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Why European Union didn’t send election observers to Rwanda

by Drs. M.J.M. Verhagen, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Original text in Dutch:
Kamerbrief inzake de politieke situatie in Rwanda

Datum nieuwsfeit: 30-07-2010
Bron: Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Kamerbrief | 30 juli 2010

Topics discussed by Minister Verhagen:
? Elections’ Observation
? Absence of opposition and party funding
? Freedom of expression and divisionism
? Security Situation
? Extradition
? General budget support
? Political Dialogue

Here is my response to the questions and comments from three groups of the standing committee for Foreign Affairs of July 9, 2010 (reference 29237, No. 122), following my letter of July 1, 2010 on the political situation in Rwanda. For the sake of readability, the questions and answers below are grouped by topic.

Elections’ observation

Questions from PvdA:

– Why has the European Commission rejected the demand of the Netherlands and some other Member States to set up a full EU observation mission?
– What arguments did the Commission have?
– Would it have been possible to raise this point in the Council and did the Netherlands consider this?
– Can the Minister indicate whether he thinks that a Commonwealth observation mission will monitor the situation in a proportionate and appropriate manner?

Questions from CDA:

– Can the minister explain why the European Commission has ignored the request for a fully-fledged EU Observation Mission and how the Netherlands has handled this strange decision?
– Is it enough that the Rwandan authorities have adopted the recommendations of the EU observer mission in 2008 almost in their entirety?
– Doesn’t this give more reason to monitor the elections in order to determine whether the accepted recommendations are also complied with in practice?
– Can the Minister indicate which recommendations were not adopted and why?
– Are donors, particularly the Netherlands, also now involved in the preparations for the elections? If not, why not?
– What does an EU election expert mission, what is its status, who are the members and how does this compare to the Commonwealth observation mission?

Government’s Answer:

I regret, just as your committee, that there will be no the full EU observer mission during the forthcoming presidential elections.
Every year, the European Commission identifies the number of elections in different regions and rates the appropriateness of observation mission according to the available resources and the conditions in the respective countries.

There are elections in 16 African countries this year. Rwanda was given less priority in weighing because of the relative stability in the country at that time and the general expectation that the incumbent President Kagame would get an overwhelming majority of the votes. The Netherlands has advocated with a number of EU partners to send an observation mission, but there was insufficient support from the Commission and other EU countries. I therefore found meaningless to bring it to the Council.

The EU election expert mission which was chosen, is composed of four experts and has already begun to critically monitor the electoral process in Rwanda. The mission will publish no formal report and will make no public comments on the conduct of the elections. Due to its nature, an expert mission has only an EU internal, but useful information role.
Various organizations will send observers to monitor the elections. The regional human rights organization LDGL (Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs) will send 180 observers, the Platform for Non-Governmental Organizations 545, the Forum for Political Parties around 100, the National University of Rwanda about 60 and National Human Rights Commission 62 observers. Also the Commonwealth is expected to send an observation mission of about 18 people. The number of observers from the African Union, the East African Union and the diplomatic missions in Rwanda is still unknown. There is no reason to dispute the quality of these international and local observers, but the Dutch government would nevertheless have liked to see an EU observation mission which would have injected a significant number of additional observers.

The EU observation mission which released a report in early 2009 on the parliamentarian elections of September 2008 made strong recommendations. Most (at least the main) recommendations are contained in the new electoral law. The EU questioned particularly the transparency at the level of the poll station and the process of consolidation of votes. The new law has eliminated these concerns. Thus the rights of election monitors have been better defined and the counting of votes will start immediately after closure of the polling stations. Still remain some concerns, including the fact that no provision has been made for particular categories of voters (eg, people in hospitals and prisoners). Also there are inadequacies here and there in the French and English translations of the Electoral Law.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Drs. M.J.M. Verhagen

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August 2, 2010   No Comments

No bail for Rwandan opposition leader Bernard Ntaganda

Bernard Ntaganda - Leader of PS-Imberakuri

Bernard Ntaganda – Founder of “Parti Social Imberakuri”

Kigali – Opposition politician Bernard Ntaganda will spend the next 30 days in the Kigali Central Prison as demanded by the state following a High Court ruling on Friday.

