HRW on the spot over Rwanda

The Executive Director of US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kenneth Roth was on Tuesday put on the spot over his disdain for the Rwandan government, which critics say has led him to commit ‘serious professional mistakes’ as a rights advocate.
Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth

The Executive Director of US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kenneth Roth was on Tuesday put on the spot over his disdain for the Rwandan government, which critics say has led him to commit ‘serious professional mistakes’ as a rights advocate.

This occurred during a symposium that was held in Buffalo, New York, which had been organised in honour of former HRW senior activist who died in a plane crash in 2009.

At the symposium Roth, who was the main speaker presented a paper called Human Rights in the Middle East and Central Africa; Comparisons and Contrasts between Rwanda and Israel, during which he expressed hate towards the Kigali government.

During the presentation, a participant raised the issue of rape of women in eastern DRC which goes unreported by Roth and his organisation, and this got immediate attention of the scholars.

The event had attracted over 200 scholars, including human rights academics and other scholars in related fields.

According to Grace Umurerwa, a Rwandan living in Canada who attended the symposium, different participants questioned Roth why none of his reports highlights the rapes in Eastern DRC, and even where it does, they attribute the problem to the rebel group M23, which is just a year old.

Another participant, Louis Gakumba, a graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia, USA, shared details of Roth’s known advocacy for the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, especially the FDLR.

This is not the first time Roth’s impartiality has come under scrutiny.

Last month, Richard Johnson, a retired American diplomat wrote a lengthy document; ‘The travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda’ in which he says that HRW’s discourse on Rwanda is a threat to peace and stability in the region.

“It discourages Western governments from doing what they should to support Rwanda’s recovery from the 1994 Genocide.  It perpetuates impunity for important Genocide perpetrators.  It pains many Rwandans, particularly the Genocide survivors. It crowds out the potential for a more constructive dialogue between the West and Rwanda, and raises the risks of cynicism and a bunker mentality in Kigali,” Johnson wrote.

“Donors to HRW should think seriously about what causes their money might serve.  Western governments should be careful about following HRW advice, and courageous enough to challenge them publicly when need be,” Johnson warned in the document.

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