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Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives Express Grave Concerns Over Rwanda Elections

CHRI Press Release-6 March 2010.
CHRI (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives) is deeply concerned at the continued restrictions and threats to opposition parties in the run up to Rwanda’s Presidential elections on 9 August 2010 and urges the Rwandan Government to take immediate steps to ensure respect for the basic, universal rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly of opposition parties. The absence of these rights is tantamount to breaches of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political principles that insist on free and fair elections (Harare Declaration 1991).

On Commonwealth day, 8 March 2010, CHRI once again brings to the notice of the Commonwealth Secretary General the growing number of concerns surrounding political freedoms in Rwanda. Despite grave representations by CHRI and others about the appropriateness of Rwanda’s readiness for membership, given its record on human rights and its questionable role in the conflict in the Congo, Rwanda was unconditionally admitted to the Commonwealth as its newest member at the Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago last November.

Rwanda’s membership requires that it honours and complies with the Commonwealth’s fundamental political principles which include respect for civil society and human rights. The Chair of a new opposition party, United Democratic Forces (UDF) has written to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth alleging state orchestrated harassment, describing violence against herself and colleagues as well as outlining the restrictive environment facing opposition parties in their electoral challenge to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Under Article 13 of the Rwandan constitution it is an offence to engage in “revisionism” or “negationism” (denial of the genocide). These are so broadly defined to include anyone who disagrees with the ruling RPF’s account of the Genocide. On the 25th of February the Ministry for Security in Rwanda issued a statement saying that any politician who “slanders the country” or is “against public unity” would be punished. In addition the Minister for Local Government has reportedly threatened to crackdown on unregistered political parties who are members of the Permanent Consultative Council of Opposition Parties. Further opposition parties have alleged that the government is making it hard to register by continually changing registration rules; the National Electoral Commission which regulates these matters is controlled by the members of the RPF. A number of opposition parties have also complained that they face repeated harassment from government officials and the members of the RPF.

It is imperative that the Government of Rwanda thoroughly investigates, in a manner satisfactory to opposition parties, the many incidents of intimidation and bring those responsible to justice. It should also ensure that its electoral processes are consistent with UN and Commonwealth standards for free and fair elections.

CHRI urges the Commonwealth Secretary General to insist that the Rwandan government makes every effort to create genuine democratic political atmosphere in the country prior August 2010 elections. We call upon the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, in his meetings this week with President Kagame, to urge him to ensure that in these first Rwanda elections as a Commonwealth member, the standards are patently free and fair and in compliance with Commonwealth values.
Maja Daruwala
Director, CHRI

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[…] Rwandinfo picks up a press release from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI) that criticises the Rwandan government for failing to allow “freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly of opposition parties” ahead of the national elections scheduled for 9 August. […]

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