HRW should not undermine Rwanda’s independent civil society

Human rights watch is again trying to micro-manage local independent organisations operating in Rwanda.The latest claim is that the leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) has been ousted because of its independent stance and that people believed to be favorable to the government have taken over the organization.

Human rights watch is again trying to micro-manage local independent organisations operating in Rwanda.

The latest claim is that the leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) has been ousted because of its independent stance and that people believed to be favorable to the government have taken over the organization.

HRW puts up such wild claims and accusations knowing very well that there is no single government official in the management of LIPRODHOR.

Secondly, foreign organisations like HRW feel and want local human rights organisations to act like enemies of the government. 

This attitude is not surprising to many who know the motive of HRW towards Rwanda especially under people like Kenneth Roth and the foreign interests they serve.

These are the same people who in 1994, wished Rwanda could be a failed stated. After recovery from genocide, and now one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, the same people are not happy and want to take the country back into divisive politics and backwardness.

They will always be there to criticise even where criticism is apparently misplaced.

It is not only Rwanda that criticises the working of HRW as Kenneth Roth may want the international community to believe. One of the founders and former chairman of Human Rights Watch,  Robert Bernstein is a very disappointed man by one fact that the objectives of an organisation (HRW) he fondly created to advocate for human rights without discrimination, was turned into a political tool.

Mr. Bernstein is concerned that HRW lost focus and is openly working for political interests of its financers and those of some particular staffers like Kenneth Roth, Marc Garlasco, Shawan Jabarin and a few others.

Not only the founder has serious concerns with the work of HRW, but also national governments across the globe, NGOs and international media houses that supposedly care for universal human rights protection.

He has pointed out bias reporting targeting particular countries while exonerating or deliberately ignoring to report gross Human rights abuses in friendly and financing quarters.

In 2009, Bernstein was very disappointed by HRW’s work in the Middle East, when he said, “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on the events in the Middle East.

The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of International law than of any other country in the region”.

When reading HRW reports on Rwanda and Eastern DRC regarding activities of M23, you definitely realise a similar pattern of selective and ideologically biased reporting as mentioned above.

In a cocktail of more than 40 rebel organisations operating in Eastern DRC, M23 is picked out and reported as the most notorious on human rights abuses, when facts on the ground indicate gross abuses of gang rapes, torture, body mutilation etc, committed by government forces FARDC, Mai Mai militias and FDLR, which atrocities are completely ignored or simply mentioned in passing.

Allegations on M23 are on the other hand described in bold, prominent and detailed manner.  The purpose is to mudsling Rwanda since after the country has been framed as offering help to human rights violators so that Rwanda is crucified, isolated, sanctioned and denied financial aid.

Robert Bernstein, recipient of a number of human rights awards and author on human rights issues has further criticized HRW for either intentionally or unintentionally using poor research methods and inaccuracies; relying on “witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage”.

Those who read the recent HRW “report” alleging Rwanda’s support and recruitment for M23 could see the type of “witnesses” and sources of “credible” information HRW decided to rely on.

More than 50 witnesses HRW said relied on were deserters, Congolese asylum seekers in Uganda and other individuals mainly from civil society organisations affiliated to the Kinshasa regime.

Former US president Bill Clinton who has just concluded a tour in Rwanda told BBC, that; “where were those human rights groups criticising Rwanda today when Hutus were slaughtering Tutsi”.

Rwanda’s concerns in eastern DRC is not to support M23,  acquire mineral wealth or create a Tutsi-Hima Empire  as the likes of  HRW and their financers want the world to believe.

These are diversionary creations by haters of peace and economic development of Rwanda. The legitimate concern of Rwanda is protection of her citizens from any form of aggression and security threats posed by  a genocidal force that killed over a million people, roaming freely in eastern DRC; receiving military and financial support from various actors and threatening to come back and Kill” more people in Rwanda.

HRW has been on the spot for recruiting witnesses whose conduct and background is questionable and ideologically biased while investigating certain countries.

For example, Marc Garlasco was a senior investigator for HRW but resigned in February 2010 after it was discovered that his admiration for the Nazi and his hobby as a collector of Nazi memorabilia had sparked criticism. 

Helena Cobban, a Middle East analyst of the HRW decribed Garlasco as someone who engaged with “people who clearly seem to be Nazi sympathisers”.

In 2011, HRW appointed one Shawan Jabarin on its Middle East advisory board, knowing very well that he was an open sympathiser and active member of an anti Israel militant group. 

It is not surprising when in the case of Rwanda; HRW gives attention to the likes of FDLR and also wants local human rights organisations like LOPRODHOR to be managed by ill minded people. 

This is their way of ‘doing business’ as evidenced by people who served for HRW but disagreed with its hidden political agenda.

The Times of UK accused HRW of imbalance while in 2012, New Europe wrote that HRW erased in its reports cooperation it had with the Gaddaffi regime.

In the case of Rwanda, the allegation that one of HRW witnesses was an RDF soldier who had served in peace keeping operation in Somalia was erased rather late after it embarrassingly showed that HRW concocts some so called evidence.

The Times further noted that HRW, “does not always practice the transparency, tolerance and accountability it urges others to have.”

A writer of The Spectator Nick Cohen, wrote in February 2013, that both, Amnesty International and HRW look with horror on those who speak out about murder, mutilation and oppression if the murderers, mutilators and oppressors do not fit into their script”.

Hundreds of scholars from different countries including US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Argentina to mention but a few  have in the near past written an open letter to HRW criticising lack of minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy and credibility in its reports.

The letter further criticised HRW leadership for having a political agenda.

This kind of attitude still prevails today on particular selected countries an indication that this is a planned long term operational policy that will not be abandoned soon.

HRW reports have been generally described by a number of scholars as, “not only short on facts and evidence, but also short on intellectual and professional integrity”.

When poor countries like Rwanda tell their side of the story, Western countries prefer not to listen. Robert James, who  worked for HRW and served on Middle East and north Africa Desk Advisory Committee observed that, “ Human Rights Watch is chronically  incapable of  introspection and has a more basic problem….They cannot take criticism”. 

Rwanda is a country that is on the move with visionary leadership and hardworking people who have overcome extraordinary tougher challenges and actions of detractors like HRW and those they represent do not weaken them but only harden their resolve to succeed.  

Gad Ntambara Analyst based in Kigali

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