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Rwanda: Official in Ruhango district detained over ‘Genocide ideology’

Police in Southern Rwanda have arrested a local official for referring to the 1994 Genocide as a war between ethnic groups, reports say.

Mr. Ernest Twahirwa stunned a Genocide commemoration function which took place on Sunday in Bweramana sector (Ruhango district) when he told his audience including grieving Tutsi survivors that the Genocide was a result of conflict between two ethnic groups.

Witnesses reported that Mr. Twahirwa, head of Social affairs at the Sector, avoided using “Tutsi Genocide”, instead describing the mass slaughter as civil war.

This arrest on alleged negation of the Genocide, referred to as Genocide ideology, comes among a few cases which have been recorded since the commemoration period started in 2007.

The accused Mr. Twahirwa faces criminal charges under a controversial Genocide law which is being reviewed by government following a protracted media and human rights groups’ campaign. Critics including donors say the law is being used to silence free speech – accusations President Kagame branded as “nonsense”.

Among the people who reported Mr. Twahirwa to the Police is Member of Parliament Marie-Rose Mureshyankwano. She is said to have forcefully grabbed the microphone from the accused official and started explaining to the audience the official version of events.

If found guilty, Mr. Twahirwa faces up to 25 years behind bars.

April 27, 2010   3 Comments

Rwanda: Three ‘FDLR Ingabire accomplices’ arrested

Kigali – Government announced on Friday that it has arrested three people said to be FDLR rebels and accomplices of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire.

Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said the three were members of the Rwandan Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels operating in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The three FDLR officers told us they had colluded with Ingabire to cause insecurity in Rwanda and destabilise the country,” Ngoga told AFP, referring to the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire who was conditionally freed on Thursday, a day after being arrested.

The three FDLR members were Lt. Col. Tharcisse Mbiturende, Lt. Col. Noel Habiyakare and Lt. Jean Marie Karuta, Ngoga said, explaining that the first two were arrested in a neighbouring country while the third was seized in Rwanda.

Ngoga said they “acknowledged having met with Ingabire several times in Kinshasa and at times she helped them, especially with money”.

Ms Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was said to be propagating genocide ideology after she called for remembrance to be organised for all rwandan victims – including Hutus – of the 1990-1994 conflict. She also called for action to be taken against those responsible for crimes against humanity perpretated by the RPF leaders, including President Paul Kagame inside Rwanda and in the neighbouring countries.

Ingabire, who leads the Unified Democratic Forces party (UDF Inkingi), has declared her intention to run for presidential polls in August to challenge President Paul Kagame, but has been systematically harassed since returning from exile in January and has been barred from officially registering the party.
She was accused of collaborating with rebel group FDLR, charges she denies.

Ingabire, whose passport has been seized, was ordered to report before a judge twice a month and prevented from travelling outside the capital Kigali.

April 27, 2010   5 Comments

Rwanda: Ex-FDLR Senior Officer Jerome Ngendahimana named Deputy Commander of Reserve Force

Kigali: On April 22, barely a week after the Reserve Force Commander Lt. Gen. Charles Muhire was suspended and arrested, the new Force has new commanders including an ex-FDLR senior officer who surrendered in 2003.

Major General Fred Ibingira who was 1st Division commander based in the eastern province, has been promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed Commander of the Reserve Force.

Ex-FDLR rebel Brig. Gen. Jerome Ngendahimana has been promoted to the rank of Major General and appointed Deputy Commander of the Reserve Force.
Maj. Gen. Ngendahimana has been a senior aide to former army chief, now Defense Minister Gen. James Kabarebe. He is said to have been instrumental in army operations last year in DR Congo against his former solders, the FDLR militia.

Gen. Ngendahimana and other ex-FDLR chief Maj Gen. Paul Rwarakabije, along with dozens of soldiers surrendered to Rwandan forces in 2003.
Rwarakabije is now vice-president of the demobilization and reintegration commission – which has helped tens of thousands of combatants to put down their arms.

Gen. Ngendahimana, for his part, was the vice-chair of the so called Mucyo Commission which carried out a damning probe into France’s role in the 1994 Genocide. The two-year investigation and subsequent report ended into Paris and Kigali reconciling last November.

April 27, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Intolerance and Crackdown on freedom of expression

Kigali – The recent denial of a work visa to Human Rights Watch’s representative in Kigali by Rwandan government takes place against a backdrop of
increasing intolerance of dissent and criticism and increasing restrictions on free expression in the run-up to presidential elections in August.

