Byline: Julie Morgan
WHEN you hear the name Rwanda, you think immediately of the genocide 15 years ago - when Tutsi people and Hutu political moderates were killed by other Hutus.
You think of the hundreds of thousands of people who were murdered, of the inaction by the international community, and of the legacy left in this small, land-locked country right in the heart of Africa.
We were certainly reminded of the genocide at every step of our visit, but especially when we visited the Murambi burial ground and laid flowers at the mass grave of 45,000 people, and visited the endless bleak brick sheds on the mountainside that contained thousands of bodies preserved in lime, bodies with their arms reaching out to protect themselves and the small, pathetic bodies of babies and children.
I visited Rwanda with a group of MPs and Lords from all parties organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The purpose of the visit was to see what progress had been made in the last 15 years, to forge links with Rwanda's parliament and to see how prepared Rwanda is to join the Commonwealth.
Rwanda's request to join is unique. It was a Belgian colony and not part of the British empire.
Following its membership of the East Africa Community with Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it is changing its official language from French to English and seeks to join the Commonwealth.
The decision on admission will be made in November at the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills, is the size of Wales and often reminds people of our country, though it has no coastline.
But its population has grown to 10 million and its capital Kigali is now home to one million of those people, roughly three times as many as Cardiff.
Post-genocide, it has tried to include all sections of its pop-ulatioin its institutions and, like Wales, women have a strong say in its government.
After the 2003 elections, Wales had a 50-50 gender split in the Assembly, and now in Rwanda 56% of the deputies in its lower house of parliament are women.
The President, a Tutsi, and Prime Minister, a Hutu, are men, but women are in key positions.
The Foreign Minister, for example, is a woman and told us of her support for movement towards greater integration in the African Union.
Women MPs have succeeded in changing the laws on rape, on inheritance and on business transactions. The MPs who accompanied us were full of fun and enthusiasm - most had been brought up in Uganda having fled the strife in Rwanda.
Nearly all lost members of their family in the genocide.
One day a cheerful and charming woman MP was limping badly.
I assumed that it was because of the wonderful dancing the evening before - but no, it was because she had been severely wounded, and nearly lost her leg in the fighting when she was in high school.
Rwanda is full of instances like that …