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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
President of Rwanda Pasteur Bizimungu

Press Conference, Office of the Presidency
Kigali, Rwanda, December 11, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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PRESIDENT BIZIMUNGU: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having come to this press conference. I thank Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, for her second visit to Rwanda and her first as Secretary of State. Her successive visits reflect her personal commitment and that of the Government of the United States of America to help Rwanda's people come to terms with the aftermath of genocide.

The 1994 genocide was a dramatic experience for Rwanda. Genocide was carried out by the (inaudible) Rwandan authorities, it claimed over 1 million people and (inaudible) another 2 million into exile. Genocide was a combination of divisive policies introduced by colonial power into our otherwise (inaudible) nation. It is not, therefore, a product of centuries-old ethnic hatred as it is often assumed.

In tackling the difficult problems we inherited in 1994, that is, internally displaced people, refugees, insecurity, a ruined economy and most importantly (inaudible) a fractured society, our vision, the hard work and determination of the people and the Government of Rwanda have been our primary results. We have made modest progress along the long road putting the nation back together and to stabilize our society. We succeeded in stopping genocide. We contained the revenge killings. We set up an innovative justice system that (inaudible) to reduce social tensions and contribute to reconciliation and we embarked on an ambitious economic reconstruction.

Most importantly, we have ended the (inaudible) of refugees that has been Rwanda's hallmark since 1959. And, undoubtedly, the killings and difficult and unfinished tasks are numerous. We reconciled and united Rwanda's people; established good governments built on the rule of law; effected the process of social and economic transformation to give our people dignity, hope and opportunity; worked with our neighbors to solve regional problems and create a peaceful, stable and secure environment conducive to development. We have discussed with Madam Secretary of State on all these issues.

The people and the Government of the United States of America have been helpful to us as we continue to deal with the legacy of genocide and destruction. We shall continue to count on them and the rest of the international community in our effort to create a sustainable and prosperous future for Rwanda's people. All of us should unite to make sure that no other holocaust is unleashed on the human race. Once again, thank you, Madam Secretary of State.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am pleased to be here in Kigali this morning to meet with President Bizimungu and Vice- President Kagame.

This is a very important stop for me because Rwanda's future is critical to the Great Lakes region and all of Central Africa. Its capacity to emerge from the terrible cycle of violence is a vital test for the people of this region; and it imposes responsibilities on the international community as well.

In our meeting, I stressed to the president and vice-president how much the United States respects the efforts the people and Government of Rwanda have undertaken.

Over the past year, more than one and one-half million refugees and displaced persons have returned home, most of them safely. That is a remarkable accomplishment.

The commitment publicly expressed here to the principle of inter-ethnic cooperation sends an important message to peoples throughout the region.

And the debate of Rwandans to go about their daily business in a climate of security and normalcy deserves ongoing international support. Unfortunately, as the recent fighting in the northwest indicates, there remain some who are unwilling to heed the call for reconciliation and peace. During our meeting this morning, I discussed with Rwanda's leaders the importance of providing security without harm to non-combatants and of our continuing to work together on a full range of justice issues, including the War Crimes Tribunal.

One of my most unforgettable moments in my earlier job as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN occurred here in Rwanda a couple of years ago. I visited a church in Kibuye where many of the victims of the 1994 massacres had sought refuge, only to be killed and thrown into a mass grave, from which bodies were only [then] being exhumed.

I don't think I have ever seen a place more beautiful or a sight as horrible. There is no forgetting genocide. But there can be no future for this region unless the cycle of violence and revenge is broken and a climate of inter-ethnic confidence and tolerance is established and maintained.

To further that goal, the United States strongly supports the OAU initiative to establish an international panel of eminent persons to study the 1994 genocide and related events.

We must account for the past in order to forge a more just future. That is why I have acknowledged that the international community should have identified the atrocities in 1994 sooner for what they were: genocide.

Mr. President, the United States also wants to help Rwanda look beyond the past tragedies and present difficulties to the opportunities ahead.

Earlier this week in a speech to the OAU, I announced that the United States is working on a $30 million Great Lakes Justice Initiative to help Rwanda and its neighbors develop judicial systems that are impartial, credible and effective. In fact, it was the problem of justice in Rwanda that inspired the Initiative.

