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Rwanda: Govt ‘Manipulates’ Genocide Memory

by Prof. Chi Mgbako.

The Rwandan government has made remarkable strides in infrastructure, the economy, healthcare and gender equity in political representation, but their continued attack on independent thought and criticism is disheartening – and dangerous.

As the August presidential election looms, it is important not only to hail Rwanda’s success but also to ask hard questions about government abuse of authority.

The Rwandan government uses charges of “genocidal ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” to attack independent critics and often seems more concerned with political survival than with lasting reconciliation, manipulating the memory of the genocide for political gain. If the Rwandan government is truly committed to promoting unity and fostering long-term reconciliation it should encourage enlightened public discourse about the social construction of ethnicity in Rwanda and stop oppressing political opponents, independent civil society and journalists.

My work years ago as a young lawyer-in-training focusing on post-genocide Rwanda sparked my career in international human rights law. For several years I visited Rwanda on human rights research and fact-finding trips and authored reports based on my fieldwork. This tiny, beautiful, ghost-filled country, where 800,000 people were slaughtered while the international community watched, has stayed with me.

On my first trip to Rwanda seven years ago, I visited a genocide memorial site housed in a church an hour outside of Rwanda’s capital. At Ntarama church, roving gangs of genocidaires killed 5,000 men, women and children seeking sanctuary inside. There are places made of stone that carry human memory, that remember where we have been and what we have suffered. I walked into Ntarama church and was confronted with the strong, sad, unrelenting human memory of anguish.

The church remained exactly as it had been following the 1994 attacks. There were holes in the ceiling from grenade fragments, blood splattered on the walls, bones and skulls scattered on the floor among the rubble, sandals, clothes and children’s books.

I remember the light from the setting sun entering the church through the grenade holes in the ceiling and settling on the bones that glowed golden and lonely. One of the survivors of the attack said he only lived because the bodies of the dead and dying poured on top of him, like rain. In the trips to Rwanda that followed, I would meet many more survivors who shared similar stories of the struggle to live during those horrifying 100 days.

It is with these images and stories lingering in my mind that I remain mystified at the ease with which the Rwandan government manipulates the memory of the genocide by using the charge of genocidal ideology to stifle opposition and buttress its own power.

As the election draws near, the government has been implicated in recent attacks on journalists and political opponents and their advocates. These attacks include the imprisonment and later release of Peter Erlinder, a U.S. lawyer and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defense counsel, and the banning of two independent newspapers: Umuvugizi and Umuseso.

Although the government has denied recent allegations of abuse – including participation in the murder of Umuvugizi editor Jean Leonard Rugambage, and the attempted murder in South Africa of the exiled former army chief of staff Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa – the authoritarian tendencies of Rwanda’s ruling party is not a new phenomenon.

[All Africa]

“If the Rwandan government is truly committed to promoting unity and fostering long-term reconciliation it should encourage enlightened public discourse about the social construction of ethnicity in Rwanda and stop oppressing political opponents, independent civil society and journalists.”
Prof. Chi Mgbako.

In 2004, following the 2003 elections in which the government was implicated in the forced disappearances of opposition figures, a parliamentary commission issued a scathing report accusing civil society, independent journalists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, churches, schools and international aid organizations of harboring “genocidal ideology.”

I researched and co-authored a report condemning these actions and interviewed a junior Rwandan government official who conceded that “genocidal ideology” had become code for overt criticism of government policy. The parliamentary commission report was shocking in its lack of strong evidence to support such serious charges in a country struggling to realize lasting reconciliation.

Following the release of the 2004 parliamentary report, Rwandan human rights defenders accused of genocidal ideology fled the country fearing for their lives. Many lived in exile in Kampala, Uganda, under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, until being granted political asylum in Europe and North America. I interviewed several of them – brave individuals who had strong records of advocating for the rights of genocide survivors.

