Africa’s female Mandela? Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza on trial


by Ann Garrison

Opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza stood before a judge in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 22 after the Kagame government arrested and charged her with “associating with terrorists” and “genocide ideology,” a crime unique to Rwanda which includes “divisionism” and “revisionism,” meaning politics and/or attempting to revise the received history of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

Two weeks earlier, on April 7, speaking at a commemorative ceremony on the 16th anniversary of the civilian massacres known as the Rwanda Genocide, Rwandan President Paul Kagame referred to Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza as “some lady,” an example of “some people” who “just come from nowhere, useless people.” He refused to speak her proper name, though she is widely acknowledged as the leading opposition candidate in Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election, and many of her supporters now call her Africa’s female Mandela:

“Some people want to encourage political hooliganism. Some people just come from nowhere, useless people. I see every time in the pictures some lady who had her deputy, a genocide criminal, her deputy, talking about “you know, there’s Rwanda Genocide, but there is another … so that is politics. And the world says, ‘The opposition leader!’ But I know those who say it and who support that. They know it is wrong, but it is an expression of contempt these people have for Rwandans and for Africans, that they think Africans deserve to be led by these hooligans, and to that we say NO, a big NO. And if anybody wants a fight there, we’ll give them a fight.” – Paul Kagame,

Two weeks later, on April 21, Kagame’s security police arrested Ingabire, then brought her before a Rwandan court for a bail hearing within six hours, creating a flurry of international news. Not only the African press, but also the BBC, Radio NetherlandsCNNYahoo News via Agence France Presse and other outlets around the world, including the San Francisco Bay View National Black NewspaperBlack Star News and Global Research reported the story, and it appeared on blogs across Africa, Europe and North America, often with notes urging readers to contact Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Two days later, on April 23, Rwandan authorities Rwandan authorities gave Human Rights Watch researcher Carina Tertsakian 24 hours to get out of the country.

Even the New York Times, which had until then ignored this year’s Rwandan presidential election, finally published three accounts of Ingabire’s arrest on April 21, and the next day the Washington Post, which had also been ignoring the story, finally published a Reuters wire reporting that Ingabire had been released on bail that morning.

Shortly after the news of her release, the International Humanitarian Law Institute of St. Paul Minnesota announced that its director, William and Mitchell Law School Professor Peter Erlinder, and Wichita lawyer Kurt P. Kerns will join Ingabire’s Rwandan lawyer, Protais Mutembe, in her legal defense. Ingabire is charged with “genocide related crime,” meaning crime related to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, the central narrative justifying Rwanda’s political life and relationship to the outside world and, most of all, to its most ardent defenders and donors, the U.S. and the U.K.

Erlinder is professor of constitutional criminal law and international humanitarian law at William Mitchell College of Law, president of ICTR-ADAD (Association des Avocats de la Defense) and past president of the National Lawyers Guild in New York City. Most significantly in Ingabire’s case, he is the lead defense counsel in the Military-1 trial at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR), where he won a victory of enormous significance to Rwandan history – the acquittal of four former top military leaders accused of conspiring and planning to commit genocide or any other crimes in 1994.

The ICTR acquitted its highest ranking defendant, Col. Bagosora, on Dec. 18, 2008, after which Erlinder wrote:

“All of the top Rwandan military officers, including the supposedly infamous Col. Bagosora, were found not guilty of conspiracy or planning to commit genocide. And Gen. Gratien Kabiligi, a senior member of the general staff, was acquitted of all charges! The others were found guilty of specific acts committed by subordinates, in specific places, at specific times – not an overall conspiracy to kill civilians, much less Rwandan-Tutsi civilians.

“This raises the more profound question: If there was no conspiracy and no planning to kill ethnic (i.e. Tutsi) civilians, can the tragedy that engulfed Rwanda properly be called ‘a genocide’ at all? Or was it closer to a case of civilians being caught up in war-time violence, like the Eastern Front in World War II, rather than the planned behind-the-lines killings in Nazi death camps? The ICTR judgment found the former.

