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Human Rights in Rwanda: Answer Mr. President!

Human Rights in Rwanda: Answer Mr. President!
From left to right : Illuminée IRAGENA, missing since March 26 2016, Jean Bosco RUKUNDO, shot dead by police on 1st February 2019, Alexia UWERA MUPENDE assassinated on 8 January 2019, Jean Baptiste Icyitonderwa, political prisoner, Gérard NIYOMUGABO missing since April 4 2014, Leonille GASENGAYIRE, political prisoner, Jean Claude NIYITANGA shod dead by the army on 6 September 2018, Emile GAFIRITA kidnapped in kenya on 13 November 2014, Assinapol RWIGARA assassinated on 4 February 2015, Col. Patrick KAREGEYA assassinated in South Africa on 1 January 2014, Leon Orsmond missing in Kigali since March 27 2018, Boniface TWAGIRIMANA missing from a maximum security prison since October 8 2018, Lionel NISHIMWE missing since February 9 2017, Me. Donat Mutunzi killed in a prison cell on 23 April 2018, Dr Emmanuel GASAKURE shot dead in a prison cell on 25 February 2015, Deogratias Mushayidi, political prisoner, Hubert GASHAGAZA killed on 18 September 2018, Thadeyo Muyenzi, missing since December 26th 2016.

External contribution: Opinion article submitted for publication by Steve Kabagema

President Paul Kagame has once again been equal to himself by showing his contempt for human rights, which he violates when it comes to his people. In an interview broadcasted on France 24, involving President Paul Kagame and Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Cooperation and Development, the Rwandan ruler became upset when  the issue of human rights in Rwanda was raised by the journalist.

Yet, serious human rights violations by the Rwandan regime continue to be well documented, to the point where alarming reports are still coming out and accumulating year after year. A group of young Rwandans has recently launched a website www.rwandanlivesmatter.site to alert public opinion about the ongoing gross violation of human rights by the Rwandan regime. On this matter, however, Kigali’s Iron Man strongly defends the position that Rwanda is an independent country that is in no way concerned with universal human rights. Clearly, he alone has the privilege to determine  the definition of human rights when it comes to the Rwandan people. The journalist asked simple questions that are routinely posed  to all presidents.

Interview of Paul Kagame on France 24

Instead of answering and explaining the issues of abusive arrests, uninvestigated killings and disappearances (of Assinapol Rwigara, Boniface Twagirimana and Illuminée Iragena among others), police killings of peaceful protesting refugees  and petty food and cattle thieves, the Rwandan president deviated from these topics and focused on other issues, namely the development of the country, health insurance for all, increased export products, and so on. When the journalist dodged  his diversionary tactics and insisted on getting answers , the president gets carried away and attacks her head-on. His reaction was  that of a belligerent leader confronting his opponents and all others who dare to challenge his authority:

You must stop with your superiority complex, nonsense about human rights. We fought for the human rights and freedom of our people much harder and better andthan anyone, including you, people who continue to talk about this nonsense. Now, remember where our country came from and where we took it, it speaks for itself. (…) You should stop telling others what to do or not to do, even if what they are doing does not satisfy you. Who are you?»

When analyzing his answer, it becomes clear that  he is asked a common  question on the state of human rights in Rwanda and gets carried away by hiding behind Rwanda’s recent tragic history. But nevertheless, after that answer, the web went wild and the President,  like an absolute monarch hailed by its Court, was congratulated by his supporters. However, few of his supporters are forced to suffer the abuses of his power. It shows that most are privileged members of the regime or are among the diaspora, most of whom (ironically)  have probably fled the country to preserve their rights. Rights which they cherish while they are in the West but refuse to recognize for the Rwandans within the country. One would have thought that Paul Kagame’s response to the journalist would have embarrassed his counterpart, Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Cooperation and Development, but this was not the case. Mimica supported  Kagame’s response and added a tweet that combines  contempt for human rights with unconditional support for the President: “Let us not create false polemics. I did not feel at all attacked by President Kagame during our dialogue on France24, because his words were not addressed to me. Our dialogue is constant, cordial, and constructive, and it will remain so.”