International human rights defenders are also not immune to the government’s acrimony. One prime example was the government’s treatment of the late, great Alison Des Forges of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, who before her untimely death last year was widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on the Rwandan genocide. Her criticisms of the government’s increasingly authoritarian streak resulted in the government officially banning her from the country in 2008, despite her unquestionable courage in attempting to draw international attention to the impending genocide in 1994. As the government persists in leveling charges of genocidal ideology with abandon, independent critics continue to flee the country.

Rwanda’s “genocidal ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” laws fail to strike an equitable balance between safeguarding freedom of speech while protecting citizens against incitement to violence and discrimination. Instead, these laws silence journalists, politicians and citizens who peacefully advocate political views that differ from those of the ruling party. The government uses these ill-defined crimes and manipulates the memory of the genocide to solidify its power and oppress alternative political viewpoints under the pretense of advancing national unity.

These actions trivialize the genocide and do not honor the Rwandan dead.

Chi Mgbako is clinical associate professor of law and director of the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School in New York City.

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July 22, 2010   4 Comments

Rwanda’s Democracy in Danger

“…for a while it seemed that Mr. Kagame would not pattern his presidency on the model of so many of his African counterparts—onetime national saviors who ultimately turn to thuggery.”

“Mr. Kagame needs to demonstrate that his critics needn’t fear for their lives in a supposedly “new” Rwanda. Anything short of that will relegate him to the tinpot dictator status shared by all too many other African presidents.”

Kigali – Last week a Rwandan opposition figure was found murdered, his head nearly severed from his body. Late last month, the editor of a suspended local-language publication was gunned down in front of his home.

Also last month, a former Rwandan army general who had worked with President Paul Kagame to end the 1994 genocide narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Johannesburg. The general had fled to South Africa after Rwanda began investigating him for allegations that include terrorism.

All this comes weeks ahead of Rwanda’s presidential elections, in which Mr. Kagame will face three challengers in his bid for a (presumably) final seven-year term, none of whom appear to pose a serious threat to Mr. Kagame’s re-election.

Critics both inside Rwanda and abroad say these candidates are all stooges of the government, put on the ballot to lend a skein of unearned legitimacy to the coming elections.

The Kagame government fiercely denies any involvement in the recent violence. And in each case, it has a story to explain away any possible political motive for the attacks. “We certainly might not be a model government for a lot of people, but we’re not a stupid government, and we will not try to kill three people in a row right before [an] election,” Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told the AP this week, adding: “Who benefits from instability and fear in Rwanda? Certainly not this government and certainly not Paul Kagame.”

But those explanations become harder to credit every time a critic of the government drops dead or lands in jail.
All the more so since the recent murders follow the arrest in April of presidential challenger Victoire Ingabire on charges of spreading “genocide ideology,” and the subsequent arrest of American attorney Peter Erlinder when he arrived in the country to defend her.
Ms. Ingabire is out on bail, and Mr. Erlinger has been returned to the U.S. But their treatment by the authorities fits a pattern.
All this is especially worrisome for Rwanda, not only because the wounds from the 1994 genocide are still raw, but because for a while it seemed that Mr. Kagame would not pattern his presidency on the model of so many of his African counterparts—onetime national saviors who ultimately turn to thuggery.

In recent days Rwandan authorities have arrested suspects in two of the murder cases, one of whom has offered a confession that appears to clear the government of any involvement. But the trials of these men need to be thorough, scrupulous and transparent to have any credibility.
More broadly, Mr. Kagame needs to demonstrate that his critics needn’t fear for their lives in a supposedly “new” Rwanda. Anything short of that will relegate him to the tinpot dictator status shared by all too many other African presidents.

[The Wall Street Journal]

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July 22, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda police chasing PS Imberakuri members: five already arrested

Kigali – Five members of the opposition party PS Imberakuri are in police custody and others are on the run on charges of “disobeying police directives,” the Police said.

