Monday, September 13, 2010

Amnesty International says Rwandan Laws on Genocide Ideology Circumvent Human Rights.

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Amnesty international’s article “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s law on “Genocide Ideology” and “sectarianism” is by far the most important document on the state of democracy in Rwanda today. The document explains to the world, why Rwandan bloggers like me, often choose to remain anonymous, and why being critical of the government might be an extremely dangerous risk. The reality, we learn, is that Rwanda’s government is allergic to critical voices and has proactively used the legal system to muzzle them.

The document is of serious quality spanning some 50 pages. Important voices in Rwanda were interviewed, and allowed to anonymously relay their thoughts. Diplomats and leaders of international organization were also consulted.
As is natural, the government of Rwanda has reacted with the usual defiance; trivializing and undermining the report which they allege is Amnesty International’s “fundraising scheme”.

What follows is a brief overview of the report. For a more enlightened understanding, I urge you to read it.
The Genocide ideology laws were first “defined and proscribed” by Rwandan law in 2008. Genocide ideology was defined as follows:
The genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterized by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people basing (sic) on ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, color, physical appearance, sex, language, religion or political opinion, committed in normal periods or during war.

However, article 3 of the same law makes the definition so vague and broad. In one instance, the characteristics of Genocide ideology are defined as:

Marginalising, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising, degrading createing (sic) confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred, stiring (sic) up ill feelings, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence for the genocide which occurred

Amnesty International is concerned that this definition “constitutes an impermissible restriction on freedom of expression under international law”. More specifically, the law fails to establish what kind of behavior is prohibited. Also, it is unclear whether journalists or others could be punished for covering cases involving genocide ideology. So vague is the law that even individuals with specialist legal knowledge were unable to give a precise definition.

Another legal draconian measure is that children under the age of 12 can be sentenced to “rehabilitation” centers if accused of Genocide ideology. Children of between 12-18 years are sentences to half the adult penalty of up to 13 years of jai time. Even worse, their parents or teachers may be sentenced for 12 to 25 years.

Where the case involves a minor who lacks a “historical experience with the genocide”, it raises question of where the genocide ideology emanated from. This argument should make sense, given that Rwanda has outlawed ethnic identities and boasts of high success in reconciliation. Amnesty International wisely counsels, “A well defined hate speech law would clearly show that inciting violence based on ethnic lines does not require a prior personal experience of living through the genocide”.

The laws on “Sectarianism” generally follow a similar pattern. At best, it is difficult to distinguish between “sectarianism” and Genocide ideology”.

Of particular concern is how the laws are used against a specific ethnic group (Hutu). There are cases of prisoners who were convicted with genocide ideology before the law was even promulgated. In fact, all the accused so far have been Hutu except one Deo Mushayidi.

Deo Mushayidi’s case is even more interesting given his historical background. He is a genocide survivor who lost most of his family in 1994. He was the RPF’s representative in Switzerland and later served as Kagame’s secretary. He fell out with the regime in the later 1990s. Kigali now accuses him of Genocide ideology, and collaboration with a Hutu-led terrorist group, FDLR.

Madame Victoire ingabire a presidential aspirant was repeatedly attacked by pro-RPF media and accused of charges of genocide ideology. Although the charges were never proven, she was barred contesting the presidency and remains under house arrest.

The relevant charge against her revolves around a speech she gave at the Kigali memorial. After examining the contents of the speech, “Amnesty International considers that the content of this
speech cannot reasonably be construed as hate speech.”

Another one, Bernard Ntaganda (the only leader of a registered opposition party) remains in prison facing similar charges. Amnesty International notes that, “The timing and manner in which these accusations were levelled against Bernard Ntaganda suggest a political motivation.”

Apparently, calling for the prosecution of RPF for crimes they committed remains a punishable crime.  Amnesty is right to mention that calling for the prosecution of RPF “does not amount to hate speech.”

Other cases abound in which the genocide ideology law is manipulated to fulfill the desires of the state or those of Tutsi individuals. For instances learn that allegations of genocide ideology were used to justify extra-judicial killings from November 2006 to May 2007. Rwandan human rights workers continue to cite this law as the greatest impediment to their work.

On several occasions, Rwanda has accused human rights watch and Amnesty International for possessing Genocide ideology. They’ve been called “human rights terrorists.”

But the greatest effect of the law has been on the media. The BBC and Voice of America, both broadcasting in Kinyarwanda, have been accused on several occasions. In fact the BBC was jammed for a few months in 2009 only to be reinstated after intense negotiations between the UK foreign office and the Rwandan government. Local journalists have paid a heavy (in some cases fatal) price.  

Foreign governments are cautious to extradite genocide suspects for fear that their defense will be limited due to the genocide ideology laws. Even if Rwanda offers immunity for witnesses, this will be hardly satisfactory unless the rules that govern day to day lives are revised. Otherwise the fear will remain.


Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

anno said...

For sure, to be sincere, we are all Rwandans living in Rwanda, may be you might be a Rwandan living inn Diaspora otherwise we the Rwandans living in Rwanda, Know how much President Kagame has done to the social political and economic development of our Rwanda, may be you may be in need of fame but don't look for fame in defaming another one. Anyway try to make a good research properly you will discover how contented Rwandans are, For those who claim that in Rwanda there's no freedom of speech are those who are satisfied like a child who gets satisfied and pours the remaining, andf thats why you find the Kayumba and his group were also too satisfied to leave their motherland in disgrace.