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Millions suffer from underdevelopment and poverty when money is needlessly spent on weapons – Press Release

Millions suffer from underdevelopment and poverty when money is needlessly spent on weapons – Press Release

Storrs, CT, 25 May 2010 –

The disproportionately high expenditures on weapons by the governments of developing countries is contributing to a social deficit in the world’s poorest nations, with devastating impact on young people in particular, says a resolution adopted by a group of 100 young leaders representing more than 30 countries at a youth leadership training forum jointly hosted by the UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights in USA and the Rwanda National Commission for Human Rights.

In a document issued in Kigali, Rwanda, following the inaugural Global Human Rights Youth Summit in Africa, the participants called on global leaders and major powers to “impose a moratorium on arms sales which are not necessary for legitimate self defense.”

The resolution, which was hand-delivered to Rwandan President Paul Kagame in January, is being launched and disseminated globally in an effort to raise awareness and create momentum around the world for dialogues and other non-violent means to settle outstanding issues and difference between and among people.  Rather than spending money on arms, the document implores world leaders to invest heavily in education and other social programmes, such as health, agriculture and infrastructure.

In his speech to the young human rights leaders, President Paul Kagame reaffirmed the commitment of his government in making human rights a reality in the lives of all Rwandans. He said this was an imperative given the country’s recent history. The president commended the young leaders who left their various countries and travelled to Rwanda to demonstrate through concrete action their solidarity with Rwandans.  He said, “It is always heartening to see young people – who represent not only our hope for a better future but even for a better “right now” – take such an active interest in the issues that shape other people’s lives, like you have been doing and have expressed in the last one week. I encourage you to keep up this interest, to see yourselves as the active agents of change that you are and can be, and make a difference in whatever you choose to do in life.”

The youth leaders met to discuss human rights issues with a focus on Africa and were particularly disturbed by recent reports documenting that armed conflict costs Africa more than $18 billion every year, diverting vital funds from growth and development.

“When we met in Africa to discuss human rights it was obvious that there was one major obstacle impacting so many areas of Africa: war, guns and armed conflict,” says Sreyashi  Ghosh, a participant from India.  “And the more we discussed it, the more we realized it’s not a problem unique to Africa.  If we took even half of the money spent on acquiring weapons and put it towards education, the developing world would be a different place.”

The resolution by the group also urged “all governments to grant amnesty and collect arms which have caused enormous human suffering and perverted political and economic processes on all continents,” especially highlighting that “building a culture of human rights and globalizing ethical values are the most viable means of maintaining international peace and human security in all regions of the world, including Africa.”

Rwanda was an appropriate and powerful setting for the young leaders to come together to discuss their ideas of bringing non-violent change and fostering global solidarity and human rights, because the recent tragic history of the country shows the utter futility of using violence to “solve” social problems and differences, notes Amii Omara-Otunnu, the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, USA.

Professor Omara-Otunnu added that “beyond the tragic history, the young human rights leadership forum was convened in Rwanda to pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of Rwandans who from the ashes of the 1994 genocide have risen like a tidal wave to rebuild their country based on important principles of human rights. The startling achievements in women empowerment, decentralization and post-conflict governance all deserve our admiration and demonstration and support. More than this, we should, based on informed empathy and compassion, not only demonstrate solidarity with the people of Rwanda but also strive to globalize ethical values and act towards one another in a spirit of fraternity in order to banish the scourge of violence the world over,” Professor Omara-Otunnu emphasized.

The Rwanda Forum heralded the launch of the UNESCO Chair Youth Summits, which will soon begin a global rotation with the hope of fostering inclusiveness and building a network of solidarity among young leaders from all corners of the globe to lay the groundwork for an international movement for a better world based on ethical values.

The first summit was based in Rwanda and included representatives from several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Participants from Rwanda spoke of their experience following the 1994 genocide, with many highlighting their work as leaders dedicated to ensuring long term peace. Together with their counterparts from other regions of the world, they emphasized the necessity for demilitarization and investment in health and education.

