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Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Italy may return Rwandan children
Rwandan Hutu children at a refugee camp
Many Rwandan children were evacuated to Europe
The 41 Rwandan children at the centre of an international adoption row between Italy and Rwanda may be returned to their home country.

An Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Riino Serri told Olenka Frenkiel of the BBC's Crossing Continents programme that the controversial adoptions would have to be examined to assess their legitimacy and that the children may well have to return to Rwanda.

Rwandan orphan
Thousands were orphaned during the genocide
Mr Serri said that he would recommend that the Italian couples who adopted them should go to Rwanda with the children to check whether the adoptions were carried out according to Rwandan law.

The 41 children were taken with hundreds of others to Italy from Rwanda in 1994 to save them from the genocide that killed almost a million Rwandans.

Stayed behind

But while many Rwandan children returned once peace was restored, these 41 remained in Italy and last year were adopted by Italian families.

The adoptions took place without the consent of either their surviving relatives in Rwanda who have been asking for their return since 1995 or the Rwandan Government and caused a huge diplomatic row.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame visited Rome last November demanding their return.

Rwanda's Attorney General Gerard Gahima told the BBC's Crossing Continents programme that Rwanda considers these children to have been kidnapped.

International law

Italy has signed up to the Hague Convention on inter-country adoptions, which states that adoptions cannot be permitted without the agreement of the legal adoption authorities in the country of origin as well as the country of the adopted parents.

Adoptions are also not permitted without discussion with surviving relatives.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame
President Kagame has threatened legal action
Neither of these steps were taken and now the Rwandan Government is planning legal action.

All legal precedents from the case of Elian in Cuba and Miami to recent judgements regarding the so-called "internet twins" in the UK and US suggest that if the case comes to court the Rwandans will win and the children will be forced to return.

Way out

However a mediated solution may be possible if the Italian parents act soon.

The Rwandan Attorney General told the BBC that some of the contested adoptions would be regarded favourably and the parents would be allowed to return to Italy with the children.

Now it appears that the Italian Government is backing the Rwandans in that call.

The Italian families who have adopted the children in northern Italy have always refused to comment to the press.

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See also:

14 Nov 00 | Africa
Rwandan children to stay in Italy
14 Nov 00 | Africa
Rwanda accuses Italy over orphans
19 Oct 00 | Africa
Rwanda's healing process
05 Jul 00 | Africa
UN general's Rwandan nightmares
19 Sep 00 | Africa
Blow for Rwandan journalists
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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