Rwanda has come a long way as a nation since the genocide of 1994. However, whilst Rwanda has scored praise for its development and economic achievements, it also continues to be criticised for human rights violations as well as the absence of political space. President Kagame is currently facing allegations of ordering the killings of both his political opponents and other individuals, including journalists, who have made public criticisms of him.
Jean Leonard Rugambage, acting editor of the Umuvugizi Newspaper, was gunned down outside his home in June 2011. The government had suspended the publication, as well as another paper, Umuseso, for six months. The late Charles Ingabire, a journalist who witnessed and wrote about unfairness perpetrated by the totalitarian Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime, was murdered on 30 November 2011.
The RPF sought to end the genocide between April and July 1994 and consolidated its control over the country in the years that followed. According to at least four UN bodies and a number of NGOs who collected testimonies, RPF soldiers committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during this period. A study by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that RPF soldiers killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons between April and August 1994.
“Justice Compromised”, a Human Rights Watch report released in May 2011, reads that government officials have frequently asked anyone who suffered at the hands of a soldier to report him or her to the police for prosecution. But given that discussing RPF war crimes has been, and continues to be, equated with holding “genocide ideology” or arguing that a “double genocide” occurred, few Rwandans were likely to file such complaints.
The report goes further to highlight the failure to deal with these crimes in Gacaca courts – traditional courts, using a method of transitional justice – and to provide people who lost relatives at the hands of RPF soldiers with some form of redress, causing bitterness and frustration for some Rwandans. In reality, most victims and relatives of victims of RPF crimes, have all but given up on seeking justice. In 2009, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Rwanda to investigate and prosecute RPF soldiers responsible for the “large number of persons, including women and children, reported to have been killed from 1994 onwards.” No further actions have been taken since.
Not only has this regime brought brutality upon its population, it has added to its several political prisoners –Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire, Deo Mushayidi and others. The Independent newspaper reported that the, “Rwandan government’s activities against dissidents have increased dramatically recently. British police served a “threats to life warning notice” on Mr Mugenzi and a second Rwandan, Jonathan Musonera, laying out the danger facing them.”
In his visit to Uganda on 12th December 2011, President Kagame stated in a press conference that he might run for a third seven-year term as President – a move that not only broke the “hope” of those who expected to see the end of President Kagame’s reign in 2017, but which also requires constitutional amendment. President Kagame previously rejected the idea of running again as President of Rwanda, declaring that he would not amend the constitution in a move to stay in power. However, his allies have always held a different view about his leadership, and on several occasions expressed the need to prolong the dictator’s reign.
While in Kampala, he stated clearly that running again was a possibility, dismissing his previous statements on this issue. Nicholas Sengoba, a Ugandan political analyst told VOA news, “now that DR Congo has had a very inconclusive election, you can see that the security situation on that side is something to cause concern. Part of the Albertine area in which we have discovered our oil is bordered by DR Congo. All these efforts at rapprochement with Rwanda, and ensuring that there are good relations with all the other neighbours, is mainly preserving and protecting the oil, especially from a very insecure and volatile neighbour like DR Congo.”
He continued; “It is really important that President Kagame actually has a neighbour here who would never offer comfort and encouragement to those who don’t agree with him. That is one of the things that Kagame has to gain out of this.”
Describing President Kagame as “exceptional” and claiming he has done much for Rwanda, Fazil Musa Harerimana, the Minister of Internal Security, said Kagame should go on ruling Rwanda for as long as he wants. “We, as the population, will remove that impediment from the constitution such that there is nothing stopping him except his own choice,” he added.
Amending the constitution to allow a longer term for Rwandan presidents will strengthen the current regime in planning what will be next for Rwandans. As young Rwandans, we are concerned about democracy in our country. We refuse to remain silent any longer under oppression and call on the new generation to rise, speak out and challenge the de-facto rule of one man since 1994. Although there have been positive changes under his rule with impressive economic growth, due to failures in Rwanda’s political and justice systems, reconciliation of the civilian population has not happened yet. There must be a change of leadership for all Rwandans to move forward.
Photo Credits: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
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