Police says the eight are wanted on three counts including causing public disorder by breaking into a house over which they did not have authority. Among those arrested is faction spokesman Sylvere Mwizerwa.

On Wednesday late afternoon, several members of the Bernard Ntaganda faction of Parti Social Imberakuri went to Nyamirambo – a suburb of Kigali, to apparently make repairs to a house they had been renting. Ntaganda is in jail awaiting trial on several cases.

However, as they tried to fix doors and other furniture, about a dozen police officers arrived purportedly after being informed by the owner of the house who claimed people were vandalizing his property.

When they tried to resist police arrest by locking themselves in the house, police used an unnamed gas to force them out, according to witnesses.

Police Spokesman Eric Kayiranga said in several media interviews that by the suspects refusing to cooperate with a lawful authority, they would be charged with disobeying police directives. The other two charges include vandalism.

According to Police, the rent agreement for the house between Bernard Ntaganda and the owner had expired April 01. “Since that time he has not been paid any rent,” said Kayiranga.

He said instead of the suspects freely handing over to Police to explain the situation, they preferred to hide in the house and others fled. “We will find them wherever they will be,” Kayiranga said.

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July 22, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: The bell tolls for change

by Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

Victoire Ingabire, chair of opposition party FDU-Inkingi

Victoire Ingabire, chair of opposition party FDU-Inkingi

Fellow countrymen,
Friends of Rwanda and of Rwandans,

After 16 years in exile, I came back peacefully to my motherland. Peace will be my guiding light in my political activities and the activities of my political organisation, FDU INKINGI in our endeavour to end injustice and remove all barriers to the people’s full enjoyment of their inalienable political and civil rights.

The Rwandan people are now living in anxiety and fear and are longing and yearning for a genuine policy of national unity and reconciliation.

My party and I are engaged in a political struggle which will lead us to victory against all forms of injustice and genuine democracy based on the freedom of each and everyone. We will soon witness sham elections in which election results are already established to hoodwink the world that the people have been given a choice. The main preoccupation is to cling to power that has been seized through the force of arms.

Dear fellow countrymen,

“We must tame fear in order to liberate ourselves.”

“I witnessed with my own eyes, humiliation, injustices, iniquity, dictatorship and the arrogance of the party in power that its zealots and allies impose on the citizens.”

“We want that each Rwandan walks with his head high, with dignity; we want to break all the barriers that prevent us from feeling full citizens of our country.”

“The fear of a serious competition for power has led the regime to reinforce its dictatorial machinery.”

“Under the present circumstances, we reject beforehand election results because they will not reflect the will of the people, due to lack of a democratic and transparent process.”

“Calmly and with determination we shall resist the violence and intimidation of the regime of General Paul Kagame.”

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

The bell tolls for the chains of the dictatorship. It is time to claim your inalienable rights, to refuse the abject feeling of being despised. Our response to sham elections is a non violent resistance to challenge the legitimacy of the looming masquerade and its subsequent results.

1. Our political struggle.

Objective:

Our core objective is to put a permanent end to dictatorship and put in place a political system that respects and protects all the components of the Rwandan society to make sure that nobody loses life because of one’s ethnic or regional affiliation or because of one’s political opinion.

This has been our political objective since the creation of our party FDU INKINGI. This has been the guiding principle of my political engagement since I arrived until now. We must tame fear in order to liberate ourselves. We want to eradicate poverty, hunger, nepotism, corruption and clientelism which have become the hallmark of the regime. We want to put an end to social inequalities, to discrimination as well as to confiscation of other people’s property and land.

We are fighting against dictatorship, generalised injustices, the iniquitous Gacaca courts, community work punishments imposed without due process of the law.

We want that each Rwandan walks with his head high, with dignity; we want to break all the barriers that prevent us from feeling full citizens of our country.

With regard to education, we want to improve the quality, to match the curriculum of education to the real needs of the country and our region, and that enhances the competitiveness of the country vis-à-vis other countries, the respect of the teacher, availability of school material and equal access to education irrespective of social class, ethnicity or region.

