Reducing poverty or a new breed of eugenics? Sterilization in Rwanda.

A recent announcement calling for vasectomies (sterilization) of 700,000 males over the next two years by Rwandan authorities has many fearing a new eugenic depopulation attempt in Rwanda. The target group is said by critics to be men who cannot pay bills for their children’s upkeep as an effort to somehow reduce poverty, though the government sees it as necessary to keep the population in line with the growth of the economy. The vasectomy operation takes about 15 minutes and can be carried out in a clinic under local anesthetic.

One has to wonder why Rwanda would deem such drastic measures to reduce its population as necessary. Rwanda is certainly not the most population dense country in the world, and currently sits around the 30th most dense country in the world with approximately 380 persons per square kilometer (2009). That’s less dense than the Netherlands, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Taiwan, Bahrain, Palestine, Bangladesh, Singapore and Macau, among numerous other countries. Macau has nearly 18,534 persons per square kilometer, nearly 50 times that of Rwanda. Singapore has approximately 7,148 persons per square kilometer, nearly 20 times that of Rwanda and is one of the richest countries in Asia because of its export driven economy. Rwanda has a GDP of some $5 billion, while Singapore sits at around $182 billion. Both countries are said to have limited natural resources, but differ significantly in the makeup of their workforce, with Rwanda primarily engaged in agriculture and Singapore primarily engaged in services and industry.

Forced sterilization against a civilian population constitutes a crime against humanity according to Article 7 -1 (g) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and thus the possibility of this occurring is rather alarming. The vasectomies are said to be voluntary, but a look into the history of the country’s previous so-called voluntary policies is a cause for concern.  The imidugudu land reform policy had people abandon their traditional homestead to live in settlement centres– —  and was originally touted as voluntarily, but later resulted in resettlement through coercion and force.  This also would certainly not be the first time Rwanda has attempted eugenic laws or has been subjected to eugenic practices.

The eugenics movement in Europe and the US during the colonial years led western scientists to study the differences between Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities within Rwanda, measuring their skull size, skin colour, etc. and promoting the belief that Tutsis had Caucasian ancestry and were thus “superior” to the Hutus. These practices had a devastating and lasting effect on the population for generations to come, including helping to create structural conditions that would fuel the 1994 genocide. In 2007, the country enacted a law to legally limit family size to no more than three children, similar to China’s one child policy (though President Kagame is said to himself have four children). More recently, in 2009, Human Rights Watch reported that the Rwandan parliament was considering a draft law that would forcibly sterilize people who are mentally disabled, a move contrary to human rights practices, though the Rwandan government again denied that the law would be forcible. According to statistics, the fertility rate in the country is still currently closer to 5 children born per woman (2010), though it has decreased significantly from the 80s when the rate was closer to 8.5 children born per woman.

The Population Research Institute (PRI) cites major concerns with this plan and puts the numbers into perspective. The UN Population Division estimates the entire male population of Rwanda to be only around 5 million, with 70% under the age of 20 or over the age of 50 (making them ineligible as candidates for sterilization). That leaves half of the eligible-aged men in the country to be sterilized. That’s a BIG chunk of the population. The PRI also have concern that army and police may be first to receive vasectomies, and may regard the “voluntary” request as an order when it is directed at them from superiors.

Two USAID-funded special interest groups, Intrahealth and Family Health International, are backing the campaign. This is quite controversial as American law makes it illegal for tax monies to fund forced abortion or sterilizations and experts cite that campaigns that involve quotas, such as this one, have always been considered coercive. This risks the possibility that American tax payers could fund and thus be complicit in a crime against humanity. A Rwandan NGO Urunana has also been heavily promoting reproductive health programs, such as the sterilization projects, through local radio dramas aimed at making the population more receptive to the idea. The BBC reported that the men they interviewed on the streets were cautious about sterilization, but a worker at Urunana suggested that given the option and the “right advice”, men might be willing to consider the procedure.

