HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Nairobi — The leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights has been ousted because of its independent stance.
People believed to be favorable to the government have taken over the organization in what has become a typical state tactic to silence human rights defenders.
The organization, known as LIPRODHOR, is the country’s last effective human rights group. On July 21, 2013, a small number of members organized a meeting which voted in a new board. The action violated the organization’s rules and the national law on nongovernmental organizations. Several members of the ousted board are known for their independence and courage in denouncing state abuses. On July 24, the Rwanda Governance Board – the state body with oversight of national nongovernmental groups – wrote a letter to the organization taking note of the decision and recognizing the new board.
“International actors should condemn this blatant hijacking of Rwanda’s last independent group that exposes human rights abuses,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If LIPRODHOR is silenced, it will be a big loss for all Rwandans.”
Under Articles 3(7) and 12(3) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance, which Rwanda has signed and ratified, citizens have a right to effective participation in the affairs of their country, and the state has a duty to “create conducive conditions for civil society organizations to exist and operate within the law.”
According to LIPRODHOR’s regulations and article 27 of the law on national nongovernmental organizations, any conflict that arises in the organization must first be referred to that organization’s internal conflict resolution organ. The organizers of the July 21 meeting bypassed this step. The newly elected president told Human Rights Watch that he had advised people at the meeting that they should go through the conflict resolution committee, but claimed that members at the meeting “did not think it would work.”
Several of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the July 21 meeting did not follow the usual procedures. They said that the organizers had called selected members but had not sent out a written notice. Key leaders of the organization, including the president, the vice-president, and the executive secretary, were not notified about the meeting.
The organization’s regulations specify that members should be notified in writing at least eight days before such a meeting. The ousted president told Human Rights Watch that neither he, nor his vice-president, nor the staff had seen any such letter, and that when they asked the meeting’s organizers for a copy, they failed to produce it. Human Rights Watch also asked one of the organizers for a copy, but he was unable to provide one.
Participants said the organizers presented the meeting as a “consultation” to review a July 3 decision by the board to withdraw from the Collective of Leagues and Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda (CLADHO), an umbrella body for human rights organizations. LIPRODHOR and two other member organizations of the umbrella group had withdrawn because of internal divisions, lack of support for member organizations, and disagreements over alleged irregularities in CLADHO’s board election.
However, the July 21 meeting went beyond reviewing this decision and called a vote for a new LIPRODHOR board. One of the meeting’s organizers was elected the new president. After the fact, the meeting was described as an extraordinary general assembly to the Rwanda Governance Board. The media had been informed about the meeting beforehand and covered its outcome.
The election of the new board violated LIPRODHOR’s statutes, which specify that elections may take place only during a general assembly. In addition, it is unclear whether the July 21 meeting had a quorum. The group’s constitution states that a general assembly “shall validly meet by the absolute majority of full members.” The December 2012 membership list has 115 names, but the newly elected president told Human Rights Watch that only 47 people attended the meeting.
The Rwanda Governance Board’s swift recognition of the outcome of the meeting, without investigating the concerns of the group’s ousted leadership, raises legitimate questions about the government body’s motivation. The Rwanda Governance Board should set aside its decision, insist that Rwandan law and LIPRODHOR’s statutes are observed, and allow human rights organizations to work freely, Human Rights Watch said.
Sheikh Saleh Habimana, head of political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and faith-based organizations for the Rwanda Governance Board, denied that the body has a responsibility to ensure that organizations follow the law. He told Human Rights Watch that the Rwanda Governance Board could not question the decision of a general assembly and could only be notified of the outcome. “The former LIPRODHOR board can go to court,” he said. “If the courts decide this was a bad decision, then we will remove our approval.”
On July 24, LIPRODHOR, through its ousted president, filed a legal challenge against the July 21 decision and sought a temporary injunction. The court case is pending.
“The Rwanda Governance Board and the new LIPRODHOR board are passing the ball back and forth,” Bekele said. “A group of people take over an organization illegally and say, ‘The decision is now legal.’ The government body charged with oversight says, ‘It is not our responsibility to ensure compliance with the law, we just note the outcome.’ These administrative tricks have been used before to silence dissent in Rwanda.”
