Rwanda’s alleged forced sterilization and vasectomy, if true, is a crime under international law.

Didas Gasana

By Didas Gasana

Under the title “Rwanda in vasectomy drive to stem population growth”, the BBC, on 3 February 2011, reported that the Rwandan government had said it wanted to encourage men to have vasectomies in a bid to stem the small landlocked country’s growing population. Former health Minister, Richard Sezibera is quoted by the BBC as saying that the government aimed to have 700,000 men circumcised in the next three years and in the process, “Those who will be willing to join the programme of family planning will be allowed to have a vasectomy,”

The previous day (February 2, 2011), The New Times had reported that 700,000 Rwandan men are expected to undergo voluntary vasectomy.

Voluntary vasectomy or sterilization is problematic in itself in a country like Rwanda, where disapproval of a stated public policy more often than not attracts direct and indirect penalties. But we shall leave it at that.

More worrying are reports emerging from Rwanda of forced sterilization. Few days ago, the Voice of America interviewed a woman from Rusizi who claimed that women in Rusizi are forced into sterilization. One of the interviewees claimed that women giving birth are sterilized while unaware. Another claimed that health officials force the women to accept sterilization or else risk penalties, including confiscating their kids’ immunization forms.

This is a serious breach of international law and probably may constitute acts of genocide should the required intent be established.

Widespread or systematic forced sterilization has been recognized as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute.

Given Rwanda’s historical context, should the allegations be true, it is not off the mark to have genocidal connotations ringing. Article II of the Genocide Convention states the proscribed acts. One of these proscribed acts is imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. In Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, the ICTR held that measures may include sexual mutilation, the practice of sterilization, forced birth control and separation of the sexes and prohibition of marriages.

While “poor people” is not a protected group under the Genocide Convention, a well founded worry that the government may be citing “poverty” with an intent to target a particular ethnic group is rife in political circles; especially outside Rwanda. While one can only hope (perhaps against hope) the allegations are not true, or prolly exaggerated; Rwanda’s history and the Rwandan government’s human rights record calls for extra vigilance and a thorough investigation into these blatant human rights violations; should they be true.