The Netherlands and “Criminal Refugees” from Afghanistan: political misconceptions

Edo Dijkgraaf - Raad van State (CC-BY)

 

Edo Dijkgraaf - Raad van State (CC-BY)

Edo Dijkgraaf – Raad van State (CC-BY)

 

By Arja Oomkens

 

On 23 September 2016, the Dutch Section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM), a commission that focuses on the protection of human rights in the Netherlands, announced that they had filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state for a wrongful act committed with respect to an Afghan person with a valid asylum residence permit.

 

The Afghan asylum-seeker in question fled for fear of persecution by the Taliban during the late 90’s and received asylum in the Netherlands. Eighteen years later, when the Dutch State found out that he had worked for the secret services of the Afghan communist regime (1978-1992), his residence permit was withdrawn without any individual investigation.

 

This was possible because of Dutch immigration policy on Afghanistan (set up in 2000): it stipulates that everyone who has worked for the Afghan secret services between 1978 and 1992 has per definition committed serious human rights abuses and is therefore not entitled to an asylum residence permit. These persons are excluded from the protection guaranteed under the Refugee Convention because they meet the criteria for article 1F of this Convention. Therefore, they are referred to by the Dutch state as so-called “1F-ers,” or in the terms of the media: “criminal asylum-seekers.”

 

The Dutch state is one of the few[1] EU member states that requires alleged “1F-ers” to prove that they were not involved in any human rights abuses. In this specific situation, the Afghan person denied any involvement in 1F classified human rights abuses, since he had only worked within the administrative division of the secret services. Nevertheless, because he did not have any documents to prove his point, the Dutch state applied the 1F principle to withdraw his residence permit.

 

It is important to note in this regard that it is unlikely that any other decision could have been made in a similar situation. Gaibar Hasami, a board-member of the Dutch 1F Foundation, points out that a lot of people that worked for the Afghan secret services did not know that human rights abuses were being committed in the name of their employer. This had to do with the fact that the majority of 80.000 people worked for the “above-ground” secret services, while a minority worked for the “underground” secret services – only the latter committed human rights abuses. However, it is impossible to prove this since the secret services have done everything within their power to hide any evidence that points to human rights abuses. With no evidence available to prove their guilt or innocence, “1F-ers” are excluded from protection based on the premise that there are serious reasons for considering their involvement in human rights abuses two decades ago.

 

Consequently, the Afghan “1F-er” in question appeared before the Council of State, the highest authority in the Netherlands with respect to immigration affairs, to appeal the withdrawal of his residence permit. As with all other appeals with regard to Dutch 1F immigration policy on Afghanistan, the Council of State upheld the decision to withdraw his residence permit.

 

From the perspective of the Afghan “1F-er” and the NJCM this decision violates European Union law because no individual investigation was conducted, and because no reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg was made. Based on EU law, the withdrawal of residency under such circumstances would mean a wrongful act was committed by the Dutch State. Therefore, the implicated Afghan person and the NJCM now ask the District Court in The Hague to confirm this verdict.

 

Evidently, such a verdict will be in the interest of all alleged Afghan “1F-ers.” Because the situation in Afghanistan is still dangerous for them, many Afghan “1F-ers” – who have lived in the Netherlands for up to 20 years – cannot be expelled by the Dutch State. Their situation nevertheless remains insecure: when the security situation in Afghanistan changes they may be expelled at any time. Is this reasonable when they have built up their family life in the Netherlands? Even though there has never been any investigation into the specific circumstances of their situation?

 

One thing must not be forgotten: Afghan “1F-ers” who have lived in the Netherlands for almost two decades initially applied for asylum because they feared persecution in Afghanistan. In the abovementioned case, the Afghan asylum-seeker entered the Netherlands because of his fear of persecution by the Taliban. The Dutch state considered his story credible and therefore granted him asylum. This means it was considered credible that the Afghan asylum-seeker had been victimized and would be victimized again by the Taliban if sent back. Therefore, Dutch 1F immigration policy on Afghanistan does not protect victims of human rights abuses as it can wrongly exclude asylum-seekers in need of protection.

 

Article 1F is part of a convention drawn up to protect those in need of protection, yet in practice, its application in the Netherlands leads to blatant injustices. Based on political misconceptions of responsibility (both of the state and of the person), it fails to protect those it was designed to. Under 1F, victims are turned into perpetrators, their most fundamental rights upended, and ultimately, their safety and wellbeing compromised. For now, “1F-ers” like the Afghan person in this article have no option but to wait, hoping that the outcome of the lawsuit against the Dutch state can change their situation.