Given the troubled history of Rwanda, one has to think that a sterilization policy, regardless of whether it is voluntary or coerced is not the best idea. The genocide left many vulnerable populations, who have a great concern of being culled out of existence; and many now fear that this is just the latest RPF program used to try and reduce the number of specific ethnic groups of Rwandans. Some Hutus fear the Tutsis want to wipe out the Hutu majority, as they are blamed to be the cause of overpopulation. Given the history of the region, this is not an entirely irrational fear.

Most attempts at population control have had problematic results, as the Chinese one child policy can clearly attest. Moreover, though many economist believe that the reduction of the population is a key to economic growth, a growing number are now left doubting that a correlation between population reduction and economic growth actually exists and instead blame poverty and famine as being caused by bad government and bad economic policies (see Walter E. Williams or Thomas Sowell). Perhaps if Rwanda is so concerned about economic growth, it should focus more on moving away from an economy based in subsistence farming to work on corruption, poor governance, education and investment, instead of ensuring that half the breeding males are incapable of repopulating.

This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…



  • Rwanda’s election process saw President Paul Kagame win again by a landslide amid a climate of repression. Opposition candidates were arrested and media silenced in advance of the elections. Kagame is said to have won 93% of the votes, and even as much as 100% of the votes in some districts. His team began celebrating the victory before the polls had even closed. Two days later Kigali was struck by a grenade attack that injured at least 20 people.
  • The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has warned the UN mission and aid missions in Darfur that they will face expulsion if they do not support his government authorities. On Wednesday, gunmen killed 23 people, including police officers in an ambush on a truck in the south. On Wednesday, an exchange of gunfire at a refugee camp in western Darfur was reported, though it was not clear who fired the shots.
  • Government forces in Puntland, Somalia have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group killing at least 21. The UN warns that the long-running conflict in Somalia is spreading beyond its borders and becoming increasingly concerning.
  • 2,000 illegal miners stormed a mining site in the DR Congo burning trucks and stealing copper from Tenke Fungurume mine. 32 have been arrested.
  • The Central African Republic pleaded for the UN Security Council for help just as the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT is coming to an end. Concerns of rebellion, banditry and inter-ethnic conflict still loom.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 697 people, nearly one third of who are children, in central Africa in the last 18 months according to a human rights group investigation despite previous assurance from the government of the DRC that the LRA has been decreasing its violence. At least 255 of those abducted were killed, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. Up to 74,000 people have been forced to flee the situation in the CAR and Congo.


Middle East

North America

  • More than 1,000 Mexican journalists marched through the capital to protest the killing and disappearance of their colleagues in the escalating drug violence that is increasingly targeting reporters.
  • The confessions of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen charged with terrorism, can be used as evidence at his trial even though they may have been obtained through torture. Khadr stands to be the first child soldier to be prosecuted for war crimes in modern history, as under international law, children captured in war are to be treated as victims and not perpetrators. His trial, which was to start this week, was delayed for the next 30 days after his lawyer collapsed from illness in the courtroom and had to be medevaced out of Guantanamo Bay.
  • The US appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocks Massachusetts schools from using literature that denies the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

South America

  • Colombia has sworn in a new president who has vowed that he is willing to hold talks with leaders of Farc, the country’s rebel group and reconstruct relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • A suspected car bomb exploded in Bogota injuring four people on Thursday.
  • Suriname swore in its “new” president Desi Bouterse on Thursday. Bouterse, who was previously in power following a 1980 coup, ruled the country from 1980-7 and 1990-1. He was accused of violating fundamental human rights and the murders of 5 journalists during his time as dictator.
  • Peru’s indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who the government accuses of starting an Amazonian uprising that killed 33 people, is considering running for president next year.
  • The families of 32 Mapuche prisoners have been on a month-long hunger strike in southern Chile over trial irregularities for the twenty self-declared political prisoners imprisoned over land conflicts.


