Human rights organisations need to get their act together

I read Mr Kinzer’s article “Reinventing Rwanda – There’s a new promise of prosperity. So why are human rights advocates unhappy?” that appeared in the Los Angeles Times of June 22, 2008 and I couldn’t help but marvel at his insight into the rebirth of Rwanda.
Mr. Stephen Kinzer.
Mr. Stephen Kinzer.

I read Mr Kinzer’s article “Reinventing Rwanda – There’s a new promise of prosperity. So why are human rights advocates unhappy?” that appeared in the Los Angeles Times of June 22, 2008 and I couldn’t help but marvel at his insight into the rebirth of Rwanda.

His central thesis is that whereas development specialists do acknowledge and praise Rwanda and its leadership for the strides they have taken on the path to development, human rights advocates have deliberately closed their eyes to this fact and, instead, continue to unduly criticise Rwanda for alleged human rights abuses.

In Kinzer’s words, “Over the last seven years, Rwanda has emerged as the most exciting place on Earth for people whose dream is to end global poverty.” 

And Kinzer makes another pertinent point in his article: that Rwanda’s spectacular rebirth since the shocking genocide has reignited an old debate about the very nature of human rights – and about whether the West’s obsession can undermine innovative solutions to problems that hold entire nations in misery.

Despite the well-known difficulties in agreeing on universal human rights standards in culturally sensitive domains and diverse historical contexts, Rwanda is signatory to human rights conventions and has done everything to uphold the human rights enshrined in those conventions.

In fact, given the terrible human rights abuses carried out during the genocide of the Batutsi, the Government of Rwanda has a strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.

So, if Rwanda’s leadership is steadfastly striving to uplift the living standards of the entire population of Rwanda and provide them with equal opportunities to access all the benefits the country can offer and, indeed, give the world a new model of fighting poverty, why do human rights groups fail to see this?

I reckon there are three main reasons. First of all, some human rights organisations simply bear the name but have a different mandate and a hidden agenda.

Take “Reporters Without Borders”, for example. They are quick to cry foul whenever a journalist in Rwanda contravenes the laws of the land and is asked to account for his/her actions or misdemeanours.

They defended a certain Joseph Ruyenzi, who was accused of very grave crimes such as rape, assault and murder during the genocide of the Batutsi in 1994.

Reporters Without Borders presented him as an innocent man and a victim of a settling of accounts designed to remove him from Radio Rwanda.

Similarly, they present the likes of Kabonero, Gasasira, Bizumuremyi, and Burasa as angels come down from heaven whereas Rwandans and the media fraternity here consider them to be the lumpen, intent on destroying the very achievements that Mr Kinzer is referring to.

The second reason is that some people in the human rights movement pretend to be experts of experts but are in reality simply ignorant and out of touch with the reality in Rwanda. They carry out desk research, relying mainly on sources whose enterprise is to manufacture doom and gloom as far as Africa is concerned.

When it comes to Rwanda, they fail to appreciate our historical context, preferring instead to listen to genocide fugitives whose sole and avowed motive is to tarnish the image of Rwanda by all means. This ignorance on the part of human rights organisations was recently exposed by judges who participated in an international conference held here in Kigali to assess the impact of Rwandan Judiciary reforms, 5 years on.

The judges castigated Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch for failing to see the positive developments in Rwanda and for indulging instead in cheap politicking. The third reason is the good old patronising and condescending attitude on the part of so-called human rights organisations vis-à-vis Africa and Rwanda in particular.

The West still harbours the mentality that they are nobler than we are and that they alone should dictate the good manners they purport to profess, never mind the human rights violations in their backyard. It is the old fashioned view that African people don’t know what is in their best interest and that it is the erstwhile colonial masters who have solutions to their problems.

This is arrogance of the first order, and it has characterised people in the human rights movement, almost without exception. They had better learn from a Rwandan proverb, which says: “Urusha nyina w’umwana imbabazi aba ashaka kumurya”. The closest equivalent in English would be “Beware of the wolf in a sheep’s clothing”.

Let me say in conclusion, that Africa, and Rwanda for that matter, cannot accept that its affairs are run by self-styled human rights advocates who are bent on detracting the Government Rwanda from making Rwanda “the only country on the planet that has a chance of going from absolute poverty to middle income in the space of a generation”.

No amount of lecturing and pontificating will derail the Government and the leadership in Rwanda from this noble course they have taken.   


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