 

[1] Next to the Netherlands, only the Czech Republic consistently reverses the burden of proof with regard to a 1F situation, see this website for more info.

 

Housing for Refugees in the Netherlands: austere and just?

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11452557904_4ee05bfaa6_o

Container homes – Inhabitat (CC BY-NC-ND)

 

By Arja Oomkens -

 

Last November, the Dutch government decided that housing for refugees with a temporary residence permit must be “austere and just”. In effect, this meant the development of austerity measures to regularize housing for these refugees in empty governmental buildings (e.g. former offices), in one of the (to be built) 14,000 small-scale homes (e.g. containers), or in homes where at least four households are able to live together (e.g. student rooms). In addition to these measures, the government plans to change the 2014 Housing Act – in specific the part that prioritizes refugees for social housing. This topic has been part of a heated public debate over the past few months, since the prioritization of refugees has made many low-income Dutch citizens feel disadvantaged for being on a never-ending waiting list for social housing. In this sense, the (planned) austerity measures seem a step in the right direction, as they both address pressure on the social housing market as well as relieve increased tension towards refugees.

 

But how crucial and just are these measures really?

 

These measures cannot be deemed crucial simply by referring to the pressure of 24,000 refugees in need of housing. Especially since there is another important reason for pressure on the social housing sector: namely the decision of the government in 2013 to liberalize one million social housing facilities. In other words, of the 2,7 million houses available in the Netherlands, one million are to be sold – 2014 already saw the sale of about 7000 social houses. As a consequence, the liberalization of social housing facilities makes access to social housing more difficult for everyone, not just low-income Dutch citizens. It is therefore not rationally justifiable to develop office and container homes for refugees and present it as the sole solution to an already pressurized social housing market.

 

Furthermore, it is discriminatory to differentiate between refugees and low-income Dutch citizens by requiring refugees to live in austere, second-rate, housing facilities. In this regard, the UN Refugee Convention and European Union Law do not protect refugees’ interests sufficiently. Article 21 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention indicates that state parties “shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory treatment as favorable as possible” and the 2004 EU-Qualification Directive requires that refugees must “have access to accommodation under equivalent conditions as other third country nationals legally resident in their territories.” Both of these definitions are problematic as they leave room for differentiation between Dutch citizens and refugees with a temporary residence permit. This differentiation, in the form of austerity measures for refugees, is contrary to the obligations of the Netherlands under the International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (ICERD). Under this Convention, racial discrimination occurs when a person or group is treated differently because of their national origin. According to article 5 of the Convention, states must guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law in the enjoyment of the freedom of residence. It is therefore questionable whether it is possible to require refugees to live in offices, or containers.

 

Next to this legal issue, it is also important to explore the social impact of the austerity measures. Will they be effective in the long term?

 

In the short term, by depressurizing the social housing market and placing refugees in office or container homes, the increasing tension amongst low-income Dutch citizens towards refugees may be diffused. But from an overcrowded asylum-seekers’ center to an abandoned office building, refugees are required to live on the outskirts of Dutch society, making the integration process more difficult. Needless to say, this is detrimental to their livelihoods and wellbeing. Only after five years are refugees with a temporary residence permit eligible for permanent residency, but only if they can indicate that they are sufficiently integrated and pass all Dutch language exams. It is more likely that refugees who are isolated in office or container homes will be denied permanent residency. Accordingly, the austerity measures are problematic as they assume that conflicts in those countries where people are fleeing from will cease soon, yet all indications point to the contrary. Therefore, while the Dutch government on the one hand stresses the importance of integration, the austerity measures in place on the other hand do not reconcile with this important objective.

 

By July 2016, the government hopes to have amended the law that prioritizes refugees for social housing. This article attempts to show the illegitimacy of such measures and what this means for the integration of refugees in the long term. In short, pressure on the social housing market cannot solely be ‘blamed’ on the influx of refugees to the Netherlands; differentiating between refugees and low-income Dutch citizens is contrary to the obligations of the Netherlands under the ICERD; and placing refugees in offices and container homes is detrimental to the integration process. Refugees do not have a family network to resort to or depend on: their families have often been torn apart by war and persecution in their home countries. For the same reason, refugees will not be able to repatriate soon. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the Dutch government, along with its citizens, starts to think about the implications and long-term effects of its austerity measures. Because sustainable peace in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, or Eritrea, is not feasible, and worldwide displacement has never been recorded higher than today, an open attitude towards the integration of refugees is imperative.

