by Aimable Mugara
No one in the U.S., however, has gone on trial for terrorism because he or she announced an intention to run for president, though that is the situation of Mrs. Victoire Ingabire in Rwanda, a close ally and military partner of the U.S., which has also received over $1 billion in U.S. foreign aid over the past 10 years.
Ingabire left a very comfortable life, a good job and a loving family in the Netherlands to return to her native Rwanda to stand for the presidency in January 2010. She made every attempt to participate in the political process that Rwandan President Paul Kagame and those surrounding him insist is democratic, but instead she now stands in the dock in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, charged with
1) forming an armed group with the aim of destabilizing the country,
2) complicity in acts of terrorism,
3) conspiracy against the government by use of war and terrorism,
4) inciting the masses to revolt against the government,
5) genocide ideology and
Western mainstream media had been claiming that Rwanda had progressed past its dark history, the 1994 genocide. Had that been true and had the more than $1 billion in aid that the U.S. government has since given to Rwanda been used to build democratic institutions, Victoire Ingabire would have been a candidate in last year’s presidential election and would quite likely be Rwanda’s president now, not a maximum security prisoner.
Within weeks of returning to Rwanda, Mrs. Ingabire was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department, then summoned again and again, until she was finally arrested on April 21, 2010. The arrest happened less than two weeks after Gen. Kagame publicly insulted her in a genocide memorial address, referring to her as a “hooligan” and one of these “useless people who comes out of nowhere,” whom he would “cast off.”
At the time of the arrest, the Rwandan chief prosecutor claimed that there was “overwhelming evidence” against her for “terrorism” and “divisionism,” evidence that they claimed had been obtained from foreign countries such as the United States and the Netherlands. This was back in April 2010. Shortly thereafter, she was released from jail and put under house arrest, forbidden to leave Kigali, to speak to the majority rural population, or to return home to visit her family in the Netherlands.
On Aug. 9, 2010, Gen. Paul Kagame was then re-elected president with an implausible 93 percent of the vote.
Fast-forward to October 2010 and the United Nations’ release of an investigative report accusing Kagame’s army of having massacred Hutu refugees – “children, women, elderly people and the sick” – in Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report said that, if proven before a competent court, these massacres could be classified as crimes of genocide, the very crime that has blessed Gen. Kagame and his government with so much victim’s privilege, most of all in Congo.
Within two weeks of the U.N. release of the report, Kagame’s government moved Mrs. Ingabire from house arrest in her home, under surveillance, to Kigali’s 1930 maximum security prison. Five days earlier, she had told KPFA Radio that the U.N. should expand the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) to include the Rwandan Army’s crimes in Congo, documented in the U.N. report. She had been told, upon her release to her home in April, that she was not to speak to the press, but she had continued to do so and no doubt would have been called for more interviews about the U.N. report.
Neither Gen. Kagame nor his army have been called to answer to the charges of genocide in Congo, but Mrs. Ingabire has now been languishing in jail, often denied visitors, held on suspicion of terrorism and “genocide ideology,” for nearly a year.
When Mrs. Ingabire’s trial got underway this September, the Rwandan prosecutor tried to delay the case by claiming that they are still waiting for the evidence to come in from abroad. This is the evidence that they claimed they already had back in April 2010. When the delay was not granted, the Rwandan prosecutor was forced to start producing “evidence” in the kangaroo court that would be laughable in any self-respecting democracy. An example was the video shown as evidence of her “terrorism” and “divisionism.”
In the video, all that Mrs. Ingabire says is as follows:
“The flowers I brought with me are a sign of remembrance from the members of my party FDU and its executive committee. They gave me a message to pass by here and tell Rwandans that what we wish for is for us to work together, to make sure that such a tragedy will never take place again. That is one of the reasons why the FDU Party made a decision to return to the country peacefully, without resorting to violence. Some think that the solution to Rwanda’s problems is to resort to armed struggle. We do not believe that shedding blood resolves problems. When you shed blood, the blood comes back to haunt you.
“Therefore, we in FDU wish that all we Rwandans can work together, join our different ideas so that the tragedy that befell our nation will never happen again. It is clear that the path of reconciliation has a long way to go. It has a long way to go because if you look at the number of people who died in this country, it is not something that you can get over quickly. But then again, if you look around you realize that there is no real political policy to help Rwandans achieve reconciliation. For example, if we look at this memorial, it only stops at people who died during the Tutsi genocide. It does not look at the other side – at the Hutus who died during the genocide. Hutus who lost their people are also sad and they think about their lost ones and wonder, ‘When will our dead ones be remembered?’
“For us to reach reconciliation, we need to empathize with everyone’s sadness. It is necessary that for the Tutsis who were killed, those Hutus who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it. It is also necessary that for the Hutus who were killed, those people who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it too. Furthermore, it is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.
“It is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.” – Victoire Ingabire
“What brought us back to the country is for us to start that path of reconciliation together and find a way to stop injustices so that all of us Rwandans can live together with basic freedoms in our country.” – English translation by Aimable Mugara of the video of Victoire Ingabire speaking at the Gisosi Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda, Jan. 16, 2010. The video was presented as evidence in the Kigali courtroom where she is on trial for terrorism and “genocide ideology” during the second week of September 2011.
If the Rwandan chief prosecutor thinks that the above words make one a “terrorist” and a “divisionist,” then how many of us would be locked up in Rwanda, quite possibly for 30 years or life, as Ingabire is likely to be? Few of us can be as eloquent and inspiring as Victoire Ingabire, but who would not want peace, justice and the end of ethnic strife in Rwanda? Who would not want all Rwandans to be able to mourn those they lost in the Rwanda Genocide, at the genocide memorials and during each year’s genocide commemorations?
Do Americans, whose taxpayer dollars are contributing to the Rwandan chief prosecutor’s salary, really want to see Victoire Ingabire and all she stands for behind bars for 30 years to life?
A Rwandan now based in Toronto, Aimable Mugara said in a previous story in the Bay View that Rwandans, both Hutus and Tutsis, “want to live together in a democratic society where every single article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to every Rwandan citizen.” Visit his website, www.rwandahumanrights.org, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.