Paul Kagame’s supporters demonstrating in Brussels

The absolute power of Kagame’s monarch over human lives extends beyond Rwanda’s borders. It extends its violation of rights from Rwanda to Central and Southern Africa and into Europe, menacing    citizens of these countries (naturalized Rwandans and refugees). It violates the sovereignty of these countries by getting away with impunity, while local intelligence services are fully aware of the  acts committed by Kagame’s regime. Indeed, General Kagame knows very well that when Western world leaders talk about human rights, they are referring to their own people: they have no respect for the human rights of African countries or other low-income countries. If the West could care,  the former rebel leader would not be used as their Trojan horse to enter and loot the Congo, while completely ignoring the loss of human lives that has been going on for decades.

Does this mean that Kagame is unaware of the principles of human rights? Not at all.  Its concept in “Paul Kagame’s country” is simply a variable geometry concept.  Universal human rights principles apply only to him or his entourage (as long as they do not overstep the boundaries). This is proven by the fact that , when his back is against the wall  and he must comment on the subject, he points out that no one was talking about his rights during his 30 years as a refugee. And now that he is in power, human rights are being translated into terms of the country’s development, namely the buildings in Kigali (did he not swear that he would kill anyone who would dare to destroy the Kigali Convention Center?), the increase in exports, the high percentage of women in parliament, the ban on plastic bags, etc. This is his obvious answer to every human rights question in Rwanda.  

No one seemed willing to question this repeated answer to each uncomfortable  question. According to the Rwandan government’s statistics, since 1994, the percentage of Rwandans living below the poverty line has declined from 77% to 39%, while life expectancy has increased from 29 to 67 years. These figures are used and accepted by the international community, including major international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank. However, it has been shown that Rwanda manipulates the figures of its poverty levels and, even if the figures presented above were true, we forget that in 1994 Rwanda was emerging from a four-year war that ended in genocide. To compare the Rwanda of 1994 with the Rwanda of 2019 in terms of life expectancy and poverty,  and to use this as a basis for comparison between Paul Kagame’s regime and that of his predecessor, is incorrect.   

But Rwanda pays millions and millions to the most reputable international communications firms to highlight its economic achievements, in order to hide the repression inflicted on its people under a cloak of glitter. Worse still, it must be recognized that Rwanda’s development is not extraordinary when comparing its latest human development index (2018) to that of the countries around it.

All those who claim the fundamental rights of Rwandans make Kagame laugh. He does not care for orphans whom he deprived of their parents,  widows whom he deprived of their husbands, families who live in the hope that one day the missing member of their family will return. What can one expect in terms of human rights from a president who boasts of killing his opponents, threatens his people with shooting them in broad daylight and humiliates his ministers and army in front of the population. At a time when poverty is extreme in the country and unemployment is affecting young people with record high rates, the President is filling his bank accounts by emptying state coffers. He lobbies for speaker invitations at international events for two reasons: to sit at the tables of honor which he loves and to conduct his own private businesses. He makes an outrageous mockery of the critics who point out that he is never in the country,  by multiplying the amount he flies abroad. to a several dozen in the past year alone. Rwandans can go and die, it’s not his problem. He is a businessman who travels for his own business and is not accountable to anyone. 

Rwandans must be patient in their troubles e because respect for human rights is not going to come soon in Paul Kagame’s country. Indeed, the power of the Rwandan General to behave as a true tyrant is reinforced by only one thing: the longstanding weakness of the opposition parties.  Human rights in Rwanda are still being held indefinitely. 

Seeing how Kagame got carried away and agitated over a simple human rights issue concerning his country, it is a new fact that this beloved child from the West, a visionary and democratic leader according to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, would not stand five minutes in an election debate, even when confronted with a novice in politics.

Steve Kabagema


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