This is turning out to be a very exciting electoral season in Rwanda, indeed. People are paying attention: A Wall Street Journal opinion piece came out in support of Kagame, while a TIME article asked whether the “hero” was turning to oppression. While my expertise is the neighboring Congo, I thought I would weigh in on a few matters.
Victoire Ingabire: This has been the biggest news of late. The Rwandan government arrested opposition politician Victoire Ingabire last week. She was later released on bail, but has been charged with ethnic divisionism, propagating genocide ideology and association with a terrorist group. There is not enough information publicly available – here case hasn’t gone to trial yet – but let’s have a preliminary look at the charges:
Ethnic divisionism & genocide ideology: Rwanda has several sweeping laws against divisionism. In 2001, the legislature passed a law defining divisionism: “when the author makes use of any speech, written statement or action that causes conflict that causes an uprising that may degenerate into strife among people.” The 2003 constitution has a similar, albeit vaguer clause. In 2008, the government signed a law against genocide ideology that defined such a crime as follows: The crime of genocide ideology is characterized in any behaviour manifested by facts aimed at dehumanizing a person or a group of persons with the same characteristics in the following manner:1. threatening, intimidating, degrading through defamatory speeches, documents or actions which aim at propounding wickedness or inciting hatred;2. marginalising, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising,degrading, creating confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred, stirring up ill feelings, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence for the genocide which occurred;3. killing, planning to kill or attempting to kill someone for purposes of furthering genocide ideology. The Rwandan government is understandably worried about ethnic hate speech, and the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed compares these laws to the laws against Holocaust denial. However, I would argue that in Rwanda, the prosecutions have gone further than in Germany, France and Austria. In the 2003 elections, the main challenger Faustin Twagiramungu and another opposition politician Leonard Hitimana were both charged with divisionism, although they didn’t provide firm evidence. Alison des Forges, the late Human Rights Watch researcher and premier cataloger of the genocide, was also labeled by the Minister of Justice as a “spokesperson for genocide ideology” at a conference on justice in Kigali in 2008. The reason: she had opposed the transfer of genocide suspects from the UN tribunal to Rwanda, saying they would not receive a fair trial in Kigali. Late last year, another head of an opposition party, Bernard Ntaganda, was summoned before the Senate on charges of genocide ideology for criticizing the government.
All this has led Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to accuse the government of interpreting divisionism laws generously in order to suppress its opposition. Two days ago, Human Rights Watch’s researcher had to leave the country after the government refused to give her a work visa. Human Rights Watch has had a researcher based in Kigali for over a decade.
Ingabire’s crime appears to be her statement at the genocide memorial in Kigali that:
For example, we are here honouring at this Memorial the Tutsi victims of the Genocide; there are also Hutu who were victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, not remembered or honoured here. Hutus are also suffering. They are wondering when their time will come to remember their people.
Is this divisionism? According to a Rwandan Senate inquiry in 2006, it is. They concluded that genocide ideology could include saying that: “Hutus [are] detained on the basis of some simple accusation” or that “[there are] unpunished RPF crimes.” For a comprehensive overview of Rwanda’s laws against divisionism and genocide ideology, see Lars Waldorf’s article in The Journal For Genocide Research – he provides a list of people who had been prosecuted or gone into exile due to similar allegations, including human rights officials, journalists and politicians. (Lars is the former HRW researcher in Kigali.)
Ingabire is also accused of other instances of hate speech, for which I have not been able to find quotes. This includes suggestions that there was really a double genocide, with comparable numbers of Hutu and Tutsi killed.
Association with terrorist organizations: This means the FDLR. The Rwandan prosecutor this week revealed that three former FDLR officers had come forward, claiming their had collaborated with Ingabire and had been in meetings with her in Kinshasa, and the prosecutor said he had proof of emails and Western Union transfers between Ingabire and the FDLR. Anything is possible, let’s wait and see. As I have said before, earlier claims that the UN itself had proved such collaboration were overstated, as all the UN expert panel said was that Ingabire had attended meetings of the Rwandan opposition in the Diaspora at which the FDLR had participated. Misguided, but not proof of collaboration.