Kigali: Government on Sunday awarded top national medals to foreigners who contributed to the liberation of Rwanda and the campaign against Genocide. RNA details their citations and how they come to be awarded the medals.
Those awarded include long-serving international diplomats, politicians, authors, campaigners and soldiers. They were separately awarded with the URUTI and UMURINZI medals. URUTI is a Rwanda’s Liberation Medal and UMURINZI is Rwanda’s Campaign against Genocide Medal. The medal citations were read by Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
Roger Winter, 67:
Received both URUTI and UMURINZI medals. As executive director of the U.S. Committee on Refugees in 1994, Winter campaigned hard in the United States for intervention to halt the Tutsi Genocide. He was the first foreigner to arrive in the RPF rebel held areas, as well as the massacre area of Nyarubuye in eastern Rwanda. In his emotional acceptance speech of the awards, Winter said all he did “was my job to report and document. I just did my job.”
Ambassador Haile Menkerios, 64:
Received both URUTI and UMURINZI medals. As former top Eritrean diplomat and currently United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Menkerios helped link RPF rebel representatives to Ethiopian, Eritrea and Ugandan government officials during the rebel war. The citation read for him described him as “astute diplomat”. In his award acceptance speech, Amb Menkerios described the Juvenal Habyarimana government as “heinous regime” which he accused of massacring Tutsis. He said because of the honour of the award, “I hardly feel worthy to receive” the URUTI award.
US Congressman Donald Milford "Don" Payne, 76:
Received only UMURINZI medal for his role in the campaign against Genocide. The citation read for him described him as among “very few” people in the world who recognized the Tutsi Genocide as the governments, media and individuals continued to debate. Accepting the award, Payne said he was “extremely humbled to receive this distinguished award.” He said despite the pleas he carried to the whole world about what was happening in Rwanda, “no one acted.” He said “our calls fell on deaf ears.” “If we had acted in Rwanda, we would not have had the Genocide that happened in Darfur,” he said. As chair of the Africa committee, Payne said the US Congress will “remain partners of Rwanda.”
Ambassador Karel Kovanda, 66:
Received UMURINZI medal. He was Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the UN in 1994, and his country was on the US Security Council. Kovanda led the sessions in the Council which led to the eventual deployment of UN forces in Rwanda. He famously said in the Council that asking the RPF to negotiate with the interahamwe was like asking the Jews to talk with Hitler. Currently, a senior official within the European Commission's DG External Relations, Kovanda said today that the EU will continue to support all government programs. He accepted the award with “pride and humility, above all with gratitude.”
Prof. Ambassador Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, 66:
He received UMURINZI medal. During the Tutsi Genocide, he was Nigeria’s UN envoy, and Nigeria was on the UN Security Council. The citation read for him says he opened doors for RPF representatives at the UN to spread their messages. The citation described him as “proud son of Africa”, and “skillful diplomat” who reportedly “gave voice to voiceless”. Receiving the award, he said he had “deepest respect” for President Kagame, RPF and Rwandans. As current UN special envoy for Sudan, Gambari said liberation is “global responsibility” which demands “collective response”. He also thanked Rwanda for contributing heavily to the peacekeeping mission to Darfur.
Ambassador Colin Keating:
The former New Zealand envoy to UN during the Genocide was not available to receive his medal. He was on the Security Council where he fought alongside Czech Republic to ensure Rwanda remained on the Council debates.
Dr. Jean-Paul Gouteux, deceased:
The famous author on the Tutsi Genocide received the UMURINZI award – which was handed to his son and daughter. Incidentally, he was married to a Rwandan woman with whom he had the two children. He co-founded the ‘Survie’ organisation which campaigns for Tutsi Genocide justice in France. The citation read for him described him as a “man of reason”. He reportedly unsuccessfully pushed for compensation of Genocide victims by France. He spent his later years of his life in and out of French courts due to his campaigns for justice where he always won. Receiving the award on behalf of his father, Lionel said in Kinyarwanda of President Kagame: “Uri intwari yacu” – literary meaning ‘You are our hero’, amid applause.
Captain Mbaye Diagne, deceased:
Wife and two children received the UMURINZI award on his behalf. He died in Rwanda serving on the UN observer mission from Senegal during the Genocide. He was killed my government forces as he tried to hide Tutsis. Capt. Mbaye ensured the safety of the children of the ex-PM Agathe Uwiringiyimana after she had been killed by the presidential guard on the second day of the Genocide – June 09, 1994. The citation read for him said the people of Rwanda will “forever be indebted to you” for his role in saving Tutsi lives. Accepting the award, a Senegalese Colonel Babacar Faye who was with Mbaye in Rwanda at the time, said the former captain will be not only a Senegalese, but also Rwandan. “Long live Rwanda,” he told the thousands in the Amahoro stadium today.
The Italian embassy received her UMURINZI award. She reportedly had an orphanage in eastern Rwanda during the Genocide where she hid all the children. She rescued patients from Gahini hospital from the rampaging interahamwe militias. The Italian social worker also apparently secured travel to Italy for RPF rebels “disguised as footballers” for treatment. The Italian consulate representative did not say anything, simply revealing that Mariapia had written a personal letter to President Kagame.
Sister Antonia Locatelli, deceased:
Her nephew received the UMURINZI medal. She died on March 10 1992 in what has become as the first trials of Tutsi mass murder in the Bugesera region in eastern Rwanda. This was the “region where Tutsis were deliberately relocated” by government, say historians. Sister Locatelli constantly kept writing dispatches for international media about the situation in Bugesera till her assassination by the gendarmes on the orders of government. The citation read for her described her as “protector of the unprotected”. Amid mummers, the nephew of Sister Locatelli spoke Italian. Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo caused laughter when she translated the message, in which she was thanking President Kagame.
Jean Carbonare, deceased:
A French Human rights activist whose warning in 1992 of a possible Genocide in Rwanda was ignored by the world. His award will be handed to him at a later date.
Jean Gol, deceased:
Former Belgian Senator who campaigned for the recognition of the Tutsi Genocide by the Belgian government. His award will be delivered at a later date.
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