In the field of Health, our motto will be « health for all » by improving the healthcare infrastructure, access to medical care, the availability and quality of health personnel, equipment and medicine.

The welfare of the population will be our priority in our programme. Every job must regain its value and provide a decent salary. In the rural areas, people must get decent shelter and safe drinking water.

The agricultural policy must ensure that people get enough food security and give more value and dignity to farmers.

Our political programme has a national reach.

Our political programme is a matter of every Rwandan, irrespective of his ethnic origin, regional, gender, religion, profession or social class. Our vision of a reconciled people involves the necessity to remember our loved ones, mutual respect, national dialogue, the protection of minorities and equal opportunity. We call on each one of us to empathise with victims of genocide and crimes against humanity.

We encourage the members of the Rwandan Defence Forces, Police and security forces to remain professional in their work and to desist from getting involved in partisan politics. Our call goes also to the public media, to the public service, to local administration and to members of the judiciary.

2. Captivity and persecution.

Even in my captivity, six months after my arrival in the country, my experience on the ground has given more meaning to my political conviction and commitment for fundamental political change. I am convinced more than ever before that Rwanda needs a different kind of leadership and political direction for the best interest and welfare of all Rwandan citizens.

I witnessed with my own eyes, humiliation, injustices, iniquity, dictatorship and the arrogance of the party in power that its zealots and allies impose on the citizens. My comrades in the struggle and myself have endured and still endure both moral and physical abuses from the regime of Kagame. Our rights and rights of many others have been violated.

Despite the climate of political assassinations, sufferings, humiliations, lack of respect for fundamental human rights, muzzling the opposition and the media, intimidations, arbitrary arrests and torture, our determination is still intact.

2.1. Opposition muzzled

The 3 political parties, members of the Permanent Consultative Council of the Opposition have been subjected to an increasing persecution.

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda is still mourning the assassination of its Vice President M. André KAGWA RWISEREKA that took place on the 13th of July 2010 and his beheaded body found on the 14th July 2010. The party has been thwarted in its attempts to register and its leadership has been receiving death threats.

The Parti Social IMBERAKURI, although it has been registered, has been split into two wings, with one splinter group allied to the regime in power. The founder President Bernard NTAGANDA is in detention since the 24th June 2010, charged with negation of genocide, divisionism and formation of a terrorist group. His private secretary, M. Aimable SIBOMANA RUSANGWA has disappeared since the 13th of June 2010.

The party FDU INKINGI, not yet registered, is also facing the fury of the dictatorship and three members of its executive committee are either under house arrest or out on bail.

2.2. An all out war against FDU INKINGI.

Our efforts to legally register the party have been crushed. The regime erected administrative and legal barriers in order to ensure that genuine opposition is left in the cold. FDU INKINGI is too big to go through the net set by the regime in power. The fear of a serious competition for power has led the regime to reinforce its dictatorial machinery. An arsenal of anti democratic laws has been put in place to seal off the political space.

Since January 2010, FDU INKINGI has submitted unsuccessfully 6 requests to organise its constituent assembly. The government refused. The official reason has always been based on the politically motivated criminal charges concocted against its Chair and presidential candidate.

2.3. House arrest

During the last five months, the regime has not been able to bring to court the full details of the charges brought against Ms. Victoire INGABIRE UMUHOZA, Chair of FDU INKINGI. The allegations of denial of genocide, divisionism and collaboration with a terrorist organisation are nothing more than a pretext to block all political activities. This is why I was arrested on the 21st of April 2010 and kept under house arrest since the following day. The zealots of the regime and the government press or partisan media have been feeding a lynching campaign.

My lawyers were put in detention. This was the case with Prof. Peter Erlinder, defence lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda who spent 3 weeks in prison and Mr. Theogene Muhayeyezu who spent two weeks in prison.