On July 24 the police canceled a training workshop organized by LIPRODHOR on submitting evidence to the Universal Periodic Review – a United Nations Human Rights Council procedure to review the human rights situation in each country. The police spokesman, Theos Badege, told Human Rights Watch that the police had acted on the instructions of the Rwanda Governance Board.
During the forced handover between the old and new boards, police threatened LIPRODHOR staff with imprisonment if they did not cooperate with the new board. Several members told Human Rights Watch that they felt their security was at risk.
“Partners of Rwanda who pay lip service to supporting civil society should step up to defend LIPRODHOR,” Bekele said. “Otherwise, there will soon be no organizations left in the country to provide independent information.”
Rwanda’s domestic human rights movement has been almost destroyed by a combination of state intimidation, threats, manipulation, infiltration, and administrative obstacles. Most leading human rights activists have fled the country. The government’s actions to silence human rights groups are part of a broader pattern of intolerance of criticism, which extends to independent journalists and opposition parties.
LIPRODHOR is the last effective national independent human rights organization in Rwanda. Once one of the most dynamic groups, which regularly published reports and set up pioneering projects after the 1994 genocide to monitor trials and prison conditions, it has been plagued with problems for more than a decade. By 2013, despite limited resources and financial difficulties, it had continued monitoring human rights abuses and organizing training and advocacy activities, but rarely published reports.
LIPRODHOR has been singled out by the government in its crackdown on human rights groups. In 2004 the parliament requested the dissolution of the group and several others on the recommendation of a parliamentary commission on genocide ideology, which alleged that these organizations supported genocidal ideas. After receiving personal threats, about a dozen leading members of the group fled the country. Several others left in the ensuing years.
In 2008 the National Electoral Commission prevented the group, at the last minute, from monitoring the 2008 parliamentary elections.
One of the most divisive government tactics used against civil society organizations has been infiltration. LIPRODHOR is just the latest in a string of human rights organizations taken over by people who are close to the Rwandan government or who are unwilling to denounce human rights abuses. Once in leadership posts, these people have blocked investigations on sensitive issues as well as publications that could be deemed critical of the government, and have frozen out independently minded members. Several leading human rights organizations have been paralyzed in this way.
Human Rights Watch has documented a similar pattern of government tactics against opposition parties. In March 2010 the opposition PS-Imberakuri was taken over by a dissident faction favorable to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This faction ousted the party’s president, Bernard Ntaganda, and replaced him with a more compliant leader, Christine Mukabunani.
Ntaganda was arrested three months later, just weeks before the 2010 presidential elections. He was tried in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison for “divisionism” and endangering national security. Party members loyal to him have also been arrested, harassed, and threatened, and have been unable to pursue their political activities. Meanwhile, the faction headed by Mukabunani has been allowed to operate and is recognized by the government.
In late 2009 Ntaganda was summoned by the senate and questioned on accusations of genocide ideology. The senate’s Political Affairs Commission found that accusations of genocide ideology and divisionism against him were well-founded.
Other groups have also been co-opted and forced into structures that the government can control. For example, the Civil Society Platform, a broad umbrella group which the government has strongly encouraged organizations to join, claims to be independent but regularly aligns itself with the government. At times, it has sought to defend the government against criticism and to downplay the scale of its abuses. The Civil Society Platform’s election observation mission produced an overwhelmingly positive report on the 2010 presidential elections, despite a brutal government crackdown on opposition parties, journalists, and critics in the pre-election period.
On occasion, the Civil Society Platform, as well as CLADHO, has publicly criticized independent organizations. In 2010 CLADHO publicly denounced a collective civil society report on the human rights situation in Rwanda submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review in 2011.
The report was coordinated by the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region, of which LIPRODHOR is a member. In a public statement on September 3, 2010, CLADHO disowned the report and called for the prosecution of those who had drafted and distributed it.
The League for Human Rights itself has been targeted by the government on several occasions. As a regional organization, it has a different status from LIPRODHOR but has maintained a strongly independent line on human rights in Rwanda, leading to threats against several of its leading members.
The recent decision by LIPRODHOR to withdraw from CLADHO takes place against a background of longstanding internal tensions within the umbrella group, between member organizations that have tried to maintain independence from the government and those that have refrained from criticizing the government. Since the late 1990s, people who are unwilling to criticize the government have dominated CLADHO.
