Rwanda has a long history of human rights abuses, government coordinated violence and the brutal silencing of oppositional voices.
The most well know manifestation of this is, of course, the 1994 genocide where around 800,000 people perished in just over 100 days. At that time, the world collectively turned away, allowing the genocide to take place (for various reasons), before intervening too late under illusions of grandeur relating to restoring peace to the troubled country. Since then, Rwanda has continued to suffer the ravages of war, savage factional fighting and division along ethnic lines, with many conflicts arising out of notional desires for retribution and revenge.
A recurrent theme in Rwanda, especially in recent years, has been the destruction of any opposition groups that threaten the authority of the government. Politically, this was demonstrated in 2010 with the arrest and imprisonment of the leadership of the opposition PS-Imberakuri Party, and their replacement with a faction who were more favorable to the government. Not only that, but prior to the 2010 election there were brutal government crackdowns on all opposition parties, journalists and other government critics. Unacceptable? Yes. Unexpected? Sadly, no.
Perhaps more chilling are the recent developments in Rwanda that are exemplified in the takeover of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), as reported by HRW. LIPRODHOR is prestigious in Rwanda as a leading human rights group. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, it regularly published reports and set up pioneering projects to monitor trials and prison conditions. It has continued, despite problems and various hinderances, to be a trusted and independent voice for human rights in Rwanda and is “Rwanda’s last independent group that exposes human rights abuses”, according to Daniel Bekele (Africa Director of Human Rights Watch). As with numerous other human rights organizations, LIPRODHOR has attracted the attention and displeasure of the Rwandan government for its independent reportage and this has been its ultimate downfall.
On July 21 of this year, a small number of members of LIPRODHOR organized a meeting which voted in a new board with pro-government sensitivities. The vote was a violation of many of the organization’s internal rules, as well as of supranational rules arising from the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance. Only selected members were called, that did not include the President, Vice-President or Executive Secretary; the number voting did not reach the specified quota; there was no written notification about the vote; and it was taken outside the dates of a General Assembly. Essentially, this was a coup. A coup facilitated by infiltration into the LIPRODHOR’s leadership. A coup, sadly, that the Rwandan government have failed to challenge, review, or even criticize.
Flagrant waiving of the independence of human rights groups to report on issues and of forceful suppression of opposition voices is a dangerous direction to move in. Especially in a country with the history and insecurity of Rwanda.
The world has turned it’s back before. It has ignored the early warning signs before. Will it do so again?