  • All of the major European countries are planning mass expulsions of Roma populations and demolitions of Roma settlements. Even though they are European citizens, the Roma are now threatened with expulsion, in breach of the EU basic right to free movement. Some rights group worry that such an action is tantamount to the criminalization of an entire ethnic group.
  • Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an explosion in southeastern Turkey on Sunday. On Monday Turkish soldiers killed 5 Kurdish militants in a firefight after discovering guerrillas laying mines and on Tuesday another 2 people were killed after a pipeline was blown up by Kurdish militants.
  • Russia has deployed an S-300 air defense missile system over the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia complained of the strengthening military control over these territories that it insists are still an integral part of Georgian territory.
  • North Caucasus rebel groups have begun to split ranks after the contradictory statements of resignation of leader Doku Umarov last week. Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty.
  • Four former Bosnian Serb army soldiers have been charged with genocide for crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. The four are said to have assisted in the deaths of at least 800 people.

Who cries for the three-year old rape victim?

A three year old girl died this week after being brutally gang-raped by rebel fighters in the DR Congo. Somehow, the last 7 words in that sentence seem to make the rest disappear. A three-year old rape victim dying in North America would be the cover of every news story in the country. A massive campaign would be launched to prevent it from happening in the future and a thorough investigation into how it happened in the first place would be ordered. The public would have no less. They would take every effort to ensure this type of crime never occurred again.

Why is it any different when it happens in the Congo? Why do we suddenly feel it is ok to ignore this problem? Is it because it is happening in a place that is already so violent? Does that somehow make it ok? The child would have probably faced violence her entire life anyway, right?

Is it because we feel disconnected from the violence there? This is interesting, since, as electronics loving Canadians, we are probably more connected to this crime than we might think. We could do something about it. We could protest. We could stop buying things that could help contribute to the crimes (and that list includes most of the electronics and metal products that we use every single day). We could write our government. But most of us never will. We won’t do this because it isn’t easy. Because it would involve some sort of sacrifice on our part.

Ask yourself this: If this rape victim were in North America, and the crime was partially committed by some company whose product you used every day– would you stop using it? Would you write the company a letter to express your outrage? Or would you sit there and do nothing? Why does this victim deserve any less?

Lately, violence in this region seems to be on the rise again. And we are still oblivious. Human rights campaigners and journalists trying to get the truth out are being silenced. Rape is again on the rise. The metal industries (and many many others) are making profit from these crimes. They are supplying massively violent warlords with weapons and money, and sometimes even logistical supplies to commit massacres. When will we stand up against them and say, no more?

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The number of mass violent atrocities since WWII.

Let’s count them up. How long would the list be?

I started thinking about it, and decided to compile the list so that I could see it altogether. It is a rather long list (and entirely incomplete), with millions upon millions dead from violence. Many of these death tolls are rough guesstimates, since incomplete censuses and investigations are commonplace in many of these atrocities.

In 1945, a huge bomb with extensive destructive power was dropped over Japan, spreading nuclear waste throughout the atmosphere and killing 200,000 people instantly. Tens of thousands more died later from radiation poisoning and the after effects. And the world woke up and vowed to ensure it would never happened again. We have remembrance day ever year to allow us to appreciate this message- the sacrifice that is made with war. Never again, humanity vowed. But yet it has happened again and again and again. Perhaps not from a nuclear bomb, but the lesson has clearly not been learned.

Directly after the war, the Chinese civil war claimed some 2.5 million lives (and millions more if one counts the deaths caused by famine and war-related causes). The “Great Leap Forward” to communism in China from 1949-1975 claimed over 40 million lives: 2-5 million dead from rural purges; 1 million from urban purges, 20 million from labour camps…. From 1950 onwards, more than 600,000 people died in Tibet as the result of Chinese occupation. Mao at one point even held the Guinness world record as the Top Dog in mass killings. What an honor.

