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Dutch Minister Knapen concerned about freedom rights in Rwanda

“Rwanda cannot be captured in one-liners”, concluded Ben Knapen, Dutch minister for International Cooperation and European Affairs after a whirlwind visit to the country. This tiny central African nation manages to polarise opinions in the Netherlands. On the one hand the Rwandan government is admired for the rapid economic growth after the country was destroyed by the genocide and war of 1994. But others accuse the leaders in the capital Kigali of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticises them.

By Ilona Eveleens, Kigali

In a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other government officials Minister Knapen expressed the Netherlands’ worries over the limited freedom of expression in Rwanda. “We are concerned about the reaction to different opinions”, remarked Knapen in an interview with Radio Netherlands. But he added that one should also have some understanding for fear and insecurity after the genocide.

The Dutch public opinion is up in arms about the incarceration of Victoire Ingabire, a Rwandan opposition leader, accused of conspiring with ethnic Hutu extremists. She is in prison since mid-October awaiting trial. Mrs Ingabire already lived in the Netherlands before the genocide in 1994 and only returned to Rwanda early last year when she tried to participate in the presidential elections in vain.

Sensitive government

Minister Knapen not only expressed his worry about the lack of freedom of expression to Kagame. He also raised the issue with the Rwandan minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karagurama. The case of two local journalists, recently convicted to 17 and 7 years imprisonment for incitement, was discussed. Knapen: “Minister Karagurama told me he himself was baffled by the sternness of the sentences”.

The Rwandan government is sensitive to criticism of the local media after media hate speeches in 1994 contributed to the execution of the genocide. More than 800.000 ethnic Tutsi’s and moderated Hutu’s were slaughtered within 3 months by the Hutu-extremists.

Public opinion

Instigators of the genocide fled to neighbouring Congo and organised themselves in what is presently known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Its militias are held responsible for crimes against humanity in Congo. The government in Kigali considers them as a threat to the security of Rwanda.

Kigali also worries about other elements of the former extremist regime who fled to North America and Europe. They are amongst the lobbyists who try to influence public opinion in the West to demand an end to financial aid to Rwanda, while accusing president Kagame of being a dictator.

Almost seventeen years after the genocide reconciliation between the different ethnic groups in Rwanda has not been achieved. Knapen, who met during his tour people involved in trying to bring Hutu and Tutsi together, said: “Reconciliation is a very thin layer. A lot more work needs to be done”.

[Radio Netherlands Worldwide]


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Report Details New FDLR Atrocities
A latest report by a high level UN panel provides more insights into the FDLR’s sexual crimes in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
FDLR is a French acronym for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a militia group composed of elements mainly responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
First-hand accounts of sexual violence, by survivors, ranging from three to 61 years in age, are contained in the report called “Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
The report was unveiled, Thursday.
“Some of the women and girls became pregnant and bore children as a result of the rape. Many are afraid to return to their villages and some had returned to their villages only to be raped again,” reads part of the report.
One of the victims is quoted in the report as saying that they have been working on their farms only for the yield to be harvested by FDLR.
“And when they come, they don’t only take the crops. They also shoot, they kill, they burn and rape,” the victims is anonymously quoted in the report.
Between September 27 and October 13, 2010, the panel travelled to Bukavu, Shabunda, Bunia, Komanda, Mbandaka and Songo Mboyo, from where they collected testimonies from 61 victims.
They met victims who as a result of rape, contracted HIV/AIDS, became pregnant and those whose husbands rejected them following their rape.
They also met child victims of rape.
“One witness told the panel that she never thought that she would be able to stand. In 2002, she had been abducted with her uncle by the FDLR. They were each tied to a tree by their hands and feet, and she watched while he died after they cut off his genitals,” reads the report.
“She remained tied to the tree for two weeks, raped at will by her abductors repeatedly, and she became pregnant as a result.”
Another witness described waking up every morning, before she got psychological counseling, and reliving her traumatic experience of being raped during an FDLR attack on her village in 2004.

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