NEW YORK, 20 March (Office of Special Representative) – The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, has welcomed legislation enacted by the Government of Rwanda, which will now allow girls to inherit land and other properties.

Previously, under Rwandan law and tradition, women and girls did not have the right to inherit land; instead, it was expected that they would enjoy the benefits of communal property, which was, in fact, owned by husbands or fathers.

The injustice of this gender discrimination became a dramatic issue following the 1994 genocide, when Rwanda was left with hundreds of thousands of orphans , Mr. Otunnu said. There are an estimated 45,000 households headed by orphaned children, 90 per cent of them by girls who did not have access to land which is essential for the livelihood of their families.

I congratulate the Government of Rwanda for taking this bold step to rectify an injustice created by this age-old practice. This is a practical way of redressing one of the consequences of the genocide , Mr. Otunnu added.

The new legislation specifies that all legitimate children (of the deceased), in accordance with civil laws, inherit in equal parts without any discrimination between male and female children [Article 50 of Law No. 22/99 to supplement Book I of the Civil Code and to Institute Part V regarding Matrimonial Regimes, Liberalities and Successions].

This issue had been the subject of an important ongoing dialogue between the Special Representative and the Government of Rwanda since Mr. Otunnu s visit to Rwanda in February 1999, when he urged the Government to introduce legislation that would allow girls to inherit farms and other properties.

I hope that other countries with similar practices will consider following the important example set by the Government of Rwanda, especially in situations where children have suffered terrible loss as a result of armed conflict, Mr. Otunnu said.