A Survivor of Rwanda’s Horrors Writes Hope Into Law
She was born a Rwandan refugee in Uganda, where her parents herded cattle. A bright and determined student, she went to class under a tree using a borrowed identity, was smuggled across borders to continue her schooling, graduated from Uganda’s Makerere University and studied law on a scholarship in Australia.
But inevitably, she returned to Rwanda to work. She was there in 1994 when the genocide broke out. An estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days — mostly members of the Tutsi tribe — including her father, her first husband and seven of her eight brothers and sisters. Her mother died while in hiding.
Now 42, Justine Mbabazi has become one of the new female leaders in her homeland: a lawyer who drafted Rwanda’s first legislation against gender-based violence, country director of the American Bar Association, and former executive director of a legal network that brought the rights of women to the forefront of national politics and played a critical role in the debate over a new constitution.
“My story is just a tiny dot compared to what others suffered in Rwanda,” said Mbabazi, who just finished attending a colloquium in Boston and Washington with 25 other women who have survived bullets, ethnic cleansing, political isolation and social discrimination in such countries as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia, Bosnia, Somalia and Kyrgyzstan.
The event was organized by the Initiative for Inclusive Security, chaired by Swanee Hunt, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria. The women met with officials from U.S. government agencies, the United Nations, world financial institutions, and relief and security organizations.
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