Ban Ki-moon's speeches


Address to the Parliament of Rwanda

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Kigali (Rwanda), 29 January 2008

Let me thank you and the people of Rwanda for the very warm welcome you have given me since I arrived in Kigali. It is a great honour to address this joint session of Parliament.

This is my second visit to your country. In my capacity as Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, I visited Rwanda two years ago to pay my respects to the victims and survivors of the 1994 genocide -- one of humankind’s darkest chapters ever. That visit had a profound and personal impact on me.

This morning, I toured the Genocide Memorial once again. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am even more deeply affected by what I saw, and by the unspeakable experiences that the Rwandan people endured 14 years ago. The events will haunt the United Nations, and the international community, for generations to come.

Today, I have come to pay tribute to you and all those you represent. Your country has made tremendous progress since the genocide. Thanks to the courage and determination of the Rwandan people, and with the help of the United Nations and the international community, the country has moved from successful recovery towards long-term sustainable development.

The reconstruction process has been long and difficult, but its fruits are now clearly visible. The economy is performing well. Significant progress has been made in national reconciliation, in improving social services and in regional integration. And Rwanda is one of the five countries that have so far ratified the historic Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes region. This testifies to the country’s commitment to ensure that the underlying causes of the region’s long-standing conflicts are effectively addressed. I also commend Rwanda for its commitment to the Nairobi Communiqué, signed with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, on a common approach to securing peace and stability in the region.

Equally impressive is the progress you have achieved towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals -- our shared blueprint for creating a better world for all in the twenty-first century. Rwanda is well on track to meeting many of the Goals -- ensuring universal primary education, fighting malaria, promoting adult literacy. I commend the Government for its demonstrated commitment to the MDGs, which constitute an important component of the country’s long-term development plan, elaborated in the “Vision 2020” strategy.

Rwanda’s score card for Goal 3 -- promoting gender equality and empowering women -- is particularly inspiring. In education, Rwanda has already achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment. In health, there has been a 30 per cent drop in the maternal mortality rate between 2000 and 2005. In economic security, legal reforms have been passed to enable both women and men to inherit land. And in governance, women now comprise 43 per cent of elected local government leaders, and hold close to half the seats in this very Parliament. As a result of these and other gender-related achievements, Rwanda offers an outstanding example, not only to other African countries, but to the entire world.

I very much look forward to visiting the Rwanda Women’s Network project later today. The Network is helping to ensure that women play their essential role in development.

The empowerment of women is not the only field where Rwanda stands out on the global stage. Rwanda’s contribution to worldwide efforts to ban capital punishment is another strong gesture of leadership. By abolishing the death penalty last year, Rwanda -- a country that endured the most heinous of crimes -- has both reaffirmed the right to life and rejected violence, without ceasing to pursue justice for the victims of the genocide.

Similarly, the successful cooperation between your country and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has not only helped to foster national reconciliation, it has also played a critical role in the development of jurisprudence in international criminal law. I wish to personally thank the authorities and people of Rwanda for their continued cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This has helped ensure that those whose deeds have offended the conscience of mankind do not go unpunished. Now more than ever, we must preserve the legacy of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, as evidence of our common struggle against impunity.

Rwanda is also making important contributions to our peacekeeping operations around the world, including now in the troubled region of Darfur. In these and other areas, I am confident that you will continue to display leadership and to play an increasingly vital role in regional and international affairs.

Rwanda is well placed to play such a role. It was the collective failure of the international community to prevent the 1994 genocide that led to a significant rethinking of how the United Nations operates -– in peacekeeping, in conflict prevention and in how we protect civilians from the worst and largest scale of atrocities. In 2005, Member States of the United Nations acknowledged a responsibility to protect populations from these human rights violations and crimes.

Today, one of my priorities as Secretary-General is to translate the concept of our responsibility to protect from words to deeds, to ensure timely action so that populations do not face genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity ever again. That is why, last year, I named a Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect.

As we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I count on your support in our collective efforts to operationalize the Responsibility to Protect, and to promote human dignity and justice for all. It is imperative that we all work closely together to address the root causes of conflicts to ensure that the atrocities that took place here 14 years ago do not occur again, anywhere in the world.

In spite of the progress achieved since the genocide, we all know that this country faces daunting challenges. Today, Rwanda’s high economic growth is accompanied by important challenges related to income distribution. These challenges could undermine progress towards the MDGs in all areas. Despite progress in reducing poverty, close to 57 per cent of Rwandans still live below poverty line.

And there is an increasing incidence of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. In that regard, I urge Parliament to move quickly to adopt the sexual and gender-based violence bill, which includes measures designed to end impunity and extend support to survivors. In the next few weeks, I will launch a worldwide campaign to eliminate violence against women and girls. The campaign will involve the entire United Nations system and continue through 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Addressing the linkages between conflict, poverty and the environment is another important challenge. As a densely populated country heavily reliant on the agricultural sector, the sound management and sharing of land and natural resources is critical. I commend the Government for its work to address environmental protection in a sustainable, holistic manner, as well as its ongoing initiative of land redistribution.

Good governance is a prerequisite for sustainable development and lasting peace. I commend Rwanda for acceding to the voluntary African Peer Review Mechanism. In 2005, the review process noted that the country had made a significant effort in establishing institutions and mechanisms to promote good governance, while stressing the need for political parties and civil society to operate freely and express competitive ideas for governance within the rule of law.

The United Nations has learned through long and hard experience that political diversity is essential for societies to prosper in the long term and to prevent a relapse into conflict. We know that democracy benefits when political parties are able to operate freely, but along non-ethnic and non-racial lines, with safeguards for the protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law. I encourage the Government to work for broad-based participation of political parties, civil society, and media organizations in the legislative elections process later this year.

In the considerable work that lies ahead, this Parliament has a crucial role to play. You are the representatives through whom the people of Rwanda make their voices heard. They expect you to work together to achieve common goals, to promote national unity and reconciliation -- and to help build a better society for all the men, women and children of Rwanda. I am confident that you will do your utmost to fulfil these high expectations.

Rwanda owes its remarkable recovery to the strength and dignity of its people. As you move forward along the path of peace, development and democratic governance, you will have the sustained support and partnership of the entire United Nations family.