During the leadership training forum, it became abundantly clear that while many African governments spend millions on weapons and ignore development. In their deliberations the young leaders came to the conclusion that the problem of spending disproportionately on the military goes beyond African borders, to the countries of the developed world where most weapons are produced and marketed to war-torn African countries.

It is for these reasons that the partnership of the UNESCO Chair, The Rwanda National Commission for Human Rights and the First Global Human Rights Youth Summit are sounding a global call and pleading for tougher international controls on arms trade.

The resolutions conclude that, with the right support and international cooperation, it is possible to “focus investment in education that leads to social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms, and to the banishment of the scourge of poverty, disease, conflicts and insecurity in Africa in the twenty-first century.”

For more information contact: unescochair@uconn.edu; phone: (860)486-0647; fax: (860)486-2545.

UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights

in partnership with the

National Commission for Human Rights, Rwanda

International Leadership Programme:  A Global Intergenerational Forum

Resolution

Global Human Rights Youth Summit: In Solidarity with the People of Rwanda

adopted 9th January 2010 Kigali, Rwanda

We, the participants in the “International Leadership Training Programme: A Global Intergenerational Forum” in Kigali, Rwanda, organized by the UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights and the National Human Rights Commission of Rwanda

Recalling that the purposes and principles of the United Nations, are, among other things: to maintain international peace and security; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small; and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms;

Affirming UNESCO’s prognosis that lack of compassion and ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of humanity, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;

Committed to UNESCO’s approach that the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of human beings and constitute a sacred duty which all nations and individuals must fulfill in a spirit of reciprocal respect, mutual assistance, concern and solidarity;

Mindful that peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon human solidarity;

Reaffirming that all human rights are universal, interdependent and indivisible (A/CONF.157/23);

Conscious of the fact that every person is entitled to realize his or her full human potential through learning about all aspects of human rights and fundamental freedoms set in the context of society, history and political economy, which would enable him/her with reason and conscience to act towards one another in a spirit of fraternal solidarity;

Deeply disturbed that the international community failed in its duty to the people of Rwanda to prevent genocide in 1994 and instead took steps which enabled genocide to occur;

Recognizing the commendable attempts and achievements of the people of Rwanda under enlightened leadership committed to cultivating a culture of human rights and fostering good governance in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide;

Moved by informed empathy, we, the young adult Human Rights Leaders of the world, commit ourselves to build enduring bonds of solidarity with the people of Rwanda through sharing of experiences and information, through practical engagement in activities, and through corrective actions and deeds of compassion;

Resolve further to support the right to education for all people in Africa, as stipulated in Article 26 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In particular, we affirm that each person has a right to know that he/she has human rights and what those rights are.  We recognize the necessity of human rights education at all levels as a primary means of socialization and empowerment of people to engage meaningfully in self-fulfilling and enhancing political, civil, social, cultural and economic activities;

Strongly committed to protecting human rights of every human being without distinction of any kind under Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon all governments to adopt national policies that recognize individual human rights without discrimination including   sexual orientation or disability;

Humbled by the spiritual wealth of Africans to withstand intolerable conditions of marginalization, poverty and injustice which have in part been imposed by external forces;

Deplore foreign forces that provide diplomatic, public relations and material support to non-democratic and corrupt rulers in Africa who deny their people democratic rights, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, human security and equitable development;

Call upon all people in the world, as a demonstration of both a common humanity and in acknowledgement of the role played by the world in the plight of Africans, to seek practical means of equitable distribution of resources, to give moral and practical support to democratic voices in Africa committed to non-violence, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability as well as investment in education to further sustainable development, human security, peaceful resolution of conflicts, to build infrastructure and institutions that sustain democratic rule of law;.