2.4. Arrests, torture and death threats.

On the 24th of June 2010, a police swoop was carried out against members of the opposition who wanted to demonstrate peacefully. Many members of the FDU INKINGI were arrested. M. Sylvain SIBOMANA, provisional secretary general of the party; Ms. Alice MUHIRWA, Treasurer, M. Théoneste SIBOMANA, responsible for the Party in Kigali and M. Martin NTAVUKA, FDU Nyarugenge. All of them were tortured.

Ms. Alice Muhirwa endured internal bleeding following hits with boots on her stomach. She was denied medical attention until she fainted in court. During torture sessions, she was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuses relating to ethnic hatred. In the same way, the torturers blackmailed in exchange for signing false pre-established accusations against Ms. Victoire INGABIRE UMUHOZA and M. Bernard NTAGANDA for collaboration with rebels of FDLR and for having received funding via accomplices network operating in Kigali capital city. In his testimony in court, the Permanent Secretary of PS IMBERAKURI confirmed that he was subjected to the same blackmail during the torture sessions. These manœuvres confirm the wave of mass arrests in preparation in Kigali.

FDU INKINGI is yet investigating the disappearance and whereabouts of one of its members in a Kigali suburb since the 24th June 2010.

Death threats were made against Executive members of FDU INKINGI during their detention.

We call on the government of General Kagame to ensure the security of people is guaranteed and to bring to justice those responsible for torture, degrading and inhumane treatment of people as well as the use of racist and hateful language during torments.

3. Call for a non violent resistance.

The sham electoral process must stop without delay and the date of presidential election postponed paving the way to opposition political parties to register and participate; and for the political leaders to be cleared of the trumped criminal charges. An independent national electoral commission agreed on by all the stakeholders is a must.

If the election calendar is maintained and the muzzling and decapitation of opposition political parties remain then the presence of international observers is a useless exercise. The regime will rig the whole process and manipulate election registry, the turnout, the management of poll stations, the counting of votes and obviously will decide the results it wants.

Under these conditions, the Rwandan people must denounce the legitimacy of this masquerade until proper, transparent and equitable electoral process is conducted.

The Rwandan people have been put under so much duress but are still very resilient. They are still alive.

Resistance is not only an organisation but the determination of a people to resist a dictatorship.

Non-violence: resisting state repression.

We asked in vain the postponement of presidential elections in order to level the playing field for a transparent, fair and timely election. We need an open public debate on national issues and different political programmes. Under the present circumstances, we reject beforehand election results because they will not reflect the will of the people, due to lack of a democratic and transparent process. It is nothing more than a stage managed exercise meant to hoodwink.

This escalation of political repression taking place marked by assassinations of political leaders and journalists, arrests and torture of political figures, the closure of newspapers, death threats cannot allow credible elections.

As I said when I arrived in Rwanda, our political struggle does not end with elections. On the contrary, we have reasons more than ever before to continue our struggle.

It’s time to face again our conscience and responsibilities towards our beloved country and our people.

I expect our friends not to fail Rwanda again. We are a nation and not a private property of one man. Calmly and with determination we shall resist the violence and intimidation of the regime of General Paul Kagame.

We shall make sure that the efforts of subjugating by force fail. We shall resist the efforts used to tarnish our image in order to exclude us. We shall resist the efforts to divide us and in order to subjugate us. We refuse to be taken hostages of the past of our country.

Rwandans are aspiring for genuine reconciliation. They want to tell the truth to each other on the tragedy that befell our country. They want to end exclusion. We must do it for ourselves, for our children and for the future of our country. .

Write in full letters, be it in your hand, in your head, in your heart, in your actions of everyday, in your small gestures, everywhere and every time.

“I want to resist, I resist for the welfare of my people”

Each one of you has something he/she can do to make the change possible. What we need is courage and to accept to take charge of our destiny.

Let us all be the tools for that change that we want by resisting the dictatorship. The bell tolls for change.

