By Ruhumuliza Dominique
Luc Marchal, who commanded the UN peacekeepers in Kigali in 1994 and Bwira Sylvestre, Congolese human rights activist and president of the civil society in Eastern Congo, were awarded “Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Prize for Democracy and Peace” by the International Network of Women for Democracy and Peace (RifDP), at a ceremony held on Saturday March 9th, 2013 in Brussels.
Created on March 12th, 2011 in Montreal, this annual award is to reward people who, during the previous year, will have excelled in the context of the struggle for democracy and peace in Africa and especially in the Great Lakes region. Perpetua Muramutse, coordinator of the Canadian section of RifDP who explained how the prize was conceived, reminded that its aim was of “recognizing the courage of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, and honoring her so that it inspires us.”
The jury which consisted of Juan Carrero, Mauro Sbolgi and the three coordinators of the sections of Canada, Belgium and Holland of RifFDP and chaired by Roger Biloa Mary announced Luc Marchal and Sylvester Bwira as the winners of the prize.
Mukarwego Primitiva, coordinator of the Belgian section of RiFDP told Jambonews that Sylvestre Bwira was chosen “because of his advocacy for human rights” and by that choice, RifDP also wanted to show solidarity with Congolese people and particularly women from the Kivu provinces because of their plight.
Referring to Luc Marchal, Primitiva Mukarwego explained that the jury chose him to acknowledge his persistent advocacy for justice and truth. “For almost 20 years, he continues to fight alongside Rwandans so that the truth prevails; it is that consistency that has earned him such honor.”
“May their sacrifice be a motivation to continue the democratic struggle.”
In his letter of thanks sent to the organizers and which was read during the ceremony, Luc Marchal said how he felt “honored” and “touched” for receiving such prize.
In his note, he explained that something was wrong in the country of a thousand hills “if a prize have to be awarded in Belgium by Rwandan women for the defense of democracy and peace.”
Bearing in mind “all those who even now languish in [Rwandan] jails,” Luc Marchal called upon participants at the meeting to have a special thought for those who, “for having engaged in a similar struggle had simply seen their lives terminated,” and requested that” their sacrifice be always remembered, and become a motivation to continue the democratic struggle and enable Rwanda and at some extent the Great Lakes Region find peace and stability, and that citizens of that region devote their energies to building a common future where everyone will find their place and will no longer fear for their family, or uncertain and anxious aftermath.”
“Commit yourselves for democracy in the region.”
For his part, Sylvestre Bwira, Congolese activist of human rights, explained that he was “surprised to receive such an award” saying it was “not easy to match the courage of Ms Victoire Ingabire” and that it would constitute “a source of inspiration, an inexhaustible foundation, from which we should draw.” Referring to Victoire Ingabire’s speech, which had been presented on a video, he compared the struggle for democracy to a match of football “where some are in front and others at the back, all contributing to a common goal.” He finished by calling the audience to become more engaged” to bring democracy in the region.”
Deo Mushayidi Message
During the awards ceremony, a message sent by Deo Mushayidi from inside his prison cell in Rwanda where he is detained was read by Gerard Karangwa, vice- Chairman of the political party PDP-Imanzi. Deo Mushayidi was winner of the last year awards alongside the couple Christiaan and Martine Beule was read. In his message, the political opponent who is currently serving a life sentence, explained he was proud to have been “deemed worthy of the prize named Victoire Ingabire” and urged “Rwandan Democrats and true friends of Rwanda “to work in order to” avoid our country another tragedy.”
“Whoever fights can lose, but he who does not, has already lost.”
Just before the awards ceremony, Marie Roger Biloa, President of the jury introduced the winners and said he had accepted the role of chairing the jury because of the personality of Victoire, who “is a role model of the sort of courage that we should have “.
She explained that she discovered Rwanda in the late 80s when she was still a young journalist for Jeune Afrique: “I had the chance to get to know the country in peaceful times, with no other goal than understanding it well, and when [tragic] events unfolded from 90, I was better equipped than others to analyze objectively the situation.”
Talking of her commitment to peace in Rwanda, she explained that this was a pledge to her thirst for truth, “I was not siding with a camp against another, I was only siding with the truth; reconciliation cannot be achieved if one [significant] part of the population does not feel recognized as belonging, or considers it does not have place in the country’s history; that is such struggle that Victoire has been fighting to have institutions led by the rule of law and based on justice, and such noble objective should not be abandoned.”
Quoting a German author, she ended her address saying: “Whoever fights can lose, but he who does not, has already lost.”
Translated by Ambrose Nzeyimana