Members of opposition parties have been harassed, threatened, and intimidated.

Two of the new opposition parties – the FDU-Inkingi and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda – have been prevented from registering and have been repeatedly obstructed by the authorities.

Meetings of the Democratic Green Party and the PS-Imberakuri (a third opposition party) have been disrupted several times, sometimes violently.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a real crackdown on critics. The Rwandan government is doing everything it can to silence independent voices before the elections.”
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director

The PS-Imberakuri eventually managed to register, but has since been hijacked by “dissident members” widely believed to have been manipulated by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to silence the party’s president, Bernard Ntaganda.

Ntaganda himself was summoned before the Senate at the end of 2009 on accusations of “genocide ideology.”
He has not been charged, but in April 2010, members of the Senate’s political commission expressed their view that these accusations were well-founded.

Victoire Ingabire, leader of the FDU-Inkingi, has been questioned by the police on six occasions since February 2010 (she returned to Rwanda in January 2010 after many years in exile), effectively paralyzing her party’s activities.

In March, police stopped her at the airport and prevented her from travelling.

On April 21, she was arrested and charged with “genocide ideology,” “divisionism,” and collaboration with terrorist groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda – FDLR), an armed group active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, composed in part of individuals who took part in the 1994 genocide.

Ingabire was released on bail on April 22, but is not allowed to leave the country or to go outside the capital, Kigali.

There has been an unrelenting public campaign against her in the pro-government media, relating primarily to public statements in which she criticized the government and called for justice for killings of Hutu by the RPF.

Journalists have also faced numerous problems in the course of their work.

The state prosecutor has sued the two independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi for defamation, a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment.

Both cases are currently at the appeal stage.

On April 13, the Media High Council, a government-aligned body responsible for regulating the media, suspended the two newspapers for six months.

Umuseso and Umuvugizi are among the few independent media left in Rwanda; both have published articles critical of the government.

Broader restrictions on free expression

More broadly, Human Rights Watch has found that many ordinary Rwandans are unable to express their opinions openly.

Those who voice criticism of the government or its policies risk being labelled opponents, accused of being in league with opposition parties or with people who allegedly want to topple the government, or accused of “genocide ideology” – a vaguely defined criminal offense which carries penalties of 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.

After years of intimidation of civil society activists, very few independent human rights organizations are left in Rwanda.

Those who are still trying to document human rights abuses are facing constant threats and obstacles.
For example, in the run-up to the 2008 parliamentary elections, the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs – LDGL) was prevented from deploying its full election observer mission and was attacked by the National Electoral Commission before its report came out.

Members of the human rights organization LIPRODHOR have also faced serious threats over several years, causing many of their key members to leave the country for their own safety, and leaving the organization significantly weakened.

[Human Rights Watch – www.hrw.org]

April 27, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda Government Denies Visa to Human Rights Researcher

Kigali – The Rwandan government’s decision to deny a work visa to Human Rights Watch’s representative in Kigali demonstrates a pattern of increasing restrictions on free expression in Rwanda ahead of August’s presidential elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch will appeal the decision and continue working on human rights issues in Rwanda.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a real crackdown on critics,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rwandan government is doing everything it can to silence independent voices before the elections.”

On April 23, 2010, officials from the Directorate General of Immigration informed Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Rwanda, that she would not be granted a work visa. They alleged anomalies in her visa application, specifically signatures and dates on the documents she had submitted.

Staff at Human Rights Watch’s headquarters in New York had attested in writing to the authenticity of all the documents and signatures, but the immigration officials described their explanations as “unsatisfactory.” However, the officials had not made any attempt to contact Human Rights Watch’s headquarters or the individuals whose signatures they had questioned.

The immigration officials refused to put their decision in writing. They told Tertsakian that as a British national, she could not exceed her 90-day legal stay in the country, which expires on April 24.

Gagnon was in Kigali the week of April 19 to try to meet Rwandan officials about this matter. Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, sent a private letter to President Paul Kagame setting out in detail concerns at the handling of Tertsakian’s visa application and reiterating that all the documents submitted in the original and second application were authentic. Rwandan immigration officials did not respond to Gagnon’s requests for a meeting.