The High Court dismissed the appeal Ntaganda had filed against a lower court ruling which was to keep him in preventive custody for 30 days as prosecution continues to put together the charge-sheet.

Ntaganda, who heads a faction of the PS Imberakuri party, was arrested on June 24 and charged with Genocide ideology, promoting ethnic divisionism, murder, terrorism and organizing illegal gatherings.

The other eight co-accused were granted bail, but Ntaganda was refused bail by the same lower court in Kigali earlier this month. He immediately filed an appeal, arguing among other grounds, that the prosecution and police had kept him without charges beyond the legal 72hours.

In the ruling Friday, the High Court said the appeal grounds did not merit consideration because the days he was counting as those he was illegally detained, was the weekend. The court said state organs do not work on weekends.

Ntaganda had also filed health concerns for the bail appeal, arguing that staying in jail was having a big impact on his health. Looking frail and buttered all through the proceedings during the past weeks, Ntaganda said he was not able to eat, and that he has been only drinking water.

The High Court said there were no indications to suggest Ntaganda required special treatment as compared to other inmates.

The controversial politician also claimed the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court was incompetent to try him because he is a senior politician in the country. The High Court said Ntaganda was charged as an individual.

The ruling means that Ntaganda will spend the next 30 days in the maximum security prison known here as “1930”, during which time prosecution will continue with investigations.

Ntaganda was not in court when the verdict was read.


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August 2, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda “elections will be free and fair” – Dutch Ambassador

Kigali – The donor community says the introduction of a revised electoral code should ensure a peaceful and technically sound ballot, following the European Union’s recommendations after the 2008 legislative elections where they found procedural irregularities in over half the polling stations.

Frans Makken, Dutch ambassador and co-chair of the EU fund for the NEC, said results will be published outside polling stations and ballot boxes numbered to aid transparency.

“The electoral law has been adjusted for the better, thousands of volunteers have received training, instructions have been adjusted in line with EU observations. We trust that the conduct of the elections will be free and fair,” Makken told Reuters Friday.

“There are four presidential candidates who all get a fair chance to campaign and to get their manifestos across to the electorate… But the sheer size of the RPF, and the fact that it has seven years of successful socio-economic development to show for, makes it very difficult for the others to compete.”

Rights groups, the United Nations and major donors like the U.S. and Britain have expressed growing concern that the election is taking place in a repressive environment.

“At this point we are less worried about the actual conduct of the elections, than the events that have preceded it over the last few weeks and months,” Carina Tertsakian, Rwanda researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch told Reuters by telephone.

“The parties that we could describe as opposition parties have been silenced and marginalised one-by-one.”

For the National Electoral Commission (NEC), however, the August 09 poll will be free, fair and more competitive than 2003 when incumbent Paul Kagame won over 90 percent of the vote.

“Judging from what I see from this election campaign I find this more competitive and more active than the 2003 elections and that makes me think that it’s not going to be a one-horse race,” NEC Executive Secretary Charles Munyaneza said.

Rights groups accuse President Kagame, who is running on the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party ticket, of cracking down on critics and aspiring political opponents in the run up to the ballot. He has fired back accusing the western media and rights groups of trying to undermine his government by making up a crisis which not there.

Kagame faces off against the deputy speaker of parliament Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, who is seen as his biggest contender, senate vice-president Prosper Higiro and Senator Alvera Mukabaramba of the Party of Peace and Concord.

Three outspoken parties were unable to field candidates after after they failed to meet all the requirements including a minimum number of supporters backing their candidacies.

Munyaneza said 1,500-2,000 local and international observers would monitor the 16,000 polling stations, led by a team from the Commonwealth, which Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, joined last year.


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August 2, 2010   No Comments