Baby Joanna Imanirakiza has rights too and so did Mageza and hundreds of others

Some things are supposed to be straightforward. But many are not, perhaps deliberately so, or as evidence of our tendency to complicate matters, or pass them off as what they are not, like clothing base motives in virtuous garb.

Take the case of human rights. They are so clear there cannot be any confusion. But not when you listen to some of their self-acclaimed advocates, watchdogs, defenders, or by what other name they go by. They leave you confused and cause you to question some basic assumptions.

What, for instance, qualifies one for protection by the many groups that purport to be champions of human rights?

Being human, for one. Surely that must be obvious. And then being vulnerable; weak, harassed, victim of abuse.

Wrong. Well, not quite. Try again.

Alright, I got it. You have to be more than an ordinary human being, a celebrity of sorts, or an ingrate. Better if both.

That’s the idea, more or less. That’s what qualifies one for adoption by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and their many subsidiaries.

Similarly, who qualifies for condemnation as abusers and violators of human rights as determined by the watchdogs?

Not what you would expect – the murderers and jailors of innocent people; those who starve their citizens to death or permit them to live in sub-human conditions.

No, not those. Strangely, it is the leaders who try to give everyone, without distinction, a decent life, lift them up, ensure their security and dignity, and prosperity so that they can truly enjoy their rights.

When they do this and make sure their citizens are not the object of pity and vulnerable to the do-gooders that thrive on that emotion, they get a lot of stick for their troubles. That’s their crime: denying those groups their raison d’être and in many cases, their casus belli and for that they will be roundly condemned.

Sadly, that has been the history of human rights organisations in Rwanda. They have been silent or absent when the rights of ordinary Rwandans needed defending, but quick to come to the aid of supposedly important people even when they are the abusers of others’ rights. Apparently they can only do this by condemning the leadership of the country.

This attitude has been in evidence again these last few days...

The many stories of ordinary Rwandans abducted in Uganda by that country’s security agents, held and tortured in unknown places, and then barely alive dumped at the common border, are enough to move anyone to tears, revulsion or rage. None more so than that of a one-month old infant, Joanna Imanrikaiza, separated from her mother at a prison gate in Mubende District, never to be seen again, presumed sold to some couple in Uganda. The mother, Julienne Kayirere, was thrown into prison and later dumped, like many other Rwandans, at the border.

Human rights groups that should smell these sort of abuses miles away and be enraged by them, were apparently untouched. Not a word from HRW, AI or any of their affiliates. No strong worded demands for immediate return of the baby to her mother and the arrest and prosecution of her abductors. No protest at the many arrests, illegal detention and dumping of innocent people at the border, usually in the dead of night.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that Baby Joanna and her mother are insignificant and therefore their rights are not worth defending. They have the added disadvantage of being from Rwanda, a country the rights groups have singled out for harassment.

Then a few ago, HRW, AI and others suddenly found their voice and made such a din about a certain Kizito Mihigo who had taken his life in a police cell in Kigali.

They concluded, without evidence, that his death could not be suicide; it had to be an assassination.

By using that word – assassination - they raised his status to a level of importance that merited special treatment. You see, ordinary mortals are murdered; those greater than that are assassinated. And so they made demands and issued threats as is their wont.

So who is this special individual who must be accorded exceptional attention and whose rights are above those of everyone else? Everyone knows Kizito Mihigo to be a gifted musician. They probably don’t know that he was greatly assisted in his musical career by the President and government of Rwanda. For gratitude, he plotted, with other terrorists, to assassinate the very man who had raised him to the prominent position he enjoyed.

He was convicted on his own plea of guilty, sentenced to a term in prison and then pardoned. He showed his gratitude by attempting to join the same terrorists he had been plotting with earlier. Perhaps had never stopped working with them. It even turns out that the FDLR, a known grouping of genocidaires and those who still harbour their ideology, have now claimed him as one of their own.

Perhaps out of shame, more likely out of the realisation that he had come to the end of the road, the man decided to take his own life.

And now, Kizito Mihigo, with all this baggage, has rights to be defended. Baby Joanna, incapable of any evil, has none. His death must be investigated, preferably by outsiders. It is not worth to do the same for Emmanuel Mageza tortured to insanity in Ugandan detention dungeons and then death in a mental health hospital.

It seems that in the world of human rights organisations, the famous have rights; ordinary people none. It is not enough to be human.

The views expressed in this  article are of the author.

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