC) last month. We wanted to hear more from this great diplomat and were curious to find out more about the current state of affairs in Rwanda. Read our Interview here! 

Q. : How and why did you decide to go into the diplomatic service?

The opportunity to serve my country is the driving force behind my having accepted to be posted to serve in the capacity as Ambassador in the Netherlands.    I am not a career diplomat. Before my posting, I served as an international civil servant for nearly 12 years with the United Nations. Prior to that, I had worked in the US private sector in Information Technology. The allure to serve my country was the ability to relate my efforts directly to the betterment of my compatriotsI have a BA in Arts from Makerere University in Uganda (1985), a Masters in Information and Telecommunication Technology from Johns Hopkins University in the USA (1996) and a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University in the USA (2002). The combination of my training and experience gave me the confidence to believe I had a modest contribution to make to the development of my country.

Q.: Is the Rwanda mission in The Hague an important post?  Is The Hague, known as the City of  Peace & Justice, perhaps vital to bring attention to the achievements of the Rwanda government in legal affairs restoring the Rule of Law in Rwanda?

In Kinyarwanda we have a saying that roughly translates in English to something like: there’s never a small battle.  In other words, The Hague duty station is as important as any other. I don’t think we can grade duty stations in their order of importance per se.  It is the relationships we build bilaterally that count.  We have had a long standing positive and productive partnership with the Kingdom of the Netherlands that we consider the Kingdom to be a critical partner.  The reputation of The Hague as the City of Peace and Justice makes it an important city for us, and by extension, the Netherlands, a particularly important partner, as we continue on our path to building and further strengthening the Rule of Law in Rwanda.

Q.: Is the Rwanda Embassy involved in the cases before the ICTR and the Dutch Rwanda genocide case against Yvonne B. ?  (Does the Embassy help in providing evidence, for instance providing documents stating that the accused/suspect  was in Rwanda during the period of genocide)

No, the Embassy is an extension of the Administrative arm of the government, and as such is independent from the Judiciary, which is also independent.  ICTR cases are handled from Arusha in Tanzania, and any exchange of information between ICTR and Rwanda are not in the realm of the Embassy’s work. As for the case of Yvonne B., the Embassy’s involvement doesn’t go beyond attending her hearings, whenever these take place. If there is any exchange of information or documents, the Dutch courts communicate directly with relevant authorities in Rwanda.

Q. : What do you think about Gacaca?  Is this way of justice helpful in the reconciliation process? If so, in what way?

Gacaca has been an exemplary and effective home-grown solution that is at once a justice, reconciliation and peace building mechanism. In that regard it is very unique. The concept provided a local handle that was easy to grasp by the communities where it has been applied, because it is owned by Rwandans who fully identify themselves with it. Not only was Gacaca useful for Rwanda, we believe that as a model, it can be one of our “export products”, some of whose modules could be applied to other countries faced with similar challenges now or in the future. However, we don’t believe in cookie cutter solutions; as such, its application would have to be modified to suit a given context.

Q. :  Did you personally experience the genocide in Rwanda and how did it affect your life?

There is not a single Rwandan that I know that has been left unscathed by the Genocide. Most some were directly affected, a few were indirectly affected through loss of their loved ones. In this respect, my experience is not unique to other compatriots. I personally was not in Rwanda at the time and did not experience the Genocide first-hand. Nevertheless, I lost a great number of family members, in my nuclear family and many more in the extended family.  The Genocide was a life-changing experience for many Rwandans, including myself, and a course-altering cataclysm for my country. Many political mistakes were made by the decision makers in Rwanda’s previous government, by many countries, by the United Nations and many organizations. I was at the time studying and working in the field of Information Technology. The more I read about what happened, the more I realized the enormity of the consequences of political errors or miscalculations to the lives of civilians, not to mention the course of a country. I examined the consequences of the worst professional mistake I could make in my career at the time and realized that, at worst, it could amount to a mere inconvenience. In my idealism, I was convinced that I wanted to someday make the right decision(s) that could save people’s lives and positively impact their future. Subsequently, I consciously changed my career, convinced that one day, I could step in the gap and make sound political decisions that would save lives or avert disaster. Perhaps I am a long way from that, but such is the kind of life-altering mindset that emerged out of that experience that in turn altered the course of my career.

Q. : What do you think about films or documentaries about the events in Rwanda, such as the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’? Do you think it is an informative way to bring awareness about the situation in Rwanda?

Many foreign story tellers get Rwanda’s story wrong, and that is regrettable. One such storyline is one depicted by the film Hotel Rwanda.  In as much as Hotel Rwanda has brought the tragedy of Rwanda into the mainstream media and shed some light, albeit slanted, on the atrocities committed, mistakes and missteps made, then there was some degree of success and perhaps one could even say, saving grace.  But in as much as accuracy goes, the film falls very short.  This is what usually happens when Hollywood, or some other entity writes your history; it becomes their story. They model your story to suit an audience they serve, in a manner that guarantees a bottom line. When this commercial aspect is factored in, some of the accuracy is lost somewhere. Be we Rwandans should not sit back and mop about a story badly written or an event inaccurately depicted. But rather, we should draw lessons from this to write our own narratives; perhaps then we can portray the true stories of our country.  Some Rwandans have stepped forward into the film industry and documentary industry, but much more could be done. Rwanda has a thousand stories to tell.

Q.; During the lecture in the Peace Palace last month, you mentioned the progress Rwanda has made in restoring the judicial and educational system, as well as in security matters. Do you think Rwanda can serve as a role model for other countries in the region?  If so, in what way and to what extent?

The strides that have been made in restoring the rule of law or revamping the education system (and may other sectors) have been nothing short of monumental. That said, I would not wish to give the impression that Rwanda is out there to teach the world anything. Rather, Rwanda has registered impressive and measurable progress, and we feel it an honor if other countries wish to share our experience. Our leadership has responded to the peculiar needs of our context. It is up to a given country to determine whether the Rwanda model is applicable to its context.  Where there are many useable modules that could be applied to other countries to good effect, we are more than willing to share them. But we are by no means under the illusion that our path or experience is a panacea for all situations. 

 Q. : What is the most important thing you want the world to know about Rwanda?

Rwanda is at peace today and is enjoying the tangible dividends of peace and security, evinced by fast economic development. We have charted a far-sighted and holistic development vision, rooted in good governance, responsible fiscal management, zero tolerance on corruption, open and progressive investment policies, among others. Rwanda’s success story is rooted in citizen-centered policies, cognizant of the fact that its people are the most resource.

Q.: Do you have a special message for 2013?

With Rwanda joining the United Nations Security Council in January 2013, we hope to work with other countries to tackle the most pressing issues facing the world today. We are confident that Rwanda’s experience gives it a unique opportunity to contribute constructively to this process.