 

 

 

Ending Statelessness: the long road ahead

UN Photo/CC BY-NC-NC

UN Photo/CC BY-NC-NC

 

By Arja Oomkens -

 

Exactly one year ago, UNHCR launched a global campaign aimed at ending statelessness, a phenomenon that is often described as a “devastating legal limbo”. But what is statelessness exactly, and why is it so important to combat its consequences? The UNHCR report that came out yesterday explains the debilitating impact of statelessness on children. Today, I will use this report as a starting point to provide a bird’s eye view of the issues surrounding statelessness. How is it possible that this phenomenon excludes millions of people worldwide from a dignified and humane life?

 

The story of Rashid forms an illustrative example. Rashid, 27, was born in Maungdaw, Myanmar. He is a Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has faced decades of segregation. Since the 1970s, the Rohingya have been deprived of their citizenship, restricted in their movements, and have suffered en masse persecution. Rashid fled to Bangladesh with his mother, after his father, who was a Muslim rights activist, was killed and his sister was arrested. Because of a legitimate fear of persecution, and because he was explicitly deprived of his citizenship in Myanmar, Rashid could not go back to his home country when his temporary legal stay in Bangladesh expired. Therefore, he moved to the Netherlands to seek protection. He applied for asylum twice, but both of his requests were rejected.

 

As a result, Rashid is stuck in the Netherlands. On the one hand he is an illegal resident, while on the other hand, he cannot be expelled because neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar will accept him. Without a state to take responsibility for him, he lacks access to health care, education, employment opportunities, property rights and the ability to freely move around across borders. It is also impossible to get married, open a bank account or get a driving license. Unlike many others, Rashid cannot take these rights for granted.

 

Statelessness, as famously described by Hannah Arendt (2004), means the loss of the “right to have rights”. As the example of Rashid illustrates, stateless people lack the social and economic access necessary to fulfill their most basic human needs. Worse still, in the words of António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime”. Without citizenship rights, and no state to protect them, they are forced into a life of invisibility.

 

One can become stateless for a myriad of reasons. First of all, people may become stateless with the dissolution and separation of states. For example, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 left large numbers of people stateless. Of these people, over 370,000 people still lack a nationality in Estonia and Latvia. Another reason for becoming stateless is because of conflicts of nationality laws between certain countries, which may cause statelessness at birth or later in life. This happens when, for example, two states claim that the other is responsible for the bestowment of a nationality. In addition, people are forced into statelessness as a direct result of discrimination (e.g. against women or other specific ethnic groups). The 1,2 million stateless Rohingya in Myanmar are a case in point of ethnic discrimination and the categorical denial of citizenship.

 

The relatively unknown concept of statelessness affects at least 10 million people worldwide – a number that excludes many people who might hold formal citizenship but are prevented from enjoying citizenship rights. Unfortunately, this number is expanding continuously; UNHCR estimates that one stateless baby is born every ten minutes. In addition, the conflict in Syria further exacerbates the problem. The mass displacement of four million refugees into neighboring countries places children at great risk of statelessness. For Syrians abroad, the possibility to register newborns is limited. Because most Syrians flee from the persecution by their own government, it is implausible that they will register a newborn in a Syrian embassy. Within the borders of Syria, discriminatory nationality laws ensure that Syrian children can only acquire nationality through their fathers. Since the conflict has left 25 per cent of Syrian households fatherless, this gender discrimination causes registration at birth to be an unattainable goal for many.

 

The global campaign launched by UNHCR last year aims to intensify efforts to end statelessness within ten years. The campaign was launched in light of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which, alongside the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, is to provide the international legal basis to end statelessness. With the campaign, UNHCR calls on nations to take on 10 actions to end statelessness.

 

During its first year, the campaign focused on ending childhood statelessness. The UNHCR report that came out today urges all states to allow children to gain the nationality of the country in which they are born if they would otherwise be stateless; to reform laws that prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers; eliminate laws and practices that deny children nationality because of their ethnicity, race or religion; and ensure universal birth registration to prevent statelessness. Because issues surrounding statelessness are often felt first during childhood, the report thereby aims to address the core of the problem.

