Victoire Ingabire, the selfless pro-democracy defender is burning in the flames of Kagame's kangaroo court. In fact, it is not a court in any dignified sense of the word: Kagame is the judge, jury and executioner.
Equally damning is how such blatant and arrogant disregard for the rule of law has so far managed to escape international condemnation. Besides a few footnote-long reports by the international media, no leader has come to this woman's rescue. The fact that she is fighting for democracy in a country that is usually characterized by political hooliganism, has been taken for granted. Even feminists are deafeningly silent.
To some extent, Ingabire's trial shows how difficult it is to oppose a dictator who enjoys the backing of the west. It is a tenuous undertaking as recent events in the Middle East have shown us.
For the last seventeen years, Kagame has enjoyed almost unconditional support from sections of the west--especially, Britain and the United States. This support has been consistent, despite documented crimes against humanity and credible accusations of genocide implicating him and his government. The most clear-cut case being that Kagame has invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) more than three times, leaving behind a death toll of five million.
Still, even if Britain and the United States continue this cynical and Machiavellian game, for those of us crying for freedom, there can be no retreat. This is the path that Ingabire has charted, and many are following in her footsteps. From my conversation with the Rwandan youth, I can say for a fact that the quench for freedom and democracy has never been so palpable. The resolve is now more pronounced than ever. A peaceful Tsunami-like movement is in the making.
Back to Ingabire's trial. Ingabire, 44, returned to Rwanda some two years to exercise her democratic right to contest in the 2010 presidential elections. Despite the obvious risks she faced, she believed that 16 years after the genocide Rwanda had matured for democratic reform. Barely four months into her stay, she was thrown into jail, which preemptively barred her from contesting the presidency. This, in a convenient, calculated and self-serving manner, left Kagame to run unopposed.
Now, two years into her detention, a list of indelible facts have revealed the case she faces is not more than a poorly organized form of political witch-hunt. Just to name a few examples: she was held in prison despite the fact that the prosecution had not commenced investigations into the alleged crimes. In fact, the case was, on various occasions postponed to allow the prosecution to gather evidence. Despite this major weakness, she was never allowed bail.
Some of the procedural violations by the prosecution in this case were clear contraventions of the Rwandan la. For instance, Article 59 of the penal code states that, "persons against whom the prosecution has evidence to suspect that they were involved in the commission of an offense cannot be heard as witnesses”. Contrary to this law, the prosecution continues to rely on "evidence" from the co-accused.
Other violations are just so basic and defy common sense. Ingabire is accused of genocide denial based on speeches delivered before the promulgation of the law in 2008. In fact, the law itself has been subject of serious critique by human right organization who regard it as grave affront on free speech.
Anyone interested in the genocide denial laws and the conflict with free speech should read Amnesty International's review of this law in a report titled “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s law on “Genocide Ideology” and “sectarianism”. The same report considers the question of whether Ingabire's speech, upon her arrival in Rwanda constituted an act of genocide denial. Amnesty International finds no compelling reason to believe so.
More recently, the prosecution manipulated and intimidated Ingabire's defense witness. The witness is, Lt. Col. Michel Habimana, alias Edmond Ngarambe, the former spokesperson of the FDLR rebel group, which Ingabire is accused of collaborating with. Even at the risk of torture, he denies having worked with Ingabire in any capacity. When the government prevented Ngarambe from testifying, for Ingabire, this was the last straw.
But why should the government decide who testifies in court and who doesn't?
As I write, Ingabire's case has made the valiant decision to disconnect herself from the trial. She will no longer attend any more court sessions. The reason is simple but principled and compelling. If a trial is a sham, and marred by continuous violations, why would anyone pretend that it is just? Going to court, and assuming that everything is normal, would have helped render to the kangaroo court the sort of legitimacy that it fails to honor.This is exactly what Kagame was hoping for. In a way, he has lost.
Ingabire's trial has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the Rwandan judicial system is under the complete machination of the executive. It is a system, which is used to punish critics and reward loyalists. There is no justice being dispensed. Ironically, western backers continue to pour money into this cartel of organized crime masquerading as a court in the hope for reforms. Well, we now know that the purported reforms are phony. Our appeal to the international community is that its now time to turn the spigot off! No more easy aid money and cheap loans for the dictator.
This is why. Ingabire has persistently appealed for the executive to "leave the court to do their work". Kagame has reacted arrogantly by taking every occasion to make comments that are bound to influence the court. For instance, on CNN last year, he said with much force that "Ingabire must be taught a lesson". Is it any wonder then that the judiciary is taking such insane measures to appease him?
If Ingabire wanted to overthrow the government by force; if she truly wanted to support an armed rebellion, she would not have gone to Rwanda unarmed. This is quite a no-brainier. As explained by her British attorney, in an interview with the California-based journalist, Annie Garrison, her returning to Rwanda is an act of courage and selflessness. Ingabire did so because she believes in a united Rwanda, where everyone is held equal before the law.
Contrary to the cheap propaganda being peddled around, Ingabire does not care about Hutu or Tutsi. This, I know for a fact having met her on several occasions. She dreams of a world where all Rwandans can live in peace and harmony. This is why she has called for truth and reconciliation in Rwanda, something that does not exist.
If Ingabire is such an extremist, as the Rwandan government claims, why would she form a coalition with several Tutsi-led parties? The charge that every Hutu is an extremist is just an excuse for maintaining a pro-Kagame Tutsi hegemony. It is just as dangerous and dehumanizing as the claim that every Tutsis was an Inyenzi collaborators. Ingabire's only crime, in this case, is believing that all people, whether Hutu, Tutsi or Twa, have equal moral worth.
I support her cause in seeking to unite Rwandans and believe that history will soon absolve her!
N.B RNW has more on the testimony by Colonel Habimana and how the Rwandan government interfered with it. Link here