God bless you all.

Kigali, July 20th 2010.
Ms. Victoire INGABIRE UMUHOZA
FDU INKINGI
Chair

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July 22, 2010   1 Comment

Victoire Ingabire’s condolence message to the family of assassinated Andre Kagwa Rwisereka

by Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.
Dear family,
Friends of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

“He wanted to liberate Rwandans from tyranny and sectarianism”

“he was murdered by those who want to derail the ongoing struggle for freedom, reconciliation and respect to all the victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity.”

“I wished sincerely to break the chains of my prison and be there to deliver this message personally.”

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

I would like to express my deepest sadness over the untimely death of a great son of our country Rwanda, late André KAGWA RWISEREKA, a democracy icon, and to convey my heartfelt condolences to the family in particular his dear wife and beloved children.

Dear family,
You expected him to stay longer with you. Instead, he disappeared in the most cruel and desperate manner at the hands of murderers.

I understand and share your devastation of being deprived of love, affection and consolation of a husband and a loving father, who had invested in social, economic and political development of the country to prepare for you a happy future.

Rwanda has lost a great man, a hero of unity, a man of dialogue, a consensus builder. Through his political involvement in the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, he chose to serve his country, the people of Rwanda in its entirety without exclusion; he wanted to liberate Rwandans from tyranny and sectarianism.

My thoughts go to my friends of the Democratic Green Party. You have lost a key member of your team at a crucial moment of the history of our country. You needed his open mindedness, his spirit of dialogue, a hero. As you know, I held the warmest feelings for him, over and above the respect he commanded as an intellectual and a leader. So, I grieve with you. Owing to all these qualities, he was murdered by those who want to derail the ongoing struggle for freedom, reconciliation and respect to all the victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

My heart is so much afflicted that I am short of words to express my sorrow. A dream has indeed vanished, a compromising and intelligent man with a keen sense of leadership and rigor has passed away. The late Rwisereka had a sense of strategy, an astuteness of mind and wisdom to make the right assessment of events that are unfolding in this country. In times of political turmoil that we have gone through together, he was the right man at the right place, at the right moment. I wished sincerely to break the chains of my prison and be there to deliver this message personally.

Go and rest in peace. Join in eternity the other heroes of democracy in Rwanda and the world. Heroes are immortal. You will continue to live through the seeds and green plants of reconciliation, freedom that you have sown in your party, in our political dialogue. I am proud to have known you.

I will wind up by thanking the bereaved family for the time that you kindly granted me.

July 20th 2010

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza
President of UDF – FDU Inkingi

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July 22, 2010   No Comments

Refugees to be deported from Zimbabwe after fight between Rwandan and Burundian refugees

Kigali: The Zimbabwean government will deport five Burundian refugees after they fought with Rwandan counterparts causing serious injuries, according to reports from Harare.

Paurina Mpariwa, the Zimbabwean Minister of Labour and Social Services, said she had already signed the necessary documentation and the refugees would be deported from Zimbabwe any time.

“We are not going to allow then back at the camp we have to deport them to their countries of origin,” Mpariwa told Radio VOP Zimbabwe. “We want to set an example.”

The Burundians reportedly caused commotion at Tongogara Refugee Camp last week when they went on a rampage beating up Rwandans – accusing them of misrepresenting their identities to Zimbabwean authorities.

The Rwandans were accused of lying that they were from Burundi in a bid to conceal their true identities.

This irked the Burundians resulting in the tension at the camp and the subsequent violence. The Burundians were arrested and detained in custody.

There are hundreds of Rwandan refugees in the Tongogara Refugee Camp who are also subject to forced repatriation back to Rwanda. They have vowed never to be returned.

After deliberations the Zimbabwean government decided to expel the refugees.

The UNHCR officials said the refugees were better off being resettled in countries neighbouring Zimbabwe.

[ARI-RNA]

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July 22, 2010   No Comments