 

There are three reasons why states are expected to cooperate. First, the two Statelessness Conventions require governments that have ratified to provide a minimum set of human rights (1954), and to reduce statelessness (1961). Second, international law recognizes the right of every child to a nationality; this is set out in Article 7 of the almost universally ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Third, state cooperation is expected not only to be in the child’s best interests, but also in the interest of the state since the right to education, health, and work will contribute to the integration and social cohesion of any society.

 

With regard to those who have become stateless as a result of the Syrian conflict, the Jordanian government has already set a good example. To ensure that every child begins life with a birth certificate – which serves as proof of identity and a direct link to Syria – the Jordanian government established a personal status court and civil status department within the Zaatari refugee camp. In light of these developments, 3,597 Syrian children born in this camp have been registered over the past two years.

 

The UNHCR campaign has received a great deal of international attention, and has even culminated in thorough cooperation with civil society initiatives – see for example the recent report by the European Network on Statelessness. Hopefully, these efforts will have a positive impact on the millions of stateless people worldwide. For Rashid, and many others like him, there has only been the promise of the establishment of a statelessness determination procedure in the Netherlands. Because the Dutch government is a state party to the two Statelessness conventions, the recognition of Rashid as a stateless person means that he is entitled to a secure legal status and enjoyment of the rights afforded under these conventions, such as the right to education, employment, and housing. Furthermore, the recognition of Rashid as a stateless person would mean that he has the right to an identity document under article 27 of the 1954 Convention. This is of great importance, because carrying identification is mandatory at all times in the Netherlands (since 2004). At this moment, stateless persons are often unable to meet this requirement, and, without being able to identify themselves, they risk arbitrary detention. Therefore, to ensure that he is not left invisible – without equal rights and any sense of human dignity – it is imperative that the Netherlands will follow up on its promise to develop the long-awaited procedure to determine statelessness, including a procedure to provide ID documents for stateless persons.

 

Overall, the situation of Rashid in the Netherlands illustrates how pressing the need is to address the plight of stateless people worldwide. Not only the Netherlands, but all state parties to the 1954 and 1961 Convention must follow up on their obligations under these conventions. If states would do so, UNHCR’s global campaign to end statelessness within ten years may suddenly become a feasible goal.

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of a Solution to the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Local Integration in Turkey will Relieve Mounting Tensions

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Photo: EC/ECHO (CC-BY-ND)

By Arja Oomkens -

With the conflict in Syria entering its fifth year of ongoing atrocities and destruction, it has come to epitomize one of the most challenging humanitarian crises of our era. Nearly 4 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries and North Africa, and over 200,000 Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Europe. Consequently, the need to address issues of unprecedented displacement and refugee protection has become ever more pressing.

Across Syria’s borders, the mass influx of refugees imposes a heavy burden on mainly Turkey, but also Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Of these countries, Turkey has received by far the most refugees. According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1,7 million Syrians are believed to have crossed Turkey’s borders. While some of them are accommodated in refugee camps, most of the refugees are currently living in urban areas in the southeast provinces of Turkey such as Hatay, Gaziantep, and Kilis.

In host communities, cultural and religious differences between locals and Syrian refugees, combined with competition for healthcare, shelter, water, jobs, and school placements are causing serious social tensions. The violent anti-Syrian protests in the Turkish city Gaziantep in August 2014 have undoubtedly demonstrated that such tensions can easily deteriorate. These protests were triggered by the responsibility of a Syrian tenant for the murder of a Turkish landlord. After the murder, protesters gathered and started shouting anti-Syrian slogans all over the city, attacked Syrians whom they encountered in the streets, destroyed workplaces owned by Syrians, and set cars on fire with Syrian license plates. In the same month, more violent outbreaks against Syrians were reported elsewhere in Turkey.

It is evident that there is no easy answer to such a complex and fragile situation. Yet, bearing in mind that Syrian displacement will most likely become protracted (since there is no prospect for the conflict in Syria to abate in the near future), it is of the utmost importance to address the increased social tensions and seek a clear, future-oriented, and durable solution to ensure safe living conditions for both locals and Syrian refugees.

