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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.

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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.

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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?

As for Ingabire, it is not surprising that the US appears to condemnthe political torture she is undergoing in the hands of RPF torturers. This political persecution is based on unfounded allegations of genocide denial and other off the bat allegations that have never been proven in the court of law.Ingabire says publicly that she wants reconciliation and democracy for Rwanda. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has pleaded in vain for her to be allowed to compete in Rwanda's election. But, surprisingly, pro-Rwandan government media continues to tell their readers (hoping, no doubt, to also win the hearts and minds of folks at the State Department) insulting words about Ingabire's alleged genocide ideology and the background of her party, as well as about what they think the nature of her campaign would be. Unfortunately this cannot be remedied as it is a well designed strategy for RPF to insure an easy win in the upcoming elections away from any form of real political opposition.

RPF operatives allege that Ingabire is president of two Rwandan exile parties based in Europe. They want those two parties to be the RDR, and surprisingly the other to be the FDU when it is RDR that essentially blended with many other political parties of Rwandan exiles back in 2006 to become the FDU/UDF-Inkingi party. RPF and partisans like to drown FDU/UDF-Inkingi democracy and true reconciliation policy in an emotional alphabet-soup of acronyms such as IVU(acronym made of Ingabire's first initials in disorder used to equate her with ashes in Kinyarwanda) , RDR, CDF and FDLR politics to stir hatred against FDU/UDF-Inkingi party and its President Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, hoping that no one can go past their intrigues of petty politics and see the light of truth Ingabire and her party stand for.

FDU/UDF-Inkingi is neither a descendent of the RDR party nor a sister party to it. It is a brand new coalition party of several political parties of Rwandan exiles, which has now become an irresistible force of change inside Rwanda because the Rwandan people have fallen in love with its promise of democracy, true reconciliation and true development they've been waiting to get from RPF in vain. Established in 1995 in eastern Congo by Rwandan civilians trying to distance themselves from former Rwandan government and top military commanders then accused of having committed genocide, the founding RDR goals were and still are a negotiated return of all Rwandan refugees (with no weapons involved), the punishment of all genocide perpetrators and collective reconciliation of all Rwandans through a highly inclusive inter-Rwandan dialogue. It's no surprise that these principles still appear among the 7 well known principles being promoted by FDU/UDF-Inkingi in Rwanda today. Many genocide perpetrators, some in the ranks of RPF itself have yet to be indicted and charged in national and international criminal courts.

That some RPF members and supporters still claim that Ingabire's predecessor as RDR president in Europe, Charles Ndereyehe, may be the subject of an Interpol warrant for genocide crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide is not news to anyone and should have no bearing on Ingabire's political credibility. Several members of the current Rwandan government have themselves been indicted by Spanish and French courts for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. RPF supporters have also tried to link RDR and FDU to the FDLR in eastern Congo. To this day however they have been unable to provide any evidence to their unfounded claims.The United States and the United Nations treat the FDLR as a terrorist group; two of its Europe-based leaders are under arrest in Germany.

Alleged Ingabire's personal links to the FDLR now being claimed by RPF and RPF partisans are nothing but a grotesque extrapolation of some undocumented personal phone calls between one or two members of FDU/UDF-Inkingi party in Europe with elements of FDLR in eastern Congo that were cited in a 2009 UN Experts' Report about the FDLR. In the same report, UN investigators tied war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in eastern Congo to RPF army and its proxy generals deployed in Congo by the Rwandan government for reasons not fully understood but only those isolated personal phone calls of a handful of FDU members seem to be newsworthy to RPF.

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To make things worse some of Ingabire's public statements in Europe since 2000 are actively being misinterpreted to make them eligible for prosecution under the RPF notorious vague law on genocide ideology and denial. The author of that law, former Senator Stanley Safari, has indeed himself been charged of the same genocide ideology before going in exile, after he fell out of RPF favors last year. Although all of Ingabire's speeches and public statements are published on her website and elsewhere on internet RPF operatives still contend, against every logical human being reasoning, that Ingabire's campaign in Rwanda prior to her arbitrary arraignment was aimed at mobilizing ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis when it is obvious that it was the opposite she was promoting.

Her first stop once back in the country was to visit Rwanda's main memorial to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, where she raised the issue of remembrance of forgotten Hutu victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, totally in line with the way this genocide was enacted by the United Nations in 1994. RPF operatives cynically compare this honorable reconciliation gesture to going to Auschwitz to raise the issue of the German victims of Dresden. Indeed, we all, and they know that unlike RPF Tutsis, German Jews never attacked Germany, like RPF did before Rwanda descended into chaos marked by the indiscriminate killing of Tutsis and political opponents by the then ruling MRND party and its Interahamwe militia. These unspeakable killings started after the shooting down of President Habyalimana's airplane, killing its French crew, President Habyalimana and his top officials as well as Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira.

To pay homage to freedom fighters that were credited with bringing about independence and democracy in early sixties, Ingabire also chose to meditate at the tomb of the first president of the RwandanRepublic. This president is credited with leading the Rwandan people's struggle to winning independence from Belgium in 1962. For the first time, all Rwandans could compete for political power ending centuries of institutionalized racism against majority Hutu kept in Tutsi servitude for 400 years. The liberation was not free and popular uprising resulted in civilian casualties as Tutsi kingdom protagonist fought ferociously to maintain the status quo. Although no official account of the number of victims of this infighting was published, hatred mongering Tutsis and their partisans will not hesitate to talk about organized mass killings citing numbers as big as 15,000 Tutsis dead. However they omit to say that Tutsis were the ones fighting their way back to power with an organized army using guns against unarmed Hutu masses and an inexperienced national army of the new RwandanRepublic between 1963-64.

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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