The Greek civil war from 1943-49 claimed over 150 thousand lives. More than 200 thousand were killed in the Tito regime in Yugoslavia from 1944-80.

In the Korean War from 1950-53 over 4,500,000 Koreans dead, 3/4 of them civilians and 54,000 US soldiers died.The North Korean communist regime killed at least one and a half million people between 1948 and 1987.

More than 200 thousand people died in Colombia from 1946-58 from violence. More than half a million people died in India in 1947 from rioting and dislocation due to the partition of the country. More than 150 thousand died in Romania from 1948-89 and more than 130 thousand died in the civil wars in Burma/Myanmar from 1948 onwards.

More than half a million were killed in Algeria from 1954-62. Another half a million in the Sudan from 1955-1972. Another 200 thousand killed in Guatemala from 1960-1996.

3,000 people gunned down in the street, rising up after a US backed military coup in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Another half a million in the Indonesian massacre from 1965-66. At least 300 thousand dead under Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda from 1972-79.

Reports suggests that more firepower than had been used by all sides in all previous wars in human history was used on Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) from 1964-73 (7 million tons of bombs). 400,000 tons of napalm were used. Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides destroyed millions of acres of farmland and forests. More than 2,000,000 people died (mostly civilians) and as many as 3.5 million people. 60,000 American soldiers died and more than 300,000 were wounded. Another half million died after the war under the Communist regime.

One and half million people were killed in civil wars in Ethiopia from 1962-1992 and more than a million in Nigeria from 1966-1970 because of a coup and the ensuing war that followed.

One and a quarter million people died in Bangladesh in 1971, and perhaps as many as 3 million.

Over one and a half million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975-78. Over a million died in Mozambique from 1975-1992. Another half million died in Angola from 1975 onwards. At least 200 thousand were killed in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor from 1975-99. At least 150 thousand people were killed in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Lebanese wars from 1975-90.

Another quarter million dead in the Cambodian civil war from 1978-91. Three hundred thousand more dead under Saddam Hussein in Iraq from 1979-2003 and another 300 thousand killed in Kurdistan in the 1980s and 90s. Another 300 thousand killed in Uganda under Milton Obote from 1979-86.

Almost 2 million people died in Afghanistan from 1979-2001 and more than a million died in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88. Almost 2 million died in the Sudan from 1983 to the new millennium. Another 150 thousand dead in Liberia from 1989-97. More than 4 million have died in the DR Congo from 1998 to the present– and probably many many more than this as almost 45 thousand are currently dying each month. More than 350 thousand died in Iraq because of an international embargo from 1990 onwards. At least 175 thousand died in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-5. Another half million died in the Somalian civil war starting in 1991.

There have been repeated genocides since the holocaust, which have been mostly ignored until millions have died, including at least two that are currently ongoing and being ignored. This list does not even begin to address the smaller massacres (with less than 100,000 casualties), and it has missed many other of the larger atrocities.

This is disgusting. Compiling this list made me angry. It made me angry because there is no reason for these wars and deaths. There is no reason this type of violence must continue. Think about it, if that many died–how many people have been displaced, abused, or forced to witness massive violence. Why do we continue to ignore this type of violence? Why have we not found a better way to settle our differences? Why do we continue with war and when will it ever stop? It seems that nothing has been learned, and we haven’t focused enough attention towards peace. We continue with excuses; allowing lax regulations and underhanded deals. We continue to make and supply weapons. We continue to support massive human rights abusing leaders. We continue to make excuses for war and allow many to profit from it. We continue to be unaware of how we affect mass violence in other parts of the world by our own actions. We are all connected and we are not paying close enough attention to these connections.

Learn conflict mediation and transformation. Stop selling weapons. Stop making weapons. Stop allowing violent parties to profit. Focus on peace. Study peace. Spend money on peace. Give money to peacekeepers-makers-builders. We need to stop warring and start coming together.

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