“The court specifically found that the actions of Rwandan military leaders, both before and after the April 6, 1994, assassination of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwanda’s head of state at the time of his murder, were consistent with war-time conditions and the massive chaos brought about by the four-year war of invasion from Uganda by Gen. Paul Kagame’s RPF Army, which seized power in July 1994.” – Professor Peter Erlinder, “Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide Planning … No Genocide?,” published Dec. 23, 2008, in Jurist and Jan. 24, 2009, in Global Research

Erlinder says that the Court’s ruling in December 2008 should have radically revised the world’s understanding of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, but because there were no international media covering the ICTR by December 2008, 14 years after the slaughter that left 1 million or more Rwandans dead and because of international political investment in the received history, it continues to be told in the Wikipedia and repeated by most news outlets whenever they revisit Rwanda or the Rwandan violence of 1994.

At the ICTR, Erlinder was able to assemble the evidence and argue the case that led to the court’s conclusion that there was no conspiracy and no planning to commit genocide and therefore no genocide crime like that covered by the international law created by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide after the Nazi death camps of World War II.

Though the international press had indeed turned away from Rwanda and the ICTR by December 2008, its attention is now on Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and her trial, less than four months before Rwanda’s Aug. 9 polls. Though her party, the United Democratic Forces (UDF)-Inkingi, remains unable to register and she herself has now been indicted, she continues to attempt to contest the election.

“Ingabire was arrested on trumped-up, political thought crimes, including association with a terrorist group, propagating the genocide ideology, genocide denial, revisionism and divisionism, all arising from the ‘crime’ of publicly objecting to the Kagame military dictatorship and Kagame’s version of the Rwandan Civil War,” Erlinder said.

If he and Rwandan lawyer Protais Mutembe can make the same case that he was able to make at the ICTR, then the international press may have to decide whether or not to report that in Rwanda in 1994, there was “no conspiracy, no planning … no genocide?” This, of course, depends on how the world defines “genocide,” but, the genocide ideology statutes that Victoire is charged with violating – for having said that Hutus as well as Tutsis were victims of crimes against humanity – would become impossible to defend.

And it might finally emerge that there has been a massive cover-up of the real story of what we know as the Rwanda Genocide, as Global Research writers have pointed out for years in, e.g., “Rwanda: Installing a U.S. Protectorate in Central Africa” and “The Geopolitics behind the Rwanda Genocide: Paul Kagame Accused of War Crimes” by Michel Chossudovsky, “The US Sponsored ‘Rwanda Genocide’ and its Aftermath: Psychological Warfare, Embedded Reporters and the Hunting of Refugees” by Keith Harmon Snow and “U.S./U.K./Allies Grab Congo Riches and Millions Die” by Peter Erlinder.

If international reporters finally do begin to cover the real story of the Rwanda Genocide and the Congo War, then Paul Kagame’s regime, which Hillary Clinton has called “the beacon of hope” for Africa, will cease to seem so to the outside world.

No one, least of all Professor Erlinder, denies that the bloodshed in Rwanda in 1994 was horrific, but he says, as he did when I spoke to him for KPFA Radio, that the received history of Rwanda in 1994 and the ensuing war in neighboring D.R. Congo are history written by the victors and by their backers, the U.S. and the U.K.:

Indeed, on April 30, in an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, court, Professor Erlinder, Kurt B. Kerns and Oklahoma lawyer John P. Zelbst filed a lawsuit alleging that Kagame and nine of his current and former military officers and government officials are guilty of the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and subsequent acts which caused the civilian massacres that came to be known as the Rwanda Genocide, costing a million lives.

And that they are guilty of racketeering to acquire and maintain an interest in the resources of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, at a cost of 6 million more lives.

D.R. Congo is one of the most resource rich nations on earth and its mineral wealth, most of all its cobalt reserves, are essential to modern military industries’ ability to manufacture for war. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of cobalt.

The eight counts alleged in Habyarimana vs. Kagame are:

  • Wrongful Death – Murder
  • Crimes against Humanity
  • Violation of the Rights of Life, Liberty and Security of Person
  • Assault and Battery
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Stress
  • Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act
  • Torture
  • Conspiracy to Torture

Media outlets around the world reported that Kagame had escaped process service in the U.S. on April 30, but Peter Erlinder told KPFA Radio News that Kagame had violated the law by doing so and that, assuming the law is upheld, he will be served and required to answer.

Click to listen to KPFA Radio News, May 2, 2010:

As Erlinder and lawyers Kurt P. Kerns and John P. Zelbst prepare to advance the case against Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Erlinder and Kerns also prepare to defend Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza against Kagame’s Rwandan government.