Human Rights Watch has been working on human rights in Rwanda since before the 1994 genocide. However, in the past two years, the Rwandan government has increasingly obstructed the work of the organization.
In September and December 2008, it twice blocked the entry of the late Alison Des Forges, a renowned Rwanda expert and Human Rights Watch’s senior advisor on the Great Lakes region.
In the last few weeks, Rwandan government rhetoric against human rights organizations has increased, with senior officials singling out Human Rights Watch for particularly fierce public criticism. There has also been an increase in articles hostile to Human Rights Watch in pro-government media.

Background

Rejection of work visa application

Carina Tertsakian, a British national, arrived in Rwanda on January 25, 2010, and was initially granted a work visa. On March 3, immigration officials questioned her on the paperwork relating to her visa application, pointing to a mistaken date and alleging differences in her colleagues’ signatures on the documents. They confiscated her passport. The following day, they summoned her again with a new set of questions again relating to dates and signatures.

On March 8, Tertsakian was formally summoned by the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to appear the following day. The police told her that she was suspected of using forged documents and questioned her on the same points as those raised by the immigration officials. By then, Human Rights Watch had submitted two letters from its headquarters, confirming that all the documents were authentic. The officials did not appear to take these letters into account.

On March 10, immigration officials returned Tertsakian’s passport, but cancelled her work visa. The immigration officials refused to provide a written explanation for this cancellation; they told her she could submit a second visa application.

On March 16, Tertsakian submitted a second application, with a notarized affidavit from Human Rights Watch’s Legal Director attesting to the veracity and authenticity of all the documents. More than a month passed before immigration officials responded to the second application ­- the usual turnaround time is three days. Rwandan immigration officials communicated their visa denial to Tertsakian on April 23, the day before her legal stay in Rwanda was due to expire.

Read also:
Rwanda: Intolerance and Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

[Human Rights Watch – ww.hrw.org]

April 27, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Ingabire’s profile artificially raised

by Joseph Rwagatare.

Victoire Ingabire, Chair of FDU-Inkingi

Victoire Ingabire, Chair of FDU-Inkingi

Last week Ms Victoire Ingabire was taken to court to answer some charges. That is the normal procedure for any individual suspected of committing a crime in any country that respects the rule of law.

Immediately there were loud howls of denunciation of the government of Rwanda for the its temerity to arraign her in court.

The noise came from the usual suspects – the all-knowing foreign media, holier-than-thou human rights organisations and hordes of “experts”. This was expected, because, you see, these groups are habitual noise-makers.

They are unrestrained cheerleaders when their person is on the offensive. They have been cheering on Ms Ingabire for quite a while – when she was still in Europe and after she returned to Rwanda. If she was wise she should be able to see that they are egging her on into a “ come-on, fight cocks, fight ( or I should say hens) as they cheer in amusement.

When they are not doing this, they beat war drums to a defeaning frenzy to make sure their person gets where they want her. The current shrill noises are part of this strategy.

If these two don’t bring the desired results, they muddy the waters so that their person can get in without leaving a trail of all the dirty tricks used in getting her in.

If all these fail and they cannot get their way, there is one option left – raise the alarm for everyone to come to the rescue of their person who is in imminent danger.
Last week all these elements were at play again.

But first Ingabire’s profile had to be raised – artificially. She was referred to as Rwanda’s main opposition leader. Really? Then she is President Paul Kagame’s principal opponent in this August’s presidential elections. That’s an insult.

I have tried to understand this unusual elevation of Victoire Ingabire from some obscure, loud detractor of the government of Rwanda to a national figure, but I have failed. Not for want of trying.

Now, I am a fair-minded commentator (I am not blowing my own trumpet. Honest) and I would give even the devil the benefit of the doubt, but I still can’t see how she can rise to such heights.

Well, there are other qualities which, I am sure, some people might see as earning her the unexpected elevation. For instance, her rapid fire mouth with which she threatens to shoot down everyone in sight might be one of them.

To be fair, though, she has tried to control her fire and sound more measured in the last few weeks. But old habits die hard. Her words still sound like hailstone on a tin roof or the metallic sounds of an animated robot. I can’t wait to see their lordships on the receiving end of her fire.

Let’s return to the profile building and look at it more closely. Ingabire is touted as leader of the main opposition party. I have visited the FDU-Inkingi website and listened to Ingabire’s pronouncements, but all I see is a one-woman outfit. All press releases and other communication are apparently written and signed by her.

