Barely a week passes before a group of ‘human rights activists’ pick up the ‘moral high ground’ club and begin thumping Rwanda with it.
This time it wasn’t the usual bugbears i.e. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or International Crisis Group. The criticism came from a group that I, honestly, never heard of: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
I don’t know whether I should have laughed or cried when I read what their report said. It stated that Rwanda's anticipated accession to the Commonwealth was “ill-advised”.
They accused Rwanda of having harsh laws banning "genocide ideology" and harassing independent journalists. It went on to say that Rwanda's governance was wanting and its human rights record was "very poor". It said Rwandan troops had carried out abuses during three incursions into Congo, and that the Gacaca courts violated international norms.
I don’t know if the ‘august’ writer of the report Professor Yash Pal Ghai, had enough time to get his head out of the sand and really see Rwanda without the rose-tinted lenses that those ‘human rights types’ always seem to see the world through.
I’m not an expert in constitutional law like the good professor but I’ve had the opportunity to attend Law classes; so, this is what I’m going to do. I shall present material evidence, as opposed to his circumstantial evidence, to reveal just how unsubstantiated his report is.
First, he says that our laws on genocide ideology are harsh. But then I ask myself, “in which civilized nation is inciting the murder of a particular group of people not a felony?” Hate speech, hate crimes and anti-Semitism are big deals in other Commonwealth nations, including ‘mother England’, so why shouldn’t it be the same here? After all, this genocide ideology caused the deaths of one million innocent lives.
Prof. Ghai, would you prefer it that we didn’t enact laws that protected our people and punished those who would wind back the clock to early 1994?
Secondly, he accuses the Rwandan government of harassing independent journalists. Well, obviously, you haven’t been reading some of the newspapers that are being sold on the Rwandan streets without any hindrance.
For example, I shall reprint the headline from the Umuseso newspaper, which is owned by the Rwanda Independent Media Group. The headline of the Umuseso issue of 20-27 July 2009 screams “Impanga”….. “Kagame arusha Habyarimana ikoranabuhanga mu gitugu gusa”.
This is loosely translated: “Twins….Kagame is only dissimilar from (former president Juvenal ) Habyarimana because he disguises his despotism better”.
This leading article had pictures of both presidents face to face, with Paul Kagame in military fatigues even though he retired from military many years back, as required by the Rwandan Constitution.
If this government was as unfriendly to the press as the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report makes it out to be, then the journalists that wrote this article would be languishing in a cell. But they aren’t. So sir, can you tell me which journalists you are talking about?
The report says that governance was wanting, and then in an apparent about-turn gives Rwanda's government credit for spending on health and education over the past 15 years, having a parliament where half the MP’s are female, keeping corruption low and having a government work ethic which puts its neighbouring countries to shame. Can you make up your mind?
I would like to end two notes. Prof. Ghai, you say Rwandan troops had carried out abuses during three incursions into Congo and that the Gacaca courts violated international norms.
First of all, I’m disappointed that a legal expert accuses Rwanda based on hearsay and allegation and secondly, I’d like to ask you, Mr. Eminent Scholar, what kind of legal solution would you have given the Rwandan government as they looked over the piles of dead bodies and a broken nation?
But of course, your remit isn’t to give anyone solutions or encouragement; all you have to do is smear a whole nation and then waddle off.