“I consider it my job to say things that my clients are not free to say,” says Erlinder, “and I’m sure that Mrs. Ingabire realized that when she asked me to defend her.”

Also, click to play:

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in San Francisco, a regular contributor to the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, Global Research and Digital Journal and a news producer for  KPFA Radio, Berkeley. This story first appeared on Global Research, at


  1. Revisionism, something we all must be on guard for. I find it interesting NOW there is more media attention. It seems all of a sudden Victoire Ingabiré has been painted as some sort of martyr, without a trial. So who is say the charges are not true?! Where was this very same media when HELL ON EARTH visited Rwanda in those tragic days in 1994 and world stood on it's hands while EVIL put the boots to Rwanda. LEST WE FORGET!!!!

    • Dear Bob did you read this?

      As the United States defence legal team led by Professor Peter Erlinder set foot in Rwanda today, a presidential exclusive interview justifying why his government will freeze in jail Ms. Victoire Ingabire, FDU INKINGI presidential candidate, is making headlines. Though the threat is clear crystal, the saddest is that it’s full of sheer lies and an obvious contempt of the Rwandan justice. I was honoured by the incumbent’s calumniation alleging that I confessed to 7 charges out of ten things the prosecution came up with, and that his regime has overwhelming evidence for my trial.

      The exclusive interview granted in Kigali last week by President Paul Kagame to Monitor Managing Editor DANIEL KALINAKI (online since 22nd May 2010) is disturbing. Either the Monitor is spreading forgery, fiction or falsification, either the President is overtaking and derailing the justice system he tailored from scratch. In either case, he needs to clear this situation.

      He stated: “…Now she’s saying that seven of them are actually true (…). Initially she had denied that she only used to just give supportive comments. Then the evidence of these FDLR colonels who are here with us and when they confronted her they said ‘you were with us’ and she said ‘yeah, I’m sorry I visited you so many times’. This is in court of law”. He continued: “When we confronted her afterwards she almost collapsed. This is in broad daylight, in courts of law. This is somebody, a candidate, a so-praised opposition leader, yes, but wait a minute; if there are cases to answer, you answer them… This woman will certainly be where she belongs. She was charged in the court of law …”

      I am seriously wondering if the President is talking about my case or another story. Of course every body knows he can arbitrary order my arrest anytime he wants, but if he needs a court of justice to do that job for him he should respect some legal rules as well. The separation of powers and the rule of law are guaranteed by the constitution. The President should avoid putting pressure on courts and judges. Most judges in Rwanda are nominated but under the current regime only a super-judge can resist such injunction. Nevertheless it’s in nobody’s interest to challenge a presidential command. This is a blatant violation of the independence of a judge. The colour of the court ruling in my case will be a result of this unrelenting presidential pressure on the system. We all know that this politically motivated case was initiated by the President who, visibly and closely is still pulling the strings all the steps around.

      The current justice system built on scratch in the last decades is still very fragile and politicians, especially the President or any of his cronies should not meddle into pending court affairs and deliberations. How Rwandans and the world will know the truth in case of an expeditive justice? As the case is still pending with the court, there is such thing as sub judice and he can not just publicly comment on a case, interfere with judicial proceeding or put pressure on magistrates and still make people believe there is independent justice. Many Rwandans are victim of similar practices under the mercy of those in power. Justice appeared to be served, but the scars would never heal for the victims, their families and our people. This might be one of the reasons why the regime has sealed off the political space, and is instead yelling out the pretext to avoid backsliding to genocide.

      As far as I am concerned, the court hearings on the so-called overwhelming evidence or ghost proofs have not yet started. I was arbitrary arrested on 21st April 2010, and released on bail the second day. Until now the prosecutor is not yet in order with his papers. I have never met the much publicised FDLR renegades in the hands of the regime. There has never been any confrontation. The non-violence is and will always be my motto.

      Many questions remain unanswered: how is the President planning to extract forced confessions? Considering the fact that only 3 counts were levelled against my person, while the President is talking about 10, when his services will release and substantiate the remaining charges? Will it happen after the presidential campaign is closed?