There is no evidence of a collective party leadership. She is the chair, secretary-general, spokesperson and all members rolled into one. Hardly the definition of a political party.

Political parties distinguish themselves from each other by their political, economic and social progammes and vision by which they plan to manage society. Again, I have tried hard to look for the vision and programme of FDU-Inkingi without much success. What passes for a programme is only invective and diatribe against the president and government of Rwanda. At least that’s what I gather from the good lady’s utterances.

The only other programme is what she is charged with – returning Rwanda to its darkest hour.

All of which make me wonder. Would such a platform qualify her for “main opposition leader” and get her elected to the highest office in the countries of those who loudly cheer her and enthusiastically beat war drums on her behalf?

I know that in the countries where phrases like “political space” were invented for use in African countries, political organisations with extremist agendas are kept away from gaining political power. Yes, they are tolerated, but only as long as they remain on the fringes.

The moment they make any significant gains and threaten to break into the mainstream, alarm bells ring and doors are immediately slammed so that the extremists do not get in.

It is inconcievable that far right parties and organisations such as the British National Party, the National Party in France, skinheads of all sorts, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other racist groups could be labelled “main opposition” groups in their countries.

But, of course, the rules here are different and we must play by what is set for us. Still, there is an English saying that “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander “, and I don’t remember its ever falling out of use.

This article was first published by Joseph Rwagatare (jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk) in the Rwandan pro-governement daily newspaper ‘The New Times’ under the title: “Cheers, muddy waters and war-drums: we know all about them”.

April 27, 2010   1 Comment

USADF Signs Two Grants to Support Food Production in Rwanda

USADF is to support cassava production and processing in Rwanda

USADF is to support cassava production and processing in Kamonyi District, Rwanda

Kigali – The United States African Development Foundation (USADF) has signed two grants to support food production activities in Rwanda. The grantees are Coopérative de Développement et du Bien-être Famililiale (CDEF) and Coopérative Ituze.

USADF Chairman Jack Leslie stated, “These grants invest in food production in Rwanda while targeting those at the bottom billion by creating jobs and raising people’s incomes.”

CDEF is located in Kimihurura, Gasabo District, Kigali Village. With a membership of 30 people, 73% of whom are women, CDEF works to create jobs for members and provide medical insurance and school fees for children through vegetable production, specifically mushroom. The mushrooms are sold to hotels, restaurants, and individuals. The eighteen month grant will finance equipment, a marketing campaign, best practices training for mushroom production, and develop a business plan.

Based in Kamonyi District, Southern Province, Coopérative Ituze grows and processes cassava both for home consumption and as an income generating activity. Cassava (manioc) was selected because it does better than most other crops in the dry area where Ituze is located.
While the Cooperative is able to produce high quality cassava flour using an already-constructed milling factory, production had been hampered by the delayed installation of electrical power.
Power is now connected, but a lack of working capital to purchase sufficient cassava for continuous production is limiting the potential success of this group.
The primary focus of USADF funding will be help Ituze establish and maintain a crop purchase fund in order to fully utilize the milling equipment in place.
The project will benefit at least 200 small-scale farmers who will earn a living and be able to support their families plus another 800 unskilled workers who provide casual labor in members’ cassava fields.
The Cooperative also supports 31 child-headed households in their community that will benefit from income earned. The five year grant will fund a water system, working capital, training, and equipment.

USADF re-established programming in Rwanda in 2006. Rwanda’s current portfolio stands at seventeen investment projects totaling $3 million.
For more information about the portfolio, please visit the country’s quick source page at http://www.adf.gov/USADF-QuickSourceCountryPortfolioPage-Rwanda.htm

The United States African Development Foundation (USADF) is a United States Government agency dedicated to expanding access to economic opportunities to the most marginalized populations in Africa. Currently USADF operates in 20 African countries. Over the past 25 years, USADF has funded in excess of $200 million in African initiated and led development projects. For more information on USADF, its programs and application guidelines, visit www.usadf.gov.

April 27, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Heated exchanges as Canada backs UMUSESO, UMUVUGIZI

Kigali: The visiting Canadian Governor General prompted a heated debate on Thursday at the National University of Rwanda which saw Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister and a Canadian professor coming up headed to head over the suspension of UMUSESO and UMUVUGIZI. For the Governor General, “Free media is a fundamental human right.”

