We need concerted efforts to ensure survivors' rights on property - AERG

Despite all that has been done at central government level to ensure the welfare of Genocide survivors 20 years on, many, especially the youth, are still struggling to get what was bequeathed to them by their deceased parents.
Survivor students seek services at FARG offices. The majority of survivors find it hard getting justice on property left to them. (File)
Survivor students seek services at FARG offices. The majority of survivors find it hard getting justice on property left to them. (File)

Despite all that has been done at central government level to ensure the welfare of Genocide survivors 20 years on, many, especially the youth, are still struggling to get what was bequeathed to them by their deceased parents.

The Association of Student Survivors of Genocide (AERG) says there are still property-related issues that are putting the lives of Genocide orphans at stake and need solving through appropriate approaches.

They include property that has been used for public activities but the survivors did not receive compensation, orphans whose parents’ property was taken over by unscrupulous relatives, and land lost during the land sharing programme where the land was distributed in their absence or were not involved in the exercise.

Others include accessing their parents’ contributions to social security fund and savings in banks that the orphans have difficulty in accessing.

Jean Damascène Nsanzumuhire, legal advisor and helpline coordinator at AERG said because the orphans were still little children in the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, their relatives, foster parents or other people took possession of their property.

Now some of these children are being requested to prove they were the legitimate off-springs of the dead parents yet most do not even have birth certificates.

Land tenure issue

A young lady from Gatsibo District, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation, was aged nine in 1994. She is the fourth of eight surviving children. After the Genocide that claimed the lives of their parents, their aunt took care of them.

She said their parents left property consisting two plots of land; one of five hectares and the other estimated at an hectare.

They got to know that the five-hectare piece of land was taken over by an army officer who fenced it off together with other people’s land as a farm. The one-hectare field was taken over by another person during land sharing but they were not informed at the time.

She said her elder brother and another person – whose land was also annexed – went to see the Governor of then Byumba prefecture (Deogratius Kayumba) who helped them get back the land.

“I think after realising the land was recovered, he courted our elder brother around 1996 so that they could get hold of it again,” she said.

“Our elder brother, aged 17 then, said he was given Rwf140,000 for the five-hectare piece of land. We requested him to provide the document justifying the agreement for the purchase of the land, but he could not show it,” she said, adding that if it were to be sold, all the children would have appended their signatures on the document.

She said the army officer gave their elder brother work as manager of his farm.

“How can someone grab one’s property and gives them managerial responsibility of the same property?” she wondered, adding that the job has corrupted their elder brother who has since been defending the officer.

“When I tried to ask our aunt about the land, she told me: ‘Ask your brother, how am I involved in your property?’”

With poverty biting, she dropped out of school in Senior Two to look after her little siblings. She said she has been following up on the property since 2001 at the local level, but said local leaders did not give enough attention to their case.

During land registration, she told one local leader that the land was in dispute because it belonged to them but did not know under which circumstances it ended up in the officer’s hands.

The land was registered on the officer but under the ‘dispute’ category.

She also claimed that some local leaders and some military officials advised her to accept one hectare of land from the five and forget the rest.

In 2011, she said she wrote to the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Local Government and the Prosecutor-General to get her case solved and she is awaiting their response.

Naphtal Ahishakiye, executive secretary of Ibuka.

Issue of benefits from social security

Meanwhile, Nsanzumuhire said the prescription of the existing law governing social security in Rwanda stipulates that 10 years after the death of a parent, their heir/heiress is not entitled to claim the benefits and that when the deceased has not spent up to 180 months (15 years) making contributions toward social security, their heirs have no right to get the lump sum (a one-time payment for the total contributions obtained by multiplying the average monthly salary of last three or five years of work by the number of years one has been contributing in social security.)

“We think these provisions are not in favour of survivors and need to be amended,” he said, adding that survivors should get the funds as they were saved.

Other issues are parents who had money in banks but surviving children have difficulties getting justifying documents to claim the money.

Daniel Niyigena, 26, from Nyarugenge District, survived with his elder sister. Currently, he is a university student.

He said his father, who worked with Sulfo Rwanda Industries, made contributions in RSSB for 177 months amounting to over Rwf1 million from 1979 to Mach 1994. He said in 2013, he did what was required to get the payments but ended up losing.

“I provided all the documents required and RSSB asked me the account number to which the money could be transferred, but I was later told that I could not get the money because my father did not spend 180 months contributing in RSSB,” Niyigena said.

On the issue of pension, Dr Daniel Ufitikirezi, chief executive of RSSB, said the board was open to helping survivors whose parents had made contributions.

“We can assure you that anyone whose parent had contributions will get benefits following the amount of time they had been contributing,” he said.

The pension law provides that after 15 years, the person gets regular pension and under 15 years they get a lump sum.

Marie Rose Mureshyankwano, the chairperson of the standing committee on social affairs in Parliament, said the new law under review by the Senate stipulates the 10 years prescription will start from 18 years of age for non-students and 25 years of age for students.

The law provides also that RSSB should carry out actuaries every five years to adjust pension with the cost of living.

Why are cases not solved?

Among the challenges cited by AERG there is lack of enough will by local leaders in solving the issues, which is delaying decisions, lack of specific mechanism set by the Ministry of Local Government to assist survivors, no follow up and legal assistance to help survivors as they have no means once cases reach courts of law.

Another challenge was the delay by Genocide convicts who passed through Gacaca courts to pay compensation to survivors.

Bernadette Kanzayire, deputy Ombudsman.

Bernadette Kanzayire, deputy Ombudsman in charge of preventing and fighting injustice, said some convicts had no financial means to pay compensations, but where this was the case, she said it should be indicated.

“The sooner these cases are ruled on the better so that survivors get their compensation. If someone has no financial capacity, the government could arrange for other means to cover the damages, for instance through public interest works,” she said.

Kanzayire said the bigger issue that needed more efforts was how survivors could get money their parents had on their bank accounts because it necessitates that the heir/heiress provides documents justifying their succession.

Naphtal Ahishakiye, executive secretary of Ibuka, an umbrella group of Genocide survivors’ organisations, said banks did not show commitment to identifying those who had savings and got killed in the Genocide.

AERG said there was a challenge of lack of evidence for some children to identify their property or birth certificates. It called for people to tell the truth about survivors’ property.

AERG and Ibuka say there was need for a competent taskforce to be established by the law and mandated to investigate all property cases for survivors.

They say they have acknowledged the work done by the previous taskforce, but says it was given a little time and no competence in dealing with property issues.

The taskforce, established by the Prime Minister’s Order, started work in January 2013 and wound up three months later. It mainly provided guidelines to local leaders on how property issues could be solved and produced a report on those issues, which Ibuka and AERG say was not an appropriate approach as survivors said local leaders failed to rule on the cases and yet they are the ones assigned to deal with them.

Last week, the Ministry of Local Government said 331 cases remain unresolved out of 1,283 cases over grabbed properties in the country.

However, AERG says there are other cases which were not discovered citing seven related to social security.