Support Free and Fair Presidential Elections in Rwanda to Prevent Another Genocide

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Document submitted to the U.S Department of State through its Rwanda/Burundi Desk Officer on March 10, 2010 and to USAID Rwanda Desk Officer on March 11, 2010

 Overview
Since the 1994 Genocide of Rwanda, open political space for democratic governance has eluded Rwanda. Although Rwanda is officially a multiparty system, only one political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has ruled the country unchallenged. Currently, at least two political parties are seeking inclusion into the political sphere in vain. Opposition leaders are being prevented from registering their parties, and consequently, prevented from partaking in political activities to prepare for the August 2010 presidential elections.  They are facing various forms of intimidation, sabotage, and violent attacks both physical and in the media.

 

“The Rwandan government and the RPF have strongly resisted any political opposition or broader challenge of their policies by civil society. On several occasions, the government has used accusations of participation in the genocide, or 'genocide ideology,' as a way of targeting and discrediting its critics,” Human Rights Watch Report: Rwanda: End Attacks on Opposition Parties of February 10, 2010. It is extremely important to create, enforce, and sustain a credible, open, and transparent electoral process for the upcoming presidential elections.  The respect of human rights is essential for a peaceful and prosperous Rwanda. On the long list of most violated human rights there is freedom of speech and assembly, right to fair trial, to live, to think freely and the right security. “Opposition party members are facing increasing threats, attacks, and harassment in advance of Rwanda's August 2010 presidential election,” asserts Human Right Watch.   Senator Russ Feingold, equally concerned about what is going on in Rwanda said, on March 2nd,: “[T]he international community should not shy away from pushing for greater democratic space in Rwanda, which is critical for the country’s lasting stability. We fail to be true friends to the Rwandan people if we do not stand with them in the fight against renewed abuse of civil and political rights. In the next few months in the run-up to the elections, it is a key time for international donors to raise these issues with Kigali” Below are the facts:

Violent Attacks on members of opposition parties:
• On October 30th, 2009, The Democratic Green Party in Rwanda attempted to conduct their founding convention for the fourth time. An ex-soldier/former employee of the Military Intelligence in Rwanda, assisted by three individuals one of whom is a member of the Local Defense Forces carried out a planned sabotage of the meeting. They shouted and threw chairs and injured to Green Party members while police stood by and watched. Among the injured was a mother who ended up in intensive care.
• On February 3rd, 2010, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, hopeful Presidential candidate and leader for opposition party United Democratic Forces UDF-Inkingi was called to a local government office by Jonas Shema, Executive Secretary of Kinyinya Sector to collect official documents. When Mrs. Umuhoza along with her colleague Joseph Ntawangundi arrived at the local government office, they were both attacked by a mob. Mrs. Umuhoza managed to flee unharmed, although her handbag containing her passport was stolen. Subsequently, her colleague was beaten by the mob and was hospitalized as a result. Police and other members of Local Defense Force at the scene did not stop the attacks. Mr. Shema made no efforts to call for assistance.
 

Arrests and Imprisonment
• After the October 30th, 2009 sabotage against the Rwandan Green Party, instead of arresting the perpetrators, the police arrested members of the Green Party.
• On February 6th, 2010, three days after the attack against Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi of FDU-Inkingi; Mr. Ntawangundi was arrested and told that a community based genocide court; Gacaca had convicted him in absentia for genocide crimes committed during the 1994 genocide. He claimed to have been unaware of the accusations until a Rwandan pro government newspaper published the allegations on February 5, one day before his arrest. His lawyer had not had access to the Gacaca file to date.
• Former President Pasteur Bizimungu was imprisoned and tortured after forming an opposition party Ubuyanja. He was accused of "divisionism".
• Deogratias Mushayidi, a Tutsi genocide survivor as well as outspoken government opponent was arrested in Burundi and taken to Rwanda on March 5, 2010. He is still being held without charges.

