HRW given more attention than it deserves

Who is Carina Tertsakian? Ten days ago, I would have thought she was a Hollywood actress looking for her big break. Well, she certainly has got it, although not in the world of celluloid. I certainly know her name now and I know what she does; or rather what she was doing anyway.

Who is Carina Tertsakian? Ten days ago, I would have thought she was a Hollywood actress looking for her big break. Well, she certainly has got it, although not in the world of celluloid. I certainly know her name now and I know what she does; or rather what she was doing anyway.

The British national was the Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior researcher in Rwanda and because of discrepancies in her work permit application she was asked to kindly leave the country.

Now, that should have been it, but it’s become a bigger deal than I believe it should.

It’s interesting just how each side decided to present its side of the issue. On one hand, the HRW, in a communiqué it issued on April 23,, equated the Rwandan government’s decision to deny her a work permit as a demonstration of its restrictions on free speech in advance of August’s presidential election, while the Government of Rwanda simply stated that she hadn’t been truthful on the forms she signed.

Free speech is a strange way of putting the denial of a work permit. I wonder if the authors of this press statement really thought this ‘free speech’ argument through.

While the ‘denial of free speech’ is a term that is often used to bash us, maybe a study of what it really means will clear the polluted waters.

Freedom of speech can be defined as “the freedom to speak without censorship and/or limitation”. Now, I ask those HRW people in New York, how exactly did the Government of Rwanda censor her? Because they told her to leave?

I think that theory is open to discussion because we have to factor in what exactly she did. She came to Rwanda for one reason only; to do work for HRW.
She applied for the work permit stating that her employer would be HRW.

All the documentation that she forwarded to the Immigration office had HRW all over them. Because she did her job under the aegis of HRW, and not own name, therefore I would assume that it wasn’t her freedom of speech that was violated, but rather Human Rights Watch’s.

I mean, I’d be surprised if she wrote anything, or made any study under her own volition.

So, what I then ask myself is this, “did the Government of Rwanda violate Human Rights Watch’s (embodied by Carina Tertsakian) freedom of speech”? I don’t think so.

Let’s look at the facts. The Office of Immigration had an issue with Carina Tertsakian because of some dodgy signatures.

Because of the dodgy signatures she was not given a work permit and when her travel visa expired, she left the country.

Maybe I missed something, but I want to know, was the HRW Rwanda office manned by just one person? If she was a senior researcher, then I’ll assume that there a few junior ones running about compiling reports.

Has the HRW office been closed by the Rwandan authorities? Reading HRW’s release, I did not get the sense that that had happened. So obviously HRW hasn’t lost its voice in Rwanda, despite how disagreeable it often is.

What really has gotten my goat is that this issue of a work permit, which is fundamentally an administrative matter, has taken up an otherworldly facet.

Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch was in Kigali the week of April 19 and the head honcho, Kenneth Roth, states that he sent a private letter to our President concerning the handling of Tertsakian’s visa application. The level of this arrogance is nauseating.

I’m pretty sure that hundreds of people, if not thousands, are denied work permits in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Do they, or their lawyers, petition President Obama or the Queen to reiterate their disapproval of the visa denial? No. Why?

Because, at the end of the day, a country has the sovereign right to deny the presence of someone it doesn’t want within its borders. And if you have a problem with that country and its decision, you can simply pack your bags and go home.

As a proud Rwandan (some will even call me arrogant) it hurt me that senior Rwandan officials had to sit in front of local and foreign press to show all and sundry the anomalies in work permit request forms.

While it will certainly leave eggs on HRW’s face, which is quite satisfying, I believe that this made the issue bigger than it should have become. However, I guess that is the price that we must pay not to be demonized globally.

I am not a political leader; I’m merely a small-time writer. However, if I was in a position of influence, I would have told them all to go hang. There must be some principles of fairness.

Rwanda’s sovereignty shouldn’t, and mustn’t, be trampled on by anyone. I don’t care if it’s the ‘all-powerful’ Human Rights Watch, or anyone else for that matter.

sunnyntayombya@newtimes.co.rw      

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