Genocide memorials inch closer to becoming UNESCO heritage sites

Former Nyamata Catholic church-turned Genocide memorial. Sam Ngenadahimana.

Efforts to have four of the country’s Genocide memorials added on to the UNESCO World Heritage List have reached advanced stages, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) has said.

Speaking during a consultative meeting at the Senate yesterday, Jean Damascène Bizimana, the commission’s executive-secretary, said the Government was currently plugging the gaps earlier identified by the UN agency.

The Genocide memorial sites in question are Nyamata (Bugesera District), Murambi (Nyamagabe District), Bisesero (Karongi District, pictured right), and Kigali Genocide memorial (Gasabo District).

On January 23, Rwanda submitted to UNESCO an application for potential nomination for inscription of the four memorial sites as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, he said.

Yesterday’s consultative meeting was called to review progress on the process to give the Genocide memorials a world heritage status.

The sites are currently on the ‘Tentative List’ of the natural, cultural and mixed world heritage sites, the CNGL boss added.

“We have no doubt that these four sites will be permanently registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List but one of the things we need to look into is how we’ll preserve their uniqueness,” Bizimana said.

A team of UNESCO officials is expected in the country this week to examine the status of the sites, he told the lawmakers.
The experts are also expected to join Rwandans during the commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Bizimana said.

A weeklong commemoration period starts Saturday.

The official said engaging the masses on the process to register the four sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List will go a long way in facilitating the effort to preserve the sites.

In an interview with The New Times, Dr Deogene Bideri, the legal advisor at CNLG, said that clearly demarcating the memorial sites’ buffer zones and ensuring that development master plans do not tamper with the sites’ maps is one of the recommendations from UNESCO.

The UN agency also raised concerns about the “validity” of Kigali and Bisesero Genocide memorial sites which were were constructed after the Genocide, unlike Murambi and Nyamata whose pre-Genocide structures remain intact.

“The latter two sit on the same spots where atrocities were committed 24 years ago and their architecture embody harrowing tales about those places,” he said. “We offered detailed explanations and we believe they were satisfied.”

Jeanne d’Arc Gakuba, the Vice President of the Senate in charge of Finance and Administration, called for comprehensive preparations in bid to have the sites accorded a world heritage status with the country expected to submit another proposal before February 1, 2019.

Inscription of the memorials on UNESCO World Heritage List is seen as a major step toward cementing their global significance, as well as a boost to their preservation.

In East Africa, Kenya has the most (six) sites permanently listed by UNESCO.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Sports and Culture, Julienne Uwacu, urged district mayors and provincial governors – who were in attendance – to ensure the safety of Genocide sites “because they need to be preserved in their original status for future educational and remembrance purposes”.

More than a million Rwandans lost their lives during the Genocide.

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