In searching for solutions to refugeehood, reference is often made to the possibility of local integration. The UNHCR has also identified the practice of voluntary return and resettlement as possible durable solutions. However, since the possibility of repatriation is remote and resettlement into a third country is an option only available to a small minority, integration into host communities is the most viable option with regard to the Syrian refugee crisis. Local integration essentially means that the host state grants a refugee a durable legal status that would allow him or her to remain in the country of first asylum and participate in the social, economic, and cultural life of the host community. The UNHCR has indicated that this form of integration would require a preparedness of the refugee to adapt to the host community without having to forego his or her own cultural identity. This formulation thus requires both a social and legal form of integration before it becomes a durable solution.

In light of the social tensions between locals of Turkish host communities and Syrians, adequate local integration would directly support the protection of both groups. In order to create a stable social order (in the form of equal participation of Syrians and locals), the goodwill of local residents of the host communities will be a prerequisite. Turkey therefore needs to find an effective way to mitigate the fear towards refugees that is present in host communities. Strains of fear, in the form of competition, can be alleviated through the construction of new schools or health clinics for the local population and refugees. Furthermore, to move beyond the status of Syrians as refugees and to show Turkey’s acceptance of Syrians, integration through naturalization (acquisition of citizenship) must be made available. To do so, Turkey needs the cooperation of the international community to ensure effective burden-sharing methods. Without sharing the burden of local integration, to which international assistance and funding are imperative, Turkey would be confronted with an impossible task.

Even though social and legal integration into Turkish host communities can be an effective solution to the ever-increasing tensions in the country, the option to do so remains left to the discretion of the government of Turkey. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter remains that neither general international law nor treaty obliges states to grant durable solutions.

Still, since Turkey is a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention (CRSR), it is relevant to shortly discuss the state’s obligation under article 34 CSCR. This article does provide access to citizenship through integration (formulated as naturalization) and is predicated on a recognition that a refugee required to remain outside his or her country of origin should be able to benefit from “a series of privileges, including political rights.” However, as renowned academic and refugee lawyer James Hathaway has rightly indicated, article 34 cannot be deemed a strong obligation as it does not require state parties to grant citizenship to refugees. Moreover, the already weak obligation of article 34 towards Syrians is further undermined by the geographical limitation Turkey has retained to its ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention – which means that only those fleeing as a consequence of “events occurring in Europe” will be regarded as “refugees” for the purposes of the Convention. For this reason, Turkey can uphold that it has no obligations under the 1951 Convention to grant privileges towards Syrian refugees.

Consequently, Turkey is under no obligation to accord local integration to Syrian refugees. However, for the protection of Syrians and residents of host communities – and therefore Turkey’s national security – it is essential to take into account that increased social tensions may have a deteriorating effect. As prominent sociologist Abram de Swaan has phrased in his latest book, mounting tensions in the form of strong identification with one’s own group combined with eminent disidentification towards another group over a longer period of time may evoke murderous hatred. As disidentifying sentiments in Turkish host communities regarding cultural and religious differences (and various forms of competition) are rising towards Syrians, the likelihood for hostilities to erupt increases. What must be stressed is that even though there is no legal obligation for Turkey to integrate Syrians into their host communities, the government – in cooperation with the international community – should feel the responsibility to work towards local integration. This may be the only durable solution to the Syrian refugee crisis in their country.

 

See for more information: Hathaway J.C., The Rights of Refugees under International Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

 

From Hatred to Hope: Rwandan airwaves against animosity

Photo: Arja Oomkens
Photo: Arja Oomkens

Photo: Arja Oomkens

By Arja Oomkens

In Rwanda, the radio is deeply interwoven into the social fabric of everyday life. Wherever you travel, from the capital city to the rolling hills beyond, the frequencies of the radio resound. On a hazy morning in Kigali, I too find myself listening to the radio while waiting for a Rwandan friend. This is my second visit to Rwanda and I am excited to tell him about my plans to conduct research on the role of the radio in the country. When my friend finally arrives, I ask: “do many Rwandans still listen to the radio?” He smiles and replies that everyone does and even if they do not have a radio at home, people will visit their neighbors to listen together. When I continue to ask if there are things that are not allowed over the airwaves, he looks surprised and says: “Of course there are. People have the right to say what they think, but not something that would destroy this country.”

