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Rwanda's convenient position on genocide denial

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Arrogance, ignorance, and indifference to African rights, freedom and democracy should not be hallmarks of Western treatment of Rwanda in the name of its vague genocide ideology law.

The US government should take care not to fall in this unfortunate trap in the run-up to Rwanda's presidential elections in August, letting ill-intentioned, uninformed or plain oldcynical politicians like Richard Johnson continue to fan ethnic tensions in Rwanda. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton admonished the Rwandan government on June 14 for its legal prosecution of "opposition figures" and "lawyers," as political actions that should be reversed. Whoever drafted and vetted the secretary's comments did her, and Rwanda, a commendable service.


The "opposition figure" in question is Victoire Ingabire, a former Rwandan exile just like current President Paul Kagame 16 years ago,who returned peacefully to Rwanda from Europe in January to register her political party UDF-Inkingi in order to run for president. The only difference here is that unlike Victoire Ingabire, Paul Kagame now President of Rwanda decided instead to invade Rwanda from Uganda in 1990. Like Paul Kagame who returned after 30 years of exile, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza had left her country for the Netherlands going to school in 1993 where she was forced to stay for 16 years plus because of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath fallouts. Upon her return this year, she was attacked by local media, mobbed at the local administration office, intimidated with weekly police interrogations and was later charged with downplaying genocide, stirring up ethnic hatred, and collaborating with an imaginary rebel force called CDF-Inkingi. To this day, Ms. Victoire Ingabire is being denieddue legal process to clear her name and her party and she is under house arrest effectively keeping her from doing her political work.

More recently, the administration of Rwandan President Paul Kagame has engaged in increasingly repressive tactics including shutting down independent media, and jailing opposition candidates and their supporters under a vague charge of genocide ideology, the same charge Professor Erlinder was accused of. Peter Erlinder is a William Mitchell law professor in St. PaulMinnesota and an international human rights attorney. He traveled to Rwanda to join the legal team defending opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. He was arrested on May 28, 2010 by Rwandan police on false charges. He was held in a Rwandan prison and was hospitalized twice after interrogation sessions, before being released on medical grounds but also after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had called for his release and after ICTR had reasserted his ICTR immunity for everything the Rwandan government was accusing him of.

Ms Ingabire's accusers alleged that the CDF-Inkingi imaginary armed group was tied to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) based in eastern Congo but they have not been able to prove it until now. FDLR is an armed group made of former Rwandan government armed forces (RAF) but mostly made of young Rwandan refugees who grew up in exile. Like a few of their former military commanders that were brought to justice by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR), some FDLR military officers and politicians are still today being accused by the Rwandan government of having planned and perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide, despite proof to the contrary by the ICTR which recently acquitted some of their former top commanders of the crime of planning genocide.


Peter Erlinder is the "lawyer" Secretary Clinton referred to. Peter Erlinder is an American lawyer who served as the lead defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for former Rwandan government top military commanders accused of having planned and perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. As an international human rights attorney he has earned himself the reputation of seeking truth and justice where politics have tried to suppress truth. In the eyes of the Rwandan government and their partisans though, he is viewed as a conspiracy theorist and genocide denier.


To Americans who follow what passes for news about this far-away African country (there is a lot going on right now, often troubling, but with no western journalists based there, there is a dearth of in-depth reporting often compensated for by partisan unprofessional reporting such as thatmade byRichard Johnson in the Christian Science Monitor on June 28, 2010), there is no doubt that Clinton's remarks are sound advice. Her intervention was certainly harmful to Rwanda's efforts to promote its so-called "post-genocide democracy" which instead has renewed ethnic divisions because of its underlying collective criminalization of a segment of the population as having a genocide ideology whenever they don't agree with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ruling party's account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The stakes are too high for an ad hoc approach.


In the case of Erlinder, the US carried out its duty to ensure that any American arrested overseas gets fair treatment. To truthfully characterize his prosecution as "political" and to urge he be released on compassionate grounds, as the State Department did, was indeed the right thing to do. It reminds us that genocide denial is not a catch-all convenient charge that should be used to victimize innocent people for crimes they have not committed if it should serve as a legitimate ground for legal action. Marred with a history of genocide, Europe itself sees it that way. Like any other crime, genocide denial charges can only be punished in the court of law after following normal legal due process. Extradition of former Rwandan minister of planning Dr. Augustin Ngirabatware for example had to be argued in court first before Germany handed him over to the ICTR for genocide crimes allegations.That Rwanda has 300,000 still-traumatized genocide survivors is certainly not a good excuse to violate all rules of legal due process should there be suspicions of genocide denial. Why should it?

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Theophilus is a Rwandan expatriate. A civil and human rights activist, he lives in Baltimore Maryland.

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Rwanda's convenient position on genocide denial