The Governor General Michaëlle Jean used her keynote speech at the Southern Rwanda-based University to defend freedom of the press, wading into a particularly sensitive topic with deep emotional implications for different sections of Rwandan society.

“Free media is a fundamental human right,” said Ms. Jean, speaking to an audience of about 700 university students, staff and government officials. “It is one of those pivotal rights that is crucial to your realization of a host of other human rights in any society … It is incumbent on our governments to make sure they are all fully respected.”

Sitting in the audience was Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. “I have read some of these papers and I am outraged,” said Mushikiwabo.

“…as somebody who wants to see this country move forward with very good, very healthy and very critical journalism…that a newspaper would be calling for a mutiny in the army, calling for Rwandans not to pay their taxes and predicting war in a few months…” Mushikiwabo said.

Sounding unapologetic, the Minister spoke of the need for “proper, responsible critical journalism.”

The High Media Council suspended the two controversial tabloids for six months starting last week accusing the papers of constantly insulting President Paul Kagame, fomenting dissent in the army and causing panic in the population.

But the Canadian Governor General tried to delink the current media environment to hate media during the 1994 Genocide. Any reference to ethnicity and comments that could be considered divisive can lead somebody to jail for dozens of years. Critics also allege government is using the law to squeeze the opposition.

The Governor General took a veiled swipe at that notion, warning the audience against becoming “captive” to history.

You have to move forward. We all have ghosts in our past that send a chill down our spine,” Ms. Jean said. “There is a responsibility of the profession as well, to exorcise the fear around us and move on despite it.”

She added: “I say that, choosing my words carefully, because I know that there are those among you who could say it better than I. The principles that govern the freedom of expression are precious because they make up part of the whole group of freedoms in a healthy country.”

The Rwanda Foreign Affairs Minister Mushikiwabo scoffed at the suggestion that her government was stamping out democratic challengers in anticipation of national elections due August 09. Canadian journalists have refered to opposition politician Victoire Ingabire as being victim of the same situation, citing her latest arrest and release on bail.

“I don’t think she’s the voice of democracy. I think she’s a demagogue. I think that the fact that this is four months before an election is her timing, not the government’s timing,” said Mushikiwabo.

“This government is led by people who stopped Genocide, so they’re not using this as a way to stay in power.”

Meanwhile, the Governor General announced at the University that Canada will contribute $20,000 to the Rwanda Initiative, a joint National University of Rwanda-Carleton University project that brings Canadian journalists here to train.

Prof. Allan Thompson, a professor at Carleton, said the money will be used to buy cameras and recorders for students who have very little technology to learn the craft with.

But after several years of helping to train reporters here, Thompson offered a personal view to the audience that “Rwanda is a country that does not enjoy freedom of the press.”

“(The press) doesn’t have the trust of a lot of people, it doesn’t have the trust of the government,” he told the audience.

Media were “decimated and discredited” after the Genocide, he said. Schools, universities and professionally trained journalists in Canada are struggling to rebuild a core of reporters, editors and future publishers.

On Wednesday, President Kagame told a press conference alongside his guest that the image outsiders have of suppressed journalism “doesn’t fit the reality of Rwanda, which is living in an era of development, peace and security.”

“Why do people keep talking (about this)?” he said

“You’re talking about two (newspapers). But you have almost 20 independent privately owned radios—FM radios and other radio. You have close to 70 papers … And the two are the ones now defining us. There must be something wrong.”

[ARI-RNA]

April 27, 2010   No Comments

UMUSESO editor Didas Gasana interrogated by police

The last covers of Umuseso and Umuvugizi, for a whileThe last covers of Umuseso and Umuvugizi, for a while

Kigali: Police detectives on Monday interrogated editor of the weekly tabloid UMUSESO for eight hours.

Mr. Didas Gasana was answering questions on allegations contained in the suspension of the paper for six months by the High Media Council (HCM). see Rwanda: Why the High Council of Media Decided to Suspend Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers

Among those allegations is constantly insulting the Head of State President Paul Kagame, provoking possible insubordination within the army and panic among the population. The Council said such information created the impression among prospective investors that the country was not secure.

Police say they are only doing investigations and the final dossier will be handed over to the prosecutions department.

The Editor of UMUVUGIZI, another of the two newspapers suspended, is also wanted by Police, but Mr. Jean Bosco Gasasira is currently abroad and it is not clear if and when he will return to the country.

April 27, 2010   3 Comments