Political Exiles, Assassination plots, and terror campaigns
Elected and appointed officials who disagree with the government are forced to seek asylum outside of the country:
• Former president of Parliament, Joseph Sebarenzi, an advocate of peace and reconciliation was forced to flee to the United States after learning of a plot to assassinate him.
• Two former prime ministers, Faustin Twagiramungu and Pierre Celestin Rwigema have been forced into exile. Rwigema fled to the United States after being accused of genocide.  A U.S. immigration court cleared him. Twagiramungu fled to Belgium after resigning.
• Ambassador to the Netherlands resigned in March 2010 and is seeking exile in Ireland.
• Ambassador to India and former Army chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa fled to South Africa in March 2010 after a campaign of harassment, intimidation and assassination plots by the government. His family is being held against their will at the ambassador’s home and prevented from continuing their daily activities. General Nyamwasa claims that he had been advocating for reform for the last seven years and is exiled because he cannot access fair justice in Rwanda.
• There have been five grenade attacks in public places in Kigali between February 26 and March 6, 2010. The government has given conflicting information about the perpetrators. Perpetrators blamed by the police and office of the prosecutor are unrelated opponents of the government.
Sabotage by officials
Social Party PS-Imberakuri, another opposition party as well as the Democratic Green party have been denied official authorization to hold meetings since 2009. The Green Party has been denied official registration on numerous attempts. Also, the attack against Mrs. Victoire Ingabire was designed to interfere with the registration efforts for her party FDU-Inkingi. Without registration, parties will not participate in elections. The Green Party as well as FDU-Inkingi has been denied authorization to hold the initial congress required to obtain signatures to register.

Intimidation, Harassment and Threats:
• Green Party members are being pressured to end their political activities. They receive anonymous phone request for information about Frank Habineza, the party president and his travel plans.
• Bernard Ntaganda, leader of PS Imberakuri has been summoned to the Senate twice to answer to charges of "divisionism" and "genocide ideology" and has been threatened by the senate that he will be referred to the judicial bodies and his party registration suspended.
• Pro government newspapers published articles calling Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza IVU (meaning “ashes” in Kinyarwanda language), a demeaning and dehumanizing way, similar to what happens before a genocide is carried out. In his speech of February 8, 2010, president Kagame referring to Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s recent return to the country said that when the honeymoon is over, the laws will do its work.  It was the day after that speech, Feb 10 that she was summoned to the police and again on February 16, 2010. She was accused of "divisionism" and "genocide ideology"
• A Newspaper report on March 1, 2010 reported a threat received by that Frank Habineza of the Green party that he will be killed in Sixty Days.

Suppressed Freedom of Press:
• In March 2009, Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, editor of and independent newspaper Umuco was force to flee the country after publishing remarks that were critical of President Paul Kagame. His home was raided by police shortly after and his media credentials were suspended in Rwanda.
• In April 2009, minister of Information and spokesperson for the Rwandan government at the time suspended BBC broadcasting in Kinyarwanda supposedly for “broadcasting unacceptable speech.”
• In May 2009, Minister of Information Louise Mushikiwabo dismissed without explanation three editors of private Kinyarwanda language newspapers including Jean Grober Burasa of Rushyashya, Jean Bosco Gasasira of Umuvugizi, and Kabonero of Umuseso during a World Press event in Kigali, an event themed “freedom of information.”
• In July 2009, after raising questions on a stalled investigation of the assassination of an opposition leader, top Umuseso editor Furaha Mugisha was deported on grounds that he is Tanzanian.
• In August 2009, government minister Mushikiwabo accused Rwandans working for BBC and Voice of America of producing “programs that destroy Rwanda’s social fabric” and threatened to suspend them if they do not heed the Rwandan government's warnings.
• In August 2009, the government closed Umuseso newspaper for three months for reporting similarities between the current government and the one in power prior to the 1994 genocide.
• In February 2010, three reporters of Umuseso were sentenced to jail for running a story on an extramarital affaire involving two government officials. The government is threatening to close the newspaper for good.
• In March 2010, In connection with General Nyamwasa fleeing, president Kagame ordered the arrest of investigative journalist Godwin Agaba. A critic of the government, Mr. Agaba of 256News has been missing since.

Recommendations:
Pressure the Rwandan government to open political space to all views.
• Pressure the Rwandan government to hold free, fair, and transparent elections in August of 2010. 
• Call for immediate registration of opposition political parties and allow them to equally have access to media and respect of their freedom of expression and assembly.
• Call for an immediate end to sabotage, intimidation and violence against opposition members
• Ensure transparent balloting process including tallying votes and independent election observers.
• Ensure security for opposition leaders and Rwandan citizens attending meetings.
The Rwandan government must stop using the genocide guilt as a tactic to prevent and intimidate innocent members of the opposition from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.