During the genocide in Rwanda, the private radio station Radio-Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) functioned as an important tool for the genocidal authorities to disseminate their hate propaganda against the Tutsi ethnic group. RTLM dictated the rules set-up by the genocidal government and presented this playfully in a talk show format. In its daily programs, announcers made historical allusions by recalling the foreign origin of Tutsi and thereby claiming this ethnic group had no right to be Rwandan. Tutsi were dehumanized as “cockroaches” and stereotyped on the basis of their physical appearance. But the macabre practical use of RTLM was only realized during a later stage of the genocide, when the radio station even directed Hutu perpetrators by providing specific information on how, where and when to kill. After the genocide, RTLM was prohibited and one of the main RLTM announcers, Ferdinand Nahimana, was found guilty of indirect and public incitement to commit genocide by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR).

Given the propagandist role of the radio during the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan media sector has been the subject of special attention to both the Rwandan government and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For the RPF-led government, the aim to unify and reconcile Rwanda goes hand in hand with upholding a high level of censorship for the media sector. In 2002, the RPF established a law against “divisionism.” This law prohibits “any act of division that could generate conflict among the population or generate dispute.” Like my Rwandan friend noted before, it is not allowed to say anything that would destroy the country. On the same note, referring to someone’s ethnic background is also strictly prohibited. But what exactly falls into the category of forbidden words and utterances that could “destroy the country”? Here, the government to this day remains anything but clear.

Despite this lack of freedom, the RPF did allow the media sector to slowly open up in 2003, when it legalized private radio stations. Therefore, and since the radio remained as popular as before the genocide, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have incorporated the radio as a means to sensitize and reach out to the population. One of those NGOs is Radio La Benevolencija (RLB), a Dutch initiative that combines education and entertainment to encourage “hope, empowerment and benevolence.” Since 2004, their radio-soap called Musekeweya (meaning “New Dawn”) can be heard twice a week over the Rwandan airwaves.

RLB has fundamentally changed the use of the radio in Rwanda. Conceptualized as a media intervention, the purpose of Musekeweya has been to relief some of the psychological pressures that, according to RLB, contribute to transgression into mass violence. The main pressure to which RLB refers in Musekeweya is the practice of scapegoating (or the encouragement of hate and fear towards the “other” group). In the radio-soap, examples are provided that explain how scapegoating can contribute to deterioration into violent conflict. Inherently related to these examples is the idea that an understanding of the influences that lead to mass murder and genocide will reduce the possibility of recurring violence.

In the 2003 Design Document of Musekeweya, RLB made clear that the radio-soap would not be about the legacies of the 1994 genocide, as this would have been too distressing in regard to the traumatic experiences almost every Rwandan had gone through. Instead, their objective has been to identify and promote positive role models in Rwandan society. These role models have been incorporated into the main storyline of Musekeweya, wherein the citizens of two fictional villages, “Muhumuro” and “Bumanzi,” are entangled in a conflict over land distribution. To heighten tensions between the villages, and with the aim to create an understanding amongst the audience that the radio-soap is similar to Rwandan history, the citizens from Bumanzi and Muhumuro have been given a different, yet unnamed and equally fictional, ethnic identity. In doing so, RLB believes that a safer space is created for the audience to discuss and reflect upon sensitive and traumatic issues that are currently present in their own country or village.

A prominent example of promoting positive role models that runs through the storyline of Musekeweya is the love relationship between Shema, a man from Bumanzi, and Batamuriza, a woman from Muhumoro. On both sides, their parents try to convince them not to relate with someone from the other village, because of the long-lasting and deeply rooted conflict between the villagers. Rather than listening to their parents’ negative statements about the people from the other village, Shema and Batamuriza decide to marry each other. In doing so, they move away from the conflict between the two villages (and their families). The moral of the story is clear: Shema and Batamuriza do not only personify present-day difficulties of interethnic love and marriage in Rwanda, they also present the possibilities of transitioning into a peaceful society. More specifically, by presenting how Shema and Batamuriza overcome the conflict of an older generation, RLB envisions to prevent scapegoating and overcome passivity in times of crisis.

Even though the current media landscape is very much restricted, RLB has been able to address sensitive issues by drawing a fictional, yet clear and transparent, analogy to Rwandan history. In doing so, RLB actively supports a change in the meaning and function of the radio. This change has been clear throughout the conversation I had with my Rwandan friend. When I asked him whether he was familiar with the radio-soap Musekeweya, he replied: “of course I do, everyone does. It is a theater show that makes us laugh and brings us together.” Our conversation demonstrated that the radio continues to be interwoven into the social fabric of Rwanda, but that the loom is now different. Thanks to the efforts of RLB, the radio has changed from being a symbol of hate and destruction to one of hope and reintegration.

See for further reading: Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).