A man accused by the Congolese Army of being a spy of M23 rebels is tied and taken away on July 16 in Munigi on the outskirts of Goma (photo AFP/Getty)
THE RWANDA FOCUS
22 July 2013
It was the strangest of sights: a group of 85 members of the Congolese Army (FARDC) crossing the Rubavu border into Rwanda. Yet instead of an attack, as one would expect considering the belligerent language coming from Kinshasa, the soldiers on Thursday came begging for refuge, after one and a half day of intensive fighting with the M23 rebels.
The men were received by their RDF colleagues, and handed over to UNHCR officials.
The event follows fresh fighting between FARDC and M23 rebels which started about a week ago in the areas of Mutaho and Kanyarucyinya villages, about 15 kilometers from Goma.
It wasn’t the only defection the FARDC suffered last week. Lieutenant colonel Rwabukamba Mugisha, one of its senior officers, likewise surrendered to the M23. The latter also managed to capture a Tanzanian called Christopher George, believed to be attached to the newly-formed UN intervention brigade, and who was found fighting alongside the genocidal Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Rucuru.
The fighting also resulted in the U.N. issuing an official complaint on Friday against mistreatment and mutilation by the FARDC of dead bodies suspected of M23 fighters, as well as mistreatment of detainees. In addition, secretary general Ban Ki-moon last Wednesday said that the UN was revising its support to the Congolese army units.
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about reports of alleged mistreatment of M23 detainees and desecration of corpses of M23 combatants by the Congolese armed forces,” Ban’s press office said.
“Monusco has launched the process of reviewing its support to FARDC units suspected of being involved in these incidents,” Said Ban statement adding that the Secretary-General calls on the DRC to bring the perpetrators of these reported acts to justice.”
The UN reaction follows an incident in which FARDC showed images of the corpses being pulled on their army pickups on the roads whereas detainees suspected to be members of the M23 rebels were also shown on DRC Television while being mistreated by FARDC. U.N. peacekeepers had reported the abuse of M23 rebels by the Congolese army and requested the Kinshasa government to investigate these claims and to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable.
‘Not the first time’
Speaking to The Rwanda Focus on Friday, Rene Abandi, the M23 spokesman in charge of foreign affairs, welcomed the U.N. reactions to the FARDC behavior. “It is not the first time FARDC has behaved in such an inhuman way and we are happy that the U.N. has now shown concern about this serious matter,” he said.
Abandi also accused the Kinshasa government of not being responsible regarding the indiscipline and cruelty among the FARDC in the east of the country, saying that whenever they commit crimes, the central government says that it’s FARDC members who have to be held accountable even though they get their commands from Kinshasa.
“It is not the first time FARDC has behaved in such an inhuman way and we are happy that the U.N. has now shown concern about this serious matter.”
Rene Abandi, M23 spokesman in charge of foreign affairs
He called upon the international community and the Congolese people to speak the truth about the reasons behind the conflict in the eastern part of the country instead of telling lies. M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the DRC government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels’ integration into the army, but they have since deserted again.
Abandi said that there is a need for the international community to always ensure that the DRC leadership is held accountable for the crimes committed by its army and that the culture of impunity prevailing among the FARDC is brought to a halt.
“The M23 will never agree to work with the Kinshasa leadership which is based on ethnic divisionism, unless they change their political agenda and respect all Congolese nationals irrespective of which region or tribe they come from,” Abandi said, adding that nevertheless they are still willing to have a dialogue with the government since it is the only way to bring peace and stability in the eastern Congo.
To complicate matters further, the M23 spokesman accused the FARDC of working with the FDLR, many of whose members have participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. “The issue of the Genocide is an international challenge which requires to be addressed by all nations around the world and it’s in this regard that I encourage the international community to be concerned as to why DRC government is still providing a safe haven to the FDLR rebels who are genocidaires,” Abandi said.
The list of crimes by the FARDC doesn’t end there. In February, the United Nations also threatened to withdraw support for two Congolese battalions after soldiers raped at least 97 women and 33 girls, some as young as 6. According to a U.N. human rights report, the peacekeeping mission decided to keep working with the battalions after 12 senior officers, including the commanders and deputy commanders, were suspended and about a dozen soldiers charged over the rapes in Minova.