Concerned by continuing global conflicts and desiring to encourage a culture of peace, we urge the big powers of the world to impose a worldwide moratorium on arms sales which are not necessary for legitimate self-defense.  We encourage all governments to grant amnesty and collect arms which have caused enormous human suffering and perverted political and economic processes on all continents;

Convinced that building a culture of human rights and globalizing ethical values are the most viable means of maintaining international peace and human security in all regions of the world, including Africa;

Issue in spirit of solidarity with the people of Rwanda in particular and of Africa in general, a clarion call to the international community to mobilize all necessary efforts and resources and to focus investment in education that leads to social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms, and to the banishment of the scourge of poverty, disease, conflicts and insecurity in Africa in the twenty-first century, as envisaged in, and to make a reality of, the Millennium Declaration adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state in September 2000.

Speaking of… Some thoughts from the first days of the Global Human Rights Youth Summit

“The best thing Gacaca did was to bring the victims and the perpetrators together to talk of the genocide, to learn the truth.”
• Jean Baptiste Habyarimana, Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation, discusses the community justice court system established after the 1994 genocide.

“ When one has been sick for a long time and then he recovers, he says he has to survive or else.”
• Laurent Nkongoli of the Rwandan Human Rights Commission notes the fast growth of his country after years of underdevelopment and genocide.

“Africa has become what it’s been thanks in part by the influence of us in the rich world…Africa has spent the last 500 years going from slavery to slavery.”
• Gerry Caplan, author of the Betrayal of Africa, discusses the reasons behind Africa’s slow growth.

“ A leader is one who must foster change. To change the area where we are and to go beyond.”
• Honorable Tito Rutaremara, Ombudsman, Rwanda, talks about leadership and sustainability in the developing world.

“In terms of human rights and the environment, water is going to be the next big challenge. The right to water is a human right.”
• Environmental expert Philip Osana discusses environmental sustainability in the East Africa region.

Final rundown of participants attending Rwanda Global Human Rights Youth Summit

Drumroll please. 

And the countries represented at the 2010 Global Human Rights Youth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda are:

United States of America: 27 participants

Rwanda: 25

South Africa: 5

Canada: 4

Uganda: 3

Kenya: 3

Ghana: 3

Australia: 2

India: 2

Tanzania: 2

Ireland: 1      Democratic Republic of the Congo: 1       Peru: 1        Burma: 1        Sweden: 1        Korea: 1

Egypt: 1         Nigeria: 1           Brazil: 1         Tajikistan: 1        Austria: 1         Mexico: 1

How well do you know your human rights?

You won’t be tested, but you might be surprised to see how you score on this human rights quiz.  

Check it out ahead of the Rwanda forum and compare notes with fellow participants.

5 Things you didn’t know about Rwanda

  1. Paper or Plastic? Rwanda was one of the first countries in the world to ban the use of plastic bags.  In 2004 thousands of people ditched work to help pick up the piles of plastic bags strewn about the country.  Two years later in 2006 lawmakers brought in a bylaw banning the use of plastic bags in an effort to clean up the country, including its rivers and lakes.
  2. Coup de grace: Following the Rwanda genocide and a deteriorating relationship between France and the current government, Rwandan officials decided to change the country’s language of instruction from French to English.  A desire to become an international IT hub in a world of English dominance has also been cited as a reason. English is now the co-official language, along with Kinyarwanda.  In 2008 only five per cent of Rwandans spoke English.  However, English language schools are now a common sight on the streets of Rwanda’s cities. 
  3. Smashing the glass ceiling: The 2008 Rwandan Parliamentary election produced the first ever national legislative chamber with a female majority in a modern nation state.  Women secured 45 seats out of 80; 56 per cent of the vote.  A new law in Rwanda also states that at least one third of parliamentarians must be women. 
  4. Crowded: Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with an estimated population of more than 10 million people in a country the size of Maryland or Belgium (26,338 square kilometers).
  5. Gorillas in the Mist: Rwanda is home to the mountain gorilla, one of the most endangered species.  Tracking these gorillas is the number one tourist draw in Rwanda.  Hundreds of people visit the country every year to seek out the famous apes in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.  2009 was the UN’s Year of the Gorilla.