Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jules Majyambere’s failed arrest and freedom of speech in the United States.

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The United States stands out in many respects, however, it is its respect for free speech that most impresses me. While everything else that the US has achieved may soon be realized by China, it is unlikely that China will surpass the US when it comes to democracy and human rights. I need to be careful here. In the international arena, the US has tended to betray the same ideals that it stands for. I am one of the critics of the US foreign policy in the Great Lakes region of Africa where autocrats are often preferred and supported. Even then, there is no proof that China has attempted to do any better.

Armin Rosen’s article “U.S. Hosted Alleged Rwandan War Criminal for Military Visit” would not have been published anywhere outside the West without massive self censoring. If published, the journalist might be prosecuted for treason. If there are no grounds for legal prosecution, the journalist might receive text messages with death threats. She/he might be roughed up by hired goons or might disappear never to be seen again. This is the sad fate of brave journalists in many parts of the world. Much more so in my country Rwanda. In such parts of the world the state security is beyond journalistic scrutiny.

What exactly was Rosen’s article about? Rosen’s story was about Majyambere, a Rwandan soldier and a suspected war criminal that made his way to the United States; visited top military officials and left for Rwanda without being captured, despite being “wanted” on the Interpol watch list. The article went further to discuss Universal Jurisdiction and how political interference blocks the prospects of international justice. The US does not particularly come off well. They are accused of shielding suspected war criminals and ignoring massive human rights violations in favor of “maintaining good ties with an ally [Rwanda]”.

I hope the article will stimulate further debate on the topic. So far many angry commentators have accused Rosen of harboring a negative agenda against Rwanda. This is to be expected. The commentators, who I suspect are members of the Rwandan government cyber police, cannot appreciate the fact that their comments are allowed visibility and spared from deletion. In Rwanda, the same people have never allowed for freedom of speech. Yet they never lack the courage to yell loudest on newspaper and magazine comment sections. This is the irony of freedom of speech in my country. Those who suppress it most seem to need it most if anything to rehabilitate their image.

For many years, many have been reluctant to discuss the Machiavelli-like relationship that the United States has with Rwanda. Even when it seemed intuitively true that the US has supported the RPF, it has always been difficult to come up with compelling evidence. One piece of evidence that seems consistent however, is the US role in hindering the prosecution of RPF officials. This, I am told is the reason why the International Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) will not prosecute RPF soldiers despite damning evidence and massive pressure from human rights organizations. This is probably the same reason why the tribunal will not investigate the 1994 assassination of President Hbayarimana, the very trigger of the Rwandan genocide. The smoking gun points towards Paul Kagame.

While the United States might choose to ignore the arrest warrants, why would they invite Majyambere with the full knowledge that the fellow is suspected for human rights violations? The US military on their part claims that they were unaware of Majyambere’s record. This is convincing. However, what about the US embassy in Kigali? What about the immigration officials? Does this mean that a suspected terrorist can still enter the country without being detected? Either way, this unfortunate conduct raises more questions than answers.

Despite the failures of the US government in this case, Rwanda and other countries can learn a thing or two. It is of no use killing journalists because they write what they see. That is their sacred duty. Moreover, the freedom of speech in the US is unparalleled and yet another reason to fall in love with the country.

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