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Sunday, February 26, 2017
Analysis by Aprille Muscara
- Among its unstable and conflict-ridden neighbours, Rwanda stands out. It has been pegged as a model of development and one of Africa’s success stories: Since the 1990’s, when a civil war ravaged the country, average incomes have doubled, its people have become healthier and less hungry and it has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians worldwide. Yet, maintaining this stability is a government accused of muzzling its opponents and committing human rights abuses.
For the last 16 years, Rwandans have lived under the shadow of the infamous 1994 genocide that eliminated one-tenth of its population in a mere 100 days. During that period, 800,000 ethnic Tutsi along with some peaceful Hutu were systematically murdered at the hands of a violent Hutu regime until Tutsi forces led by current Rwandan president Paul Kagame was able to wrest control.
Over the last decade, Kagame’s government has implemented laws against speech and conduct that espouse “sectarianism” or a “genocide ideology” in order to prevent a repeat of 1994. “Revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide are punishable by the law,” states the Rwandan constitution.
But an Amnesty International (AI) report released today claims that these laws are unclear, broadly defined and used to silence critics.
“Prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, but the Rwandan government’s approach violates international human rights law,” the report states. “The vague wording of the laws is deliberately exploited to violate human rights.”
The AI report follows revelations last week of a leaked draft of a U.N. publication that documents the conflict in Rwanda’s neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since the early ‘90’s. The 545-page report, which officials say will be formally released soon, claims that Kagame’s government is itself guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including possibly genocide, against tens of thousands of Hutu who fled Rwanda after the Civil War and settled in the DRC.
Today, Rwanda’s foreign minister announced that it was preparing contingency plans to withdraw the country’s troops from U.N. peacekeeping missions if the world body publishes the report as is – with the inclusion of the so-called double-genocide theory.
But those in the country who publicly voiced sentiments consistent with the U.N. draft report have often been detained using the “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” laws – including leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire and humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina.
Christian Davenport of the University of Notre Dame and Allan Stam of the University of Michigan, both political science professors, have been working to document the civil war violence and its aftermath in Rwanda and surrounding areas using data from the Rwandan government and human rights organisations.
“The leaked [U.N.] report is very consistent with what we found,” Davenport told IPS. “The Kagame-led government engaged in systematic violent activity during the violence of 1994… and they pursued those who engaged in violence in Rwanda in the DRC, but consistently overshot where most estimated that these perpetrators were located so that they could extract resources from the country.”
Accused of revisionism, Davenport and Stam’s visas were revoked during a visit to Rwanda in 2003 to present their findings.
“In the Rwanda civil war case, a genocide against the Tutsi took place, but it was part of a broader and far longer lasting civil war in which there were large numbers of victims on both sides,” Stam told IPS. “The problem in Rwanda today is that to simply observe this historical fact puts one on the wrong side of the law. One does not have to deny the fact that a genocide occurred, but simply make the additional point that the genocide occurred in a context where a lot of Hutu died, to violate the genocide ideology provisions of the genocide denial statute.”
The AI report also documents the use of the genocide ideology and sectarianism laws to silence the government’s political opponents and the independent media in the run-up to this year’s Aug. 3 presidential elections, during which two leading figures and one journalist were murdered. Kagame won by a landslide 93 percent.
“Genocide ideology is a form of intimidation,” said a human rights activist quoted in the report, which says the genocide ideology and sectarianism laws cause a “chilling effect” on the population and contribute to a culture of silence due to fear of government reprisal.
In April 2010, the government announced plans for a review of the genocide ideology and sectarianism laws.
“Unfortunately, we have received very little information within what time frame this review would take place and whether there will be a broader consultation, including with civil society, during the review process,” Erwin van der Borght, Africa Program Director at AI, told IPS.
An official at Rwanda’s mission to the United Nations declined to comment.