Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Leo Mugesera: Why Kagame is Itching to have him.

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There is still some hope for Dr. Leon Mugesera. After all, it is difficult to imagine that Canada would go ahead with his deportation without considering the concerns of torture that have repeatedly been raised.

That said, it is important to understand why the Rwandan government is itching to have Mugesera in their custody. They tell us that this is because of the plight of the genocide survivors who want some form of justice.

It is a reasonable request but hardly one that is exempt from Rwanda's murky politics. For instance, we know for certain that there are many genocidaires who committed worse crimes than Mugesera that are being shielded by the Rwandan government.This includes high ranking former members of the FAR, the Interahamwe and the FDLR.

In fact, two individuals stand out on the list. The first being Gen. Marcel Gatsinzi who was the head of the Rwandan army prior to the genocide. He has served in a number of ministerial positions under Paul Kagame's government. Ironically, he is currently the minister in charge of Refugees and Disaster Preparedness.

Another one is Gen. Paul Rwarakabije who is the former chief of the FDLR fighting group based in the DRC. He has been rewarded with a cushy job after laying down arms and is currently the director of prisons. For political expediency, these men have faced no prosecution. Shouldn't survivors be outraged with this?

If Rwanda was so serious about meting out justice, they would start with those walking scot-free on the streets of Kigali. And by the way, these include members of the ruling party RPF who have been implicated in crimes against humanity, but have consistently defied justice.

The reason Kagame's camp want Mugesera runs much deeper. It is a continuation of the worst of Rwandan politics, and the revenge tendencies that characterize it. They want him as a trophy for Intsinzi ( "RPF's hegemony"). Justice is a secondary consideration for the RPF. Of course, the level of politicization in Mugesera's case raises question of whether he can get a fair and free trial. It is not clear why this is ignored.

Rwanda wants Mugesera back because he is a big asset necessary to validate their official narrative. The ICTR has failed to convict anyone with the charge of conspiracy to commit genocide. They are looking for some big names, and sacrificial lambs if necessary, to carry this heavy cross. Mugesera seems to perfectly fit the bill. Or so they believe.

This is exactly what Former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler of Canada told Le Soleil. he was quoted stating that: "it is important that the justice of the country [Rwanda] can demonstrate that there was a genocide". Clearly, he lacks a thorough knowledge of the Rwandan political context. Genocide is a horrible crime; we address it by promoting a culture of fairness and not by whitch-hunting others. Mugesera has questions that he needs to answer, however, this must done in properly and in the right environment.

There were rumors that Mugesera tried to commit suicide rather than accept to be sent to Rwanda. Some have mocked this as not "brave". Willis Shalita, a blogger with very close ties  to the Rwandan government stated: 
But what is so amusing and instructive is how Mugesera’s bravado melted when he heard that his deportation was imminent. His defiance melted and he became jello. An attempted suicide is no way for one so brave to meet his Maker. Shame,shame.
There is little valiance about returning to a country known for its disregard for human rights--especially if one is its prisoner. We painfully know too well what has happened to opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire and others. Moreover, one needs to be suspicious of the vilification campaign by sections of pro-Kagame media. By lynching Mugesera--a man who is still innocent until proven guilty--they reveal what many suspect. That Mugesera's trial has more to do with politics and less concerned with justice.

I am not writing this because I believe Mugesera is innocent of the crimes that he is suspected to have committed. He might very well be a guilty man. The paradox of being a human rights activist is that you feel the burden of speaking for those considered to be bad guys in equal measure.

Mugesera is accused of crimes that are very difficult to argue against. This is perhaps the reason why human rights organizations are reluctant to speak in his defense. No one wants to be seen as being sympathetic to suspected genocide perpetrators. For Rwanda, we know too well that Kagame has not hesitated to use the genocide card against opponents. It is for that reason that we sound the alarm.

Mugesera is requesting that he be accorded a free and fair trial in a non-politicized environment. This is really not a lot to ask for. The reality is that Rwanda lacks the mechanism and the desire to do so!

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