Are Human Rights Wronged in Rwanda?

By Sonja Dobson.Image of Diane and Adeline Rwigara from The Guardian.

The world stood by and watched as human rights were violated twenty-four years ago in the small country of Rwanda in eastern Africa. Once again, the world might be standing by as the government of Rwanda, the same people who liberated the Tutsis all those years ago, limits the human rights of their people. In 2013, one of the only active independent human rights organizations, LIPRODHOR, was taken over by those who are close to President Kagame, the man who is stifling human rights. Another of the very few human rights organizations which work in Rwanda, the Human Rights League in the Great Lakes Region, ran into trouble in 2015 when the leaders were questioned by Rwandan police.
Paul Kagame has been in power in Rwanda since 1994 when he took control of the country with his rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Force. Despite his calls for a free and democratic society, a recent referendum that was passed allows Kagame to run for a third term in 2017 and two more five-year terms after that. When the election did occur in 2017, Kagame won 99% of the votes and some potential opponents were denied the opportunity to run for president. Despite Kagame’s claims to run a free and democratic country, no free and democratic election would result in one candidate earning almost every single vote. The two other candidates reported harassment, threats and intimidation, even though they were not a serious challenge to Kagame in the first place. Kagame may have freed Rwanda from the genocide of 1994 but has restricted the Rwandan people from their rights.

The Kagame government is not trying to hide their contempt for those who fight for the rights of the Rwandan people. Although there are many who support the economic and social progress being made by Rwanda, which is attributed to the actions of the Kagame government, a healthy civil society is not a priority in comparison to economic development. The government has rejected the accusation of human rights violations but are constantly restricting human rights. In 2016 the Rwandan government decided to prevent their people from filing complaints with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights by withdrawing from the declaration. Rwanda only adopted this declaration in 2013 and has now walked away from it. This is strong evidence of how the government wants to restrict people from protesting the abuses they face.

To the outside world, Rwanda seems to continue to seek justice for the genocide. Prosecution of perpetrators continues, but so does torture, killings and involuntary detention. Amnesty International reports several human rights abuses in Rwanda: very limited free speech, the murder of petty offenders by the state security forces, mock executions of people in unofficial military detention centers, and the inability of human rights organizations to publicly document this violence by the state. The government controls the reporting of domestic media and intimidates international journalists; BBC Kinyarwanda has been on hold since 2014.

Diane Rwigara is one of the one people in Rwanda who is speaking out about the abuses on behalf of the government and was jailed for a year because of it. Her trial ended on November 7, 2018 and the verdict came a month later. Diane Rwigara is an outspoken politician who was denied her right to run for government and in retaliation, founded a movement to hold the government accountable. She was arrested along with her mother in September of last year and charged with incitement and fraud. Her mother, Adeline Rwigara, was charged with divisionism and inciting insurrection. Diane Rwigara has publicly questioned the legality of the government’s actions. Some of these actions include the suspicious deaths and disappearances of important people in Rwanda. On December 6, 2018, both Diane and Adeline Rwigara were acquitted of all charges based on the lack of basis for such charges. After over a year of this ordeal, accompanied by support around the world for the Rwigaras, both women are finally free.

For many years, political opponents have been detained and there have been forced disappearances in Rwanda. Members of and those with affiliations to political opposition groups in Rwanda have been missing for years, illegally detained, and charged with various crimes, including offences against the President. Many of the charges are unsubstantiated and the government is arresting and torturing its opponents for the purpose of quieting disagreement.

Human rights are being wronged in Rwanda and there are few people who can speak out about it. The government is using fear and intimidation to force their people into submission, and so the rest of the world is now tasked with speaking out. However, this mission must be taken on carefully, as there have been opinions of “white savior complex” affecting the will of foreigners to act. International activists are claiming credit for the acquittal of the Rwigaras, when it is not their place to make such claims. Brandon Stanton, the founder of Humans of New York conducted an interview with President Kagame, but failed to show the darker side of Kagame. The international community failed Rwanda once, it is time to make up for that failure and help the citizens of Rwanda regain their human rights.

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