Provocative and deliberate
The arrival of the 85 FARDC soldiers in Rwanda is all the more surprising considering that on Monday, two bombs were fired from an area controlled by the Congolese army and Monusco into Gasiza and Kageshi cells, Busasamana sector in Rubavu.
“Two bombs landed at Kageshi and Gasiza Cells, Busasamana Sector, Rubavu District, Western Rwanda at 3.05pm,” RDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita was quoted as saying in a statement released by the government.
“This was a provocative and deliberate act by FARDC and Monusco since there was no fighting nearby between the warring factions,” Nzabamwita said, adding that there were no casualties.
However, in a press conference held last Wednesday in Kinshasa, Monusco flatly denied the allegations of “deliberate bombings” of Rwanda territory.
That drew an angry reaction from the Rwandan government, which said that the gratuitous denial by Monusco without prior investigations constitutes a dangerous pattern since it’s not the first time the UN force has denied verifiable attacks on Rwanda territory. The ministry of defense issued a statement indicating that proof of the attack had been verified by the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM).
In addition, defense and military attachés from mainly Western countries on Thursday visited the two Rubavu villages which were hit by the mortar bombs. The attachés included those from the US, Belgium, France, Germany and Tanzania. The envoys were also briefed by Joseph Nzabamwita.
In November last year, during the battle for Goma, FARDC fired 15 bombs into Rwanda territory, killing several civilians. At that time, too, Monusco kept silent and defended itself even when Kinshasa apologized for the bombing, which it said was done by undisciplined officers who fired without orders.
M23 fighters have previously also accused Monusco of lending a hand in attacking their group, but the force denied the accusations, saying the mission has only tried to intervene in the conflict for the purpose of protecting civilians.
“Monusco supports us in logistics. It assists us with combat rations, fuel … It supports us with its aviation when we need to fight the enemy. It also acts to evacuate our wounded at the front, even for moving the military,” said FARDC spokesman Col Olivier Hamuri in a recent statement.
MONUSCO Mortar Rebut Dangerous (The New Times, 18 July 2013)
The ministry of defence has denounced denial by the UN Mission in the Congo (Monusco) that mortar bombs landed on Rwandan territory from the Congolese side of the border this week, saying the rebuff poses a danger to civilians.
On Monday, the Rwanda Defence Forces protested what it described as “a provocative and deliberate act by FARDC (the Congolese army) and Monusco”, saying the two bombs that landed in Kageshi and Gasiza cells, Busasamana Sector in Rubavu District, originated from the area under Congolese army and the UN peacekeepers control.
Monusco yesterday denied mortars were fired on the Rwandan territory. [read all…]
Provocative Cross-Border Bombing From DRC ( Rwanda Focus, 15 July 2013)
Rwanda’s ministry of defense has confirmed the deliberate bombing today on Rwandan territory from a DRC area controlled by FARDC and Monusco.
“Two bombs landed at Kageshi and Gasiza cells, Busasamana sector, Rubavu District, Western Rwanda at 15h05,” said military spokesman brig-gen Joseph Nzabamwita. “This was a provocative and deliberate act by FARDC and Monusco since there was no fighting nearby between the warring factions. Fighting between FARDC and M23 started on Sunday, and we have credible information that FDLR is currently embedded in FARDC.”[read all…]
GOVERNMENT OF RWANDA (Kigali)
2. July 2013
Photo: Rwandan refugees on the move in Kisangani, Zaire. (UNHCR, H.J. Davies)
Kigali — On Sunday, June 30, the cessation clause concerning Rwandan refugees came into effect. This means that Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 have lost their refugee status across the world.
This follows a process that began in 2002 where the Rwandan government approached the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) saying that the reasons that caused Rwandans to flee were no longer applied and that Rwanda was ready to receive all refugees.
In 2009, after many field visits, UNHCR concurred with the government that Rwanda was stable and safe. It was decided after consultation with key stakeholders and host countries, who all validated the strategy, that cessation would come into effect in 2013.
We are ready to receive all refugees
Speaking to journalists at a press conference, Minister of Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana said that Rwanda was safe and stable, ready to receive all returning refugees.