We admire your efforts to restore economic growth and spur regional integration; I also deeply respect the price you have [paid] in your country and in your people. We recognize the immense challenges you face, not only on security and justice issues, but in achieving sustainable development in a country of limited land and historically high rates of population growth.

We want to do what we can to help. I was able to tell the President about our intention to provide $1.7 million to assist demobilized soldiers in joining civilian life, $1.2 million to support education programs for returning refugees, and $1 million for a range of projects to promote democracy and reconciliation.

We are committed to working in partnership with you. This is a small land, but there is no reason why it cannot grow steadily more prosperous, peaceful and free -- if Rwandans work together, and the international community does its part.

To make progress towards that goal is the purpose of my visit here today, and the goal of efforts I hope we will undertake together in months and years to come.

Thank you once again for your hospitality and for your welcome.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Radio Rwanda. I would like to ask the Secretary of State how did you choose the countries to visit? That is my first question. The second question has to do with what (inaudible) about genocide. You said you would not forget genocide, but as a survivor, what does one do to overcome that past history?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you. I chose the countries that I am visiting, and they are primarily in the Great Lakes region, in addition to South Africa and Angola, because I think that this region is of great importance to the United States and because so much suffering has taken place here and there is also so much hope for the possibility of mutual cooperation. So there is a combination of trying to overcome the problems of the past and yet at the same time seeing optimism and opportunity in terms of the new mutual leaders who have emerged and their cooperative efforts together.

As to your question on genocide, I think that what has troubled me the most as I have traveled around the world is to see the inhumanity of man to man or against man that is deeply troubling and that is, I think, the great horror of our time. And at the same time as I saw yesterday in Gulu, Uganda, the great ability of people to help each other. As far as the United States is concerned, I have taken special attention to this problem and have now named Ambassador David Scheffer, whose purpose is to study very carefully crimes against humanity and do what we can in the United States to help societies not get into situations where genocide takes place and try to do what we can in terms of helping judicial systems deal with the results of genocide, which then make it so difficult for societies to reconcile.

QUESTION: (Translated from French) You declared in Addis Ababa two days ago that no other area in Africa was more important than the Great Lakes, now how does the United States view Rwanda in particular in face of this new situation?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (Translated from French) Rwanda is important for us because genocide started here. However, also very important is the fact that there are new leaders here in Rwanda who have solutions for the problems and [are] thinking [in] new terms and can also work with their neighbor so that people in this area can [look] forward to a brighter future.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there are some signs that there may be new flights of refugees towards Eastern Congo, the Goma area. Are you aware of this and is this something that requires fresh action?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, I have heard the reports. Let me say that I think that we need to understand the difficulties of the refugees and also commend Rwanda for having been able to absorb and reintegrate 1.5 million refugees in the last few months -- a huge job. I have discussed already this morning and will continue to discuss the problems of how to reintegrate refugees in a way that allows them to become useful citizens in the country and also not be sources or places where additional fighting is created.

QUESTION: Jim McKinnley, New York Times. How would you assess the human rights record of this government and what have you told the Rwandan officials about the U.S. view of that record?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I have said, I have commended them for being able to reintegrate one and a half million refugees. We talked a great deal about the judicial system here. We talked about the initiative that we have proposed, which is being proposed in order to deal with where there is a great lack and that is enough judges, prosecutors, lawyers within the system in Rwanda itself in order to be able to deal with a very large number of prisoners who are suspected of having taken part in the genocidal activities.

I think there clearly is room for improvement in the human rights record of Rwanda and it's very important for there to be a human rights unit here. But I think it is also important for us to understand how difficult it is for a country that has seen over half a million people slaughtered to then be able to put itself back together and reconcile. It [is] another reason that I have said that we very much agree [with] the proposal by President Meles, of the eminent persons group that can look at what lessons can be learned. I think that, as I discussed with the leaders here, they have done a lot already but they have a long ways to go and it is the international community and the United States specifically [that] is prepared to give whatever support we can so that they can feel good about their human rights record.

[End of Document]

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