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Rose Umutesi during a radio interview
Rose Umutesi discusses the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities in Rwanda during a live radio interview.

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A Voice for Rwandans with Psychosocial Disabilities

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Meet DJP Fellow Rose Umutesi

October 23, 2021

Rose Umutesi, like many other Rwandans, was forever impacted by the 1994 genocide. “We had a lot of challenges. Girls and women were left, some were amputated. Others were left behind, alone … It came to our mind that we can gather together …” she says. “So, we would sit under trees and discuss our issues, sharing…” According to Umutesi, many Rwandans developed post-traumatic stress disorder and other types of mental health conditions because of the genocide, herself included. The genocide led her to psychosocial disability rights advocacy.

Once you get mental illness, it means you are finished in the community. They don’t consider any more like a person who is useful to families.

Rose Umutesi

Forty-two-year-old Rose Umutesi was born and raised in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. She received an undergraduate degree in leadership and hospitality management at Akilah Institute in 2019. She co-founded the National Organization of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Rwanda (NOUSPR) in 2005, hoping to disrupt the stigmatization of and discrimination against people with psychosocial disabilities in Rwandan communities. “Once you get mental illness, it means you are finished in the community. They don’t consider any more like a person who is useful to the families,” says Umutesi.

Today, she helps form district groups for people with psychosocial disabilities in Rwanda. NOUSPR has 19 district branches across the country, with 45 patient experts who assist members of the organization. She contends there is a lot more work to be done, but she maintains a hopeful outlook. “What we should do is to love what we are doing, love what you are doing and focus on it. I know things will be … fully done,” she says. “And, what we need most is to see the community respecting and protecting the life of people with psychosocial disability.”

In 2018, Umutesi introduced a draft of the African Disability Protocol, a human rights treaty that addresses discrimination against people with disabilities in Africa, to the Rwandan Ministry of Justice. A draft was ratified in 2019 and signed this year. Umutesi was elated: “…When they signed it, I was almost jumping and saying ‘Wow! At least I have done something to my country. At least I have done something to my people, to gain their right.’”  

Michelle Faulkner is managing editor at the Disability Justice Project.

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