“We have done everything possible to facilitate the process for refugees. They can either choose to return home and Rwanda is doing everything we possibly can to facilitate this. Refugees can also choose if they have economic and personal ties in the countries of host, to remain there and become naturalised. In this case, Rwanda is ready to facilitate them with passports so they can join the community of Rwandans living abroad,” she said.
Minister Mukantabana also revealed that passport application forms had been sent to all Rwandan embassies abroad or in the institutions in charge of refugees in countries that host Rwandan refugees so that the process of acquiring Rwandan passports would be speeded up.
“We have also prepared, together with our partners, a comprehensive program to receive and reintegrate all refugees into their communities. The plan covers areas such as land questions, justice questions and how to earn a living after the first few months.”
We congratulate the Rwandan government for doing its part- UNHCR
Neimah Warsame, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda, congratulated the government for facilitating both returning refugees and those who will choose to remain in host countries. “I salute the country’s leadership for availing passports for those who will remain in host countries and for remaining engaged in the process. We had extensive consultations with stakeholders and all host countries have re-validated their agreement with cessation. We also want to assure everyone that UNHCR undertakes comprehensive monitoring to make sure all refugees are properly reintegrated and what we have seen is promising. Local leaders are taking care of returnees.”
Host countries at different levels of readiness
Over the weekend 170 refugees returned from the DRC and indicated that many more wish to return. The DRC, where the largest number of Rwandan refugees live, has asked for three months to be able to assess the number of Rwandan refugees in the country. From there, discussions will begin on repatriation and local integration options.
Other countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have already indicated that they are ready to apply cessation and have set up local integration mechanisms.
Uganda has 4000 and Congo Brazzaville has 8000 refugees that fall under cessation criteria. They are currently in discussions with Rwanda on the way forward.
To date, more than three million Rwandans have returned post genocide. It is estimated that about 100,000 Rwandan refugees remain around the world.
“The process does not happen overnight, implementation of cessation can take a year or more but what is certain, we are proud that Rwandans today do not have to be called refugees and we encourage all refugees to make their choice to either return or seek local integration options,” concluded Minister Mukantabana.
Passports Awaiting Rwandans After Loss of Refugee Status
Hundreds of Rwandan returnees from regional neighbours have been streaming into the country on a daily basis ahead of the June 30 deadline
An intense registration program is under way to provide passports for tens of thousands of Rwandans who lost refugee status on June 30 as a result of the UN cessation clause, but prefer to stay in the host countries.
The activation of the clause concerning Rwandan refugees means that Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 have lost their refugee status across the world, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. In 2009, after many field visits, UNHCR concurred with the government that Rwanda was stable and safe. It was decided after consultation with key stakeholders and host countries, which all validated the strategy, that cessation would come into effect in 2013. [read more…]
Source: allAfrica. com
Government of Rwanda (Kigali), 18 FEBRUARY 2013
President Kagame visit to President Sassou Nguesso’s hometown of Oyo marked his third visit to the Republic of Congo since 2004.
This visit takes place only two months following President Sassou Nguesso visit to Rwanda during which the two heads of state discussed bilateral and regional issues including the crisis in DRC and the need to continue supporting the ongoing regional peace process.
Bilateral relations between Rwanda and the Republic of Congo have grown in recent years and now include economic and trade partnerships of Rwandan and Congolese businesses facilitated by twice weekly flights of the national carrier Rwandair between Kigali and Brazzaville:
“This visit builds on a good relationship. We have good relationships with my brother President Sassou Nguesso and Rwanda has a good relationship with Congo,” President Kagame said.
On the issue of peace and security, President Kagame told the press:
“Peace alone does not lead to development, in peace you have to have policies that help deliver that development. We are talking about creating an environment of security and peace that can lead to prosperity for the people of Africa.”
The two day visit included private talks between the two heads of state, a tour of President Sassou N’Guesso’s farm and a visit to the President’s family cemetery where President Kagame paid his respect to President Sassou Nguesso late daughter Edith Lucie Bongo Ondimba.The visit ended with a lunch at the President’s private club in Ngolodoua.
President Paul Kagame has described the relationship between Rwanda and the Republic of Congo as good. read more…