      Since my return to Rwanda in January 2010, I have been trying to get my political party, FDU INKINGI, registered and by 6 times, the government derailed our constitutional congress. The official reason is the criminal charges levelled and the subsequent never-happening trial.

      Don’t shy away free and fair competition and to stop using justice for your own purposes. There will be no democracy and justice for all without truth and healing.

      Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Chair

  2. Bob,

    The RPF dictatorship thinks everyone is too blind to recognize a political prisoner when we see one. The so-called witnesses against this presidential candidate, two of them have been in a Rwandan military prison for more than a year. After you have been in a Rwandan military prison for a year, trust me, you will be willing to say anything against anyone in order to stop the pain.

    On April 21st, 2010 during the bail hearing, Mrs Ingabire made it clear that her party FDU has no military forces because the kind of problems facing the country are normally solved politically. She confirmed that she is not acquainted with and did not communicate with the rebel Colonel who claims to have collaborated with her. She reminded the court that if she had a military force she would have had no reason to participate in the peaceful political process. She would have just waited and returned to the country only after the military victory.

  3. Victoire Ingabire is on trial for promoting democracy in Rwanda. This is a fact. If RPF from the very beginning had provided it as it advocated for at the time, Rwandans wouldn't be still struggling to have freedom of speech, fair justice, more equality, less discrimination, fairer redistribution of national wealth.

    I think she has started an unstoppable train for democracy, which will only stop when it gets at destination. Rwandans (the majority of course), not their elite, have overwhelmingly suffered at the hands of Paul Kagame's regime. Most of them feel ready to take a chance for changing their imposed destiny.

  4. In the end the truth will win. No matter what happens to Ingabire she'll be remembered as a hero!! More rwandans should join her efforts and end their fear because fear will not set you free but the truth will!!

  5. Africa’s female Nelson Mandela? Give me a break! Without even talking about her patent lack of clear political objective, a ‘Mandela’ would mean that there was an apartheid in place. Let’s hear the description of Apartheid Rwanda that this article so unsuccessfully tries to create. Let’s not bandy the great man’s name just for the thrills. As for Ingabire’s democratic credentials – fun experiment, try and write anything negative on her FB page, see if it doesn’t get deleted.

    For the record, Bagosora is serving a life sentence[did I read ‘acquitted’?] and the former Prime Minister of Sindikubwabo’s genocidal [yes, it was a genocide, not ‘civilian on civilian massacres’] government, Jean Kambanda was convicted on conspiracy of genocide charges. Bagosora got off on the charge because everyone he conspired with is in the ICTR pleading not guilty to everything.

  6. Kagame may not be a saint but if one is going to say he is repressive because he arrested Ingabire for associating with sworn enemies of the country [FDLR], kick out a researcher for not having her papers in order [note HRW has not been closed down] and arrest a US lawyer for statements that he made publicly, not in court, for which he could have been arrested in over 14 countries had he been talking about the Jewish holocaust then she should be held to a similar standard. Could we just as easily say that she is a preacher of hate and extermination because both her parents were found guilty of genocide by the residents of the places where they lived, in her mother’s case it was reported that she did unspeakable things to her patients in Butamwa Health Centre or because her deputy was a fugitive from justice and was similarly convicted on charges of genocide [she initially stood by his denials before withdrawing her support upon revelations of the man’s confession] or how about a UN report that alleges that she has ties with the FDLR in Eastern DRC, who have been the single largest cause for the highest incidence of fistula in the world in North and South Kivu [without even talking about their aim to come and ‘finish up’ what was started ie the 1994 genocide]. How about recent reports of her links with the extremist CDR party? A party so extreme and hate driven that it was not included in the list of parties in the 1993 Arusha accords.

    Its always interesting to see how Ms. Ingabire is described in the media as the “Head of the Rwandan Opposition”. Show me 20 members of her party, let alone this amorphous opposition everyone is speaking of. She may be many things but she is not Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi. Calling her any of these things is like someone describing Jörg Haider as Lech Walesa

  7. @Oscar, so you had to wait for more than 6weeks, to come and report you New Times inspired comment/propaganda, on this article? those hatred nonsense, nobody believes them anymore…I bet even NGOGA; your own NGOGA want buy it…
    HERE SOMETHING TO READ…..Manipulating the memory of the Rwandan genocide..

  8. @Veritas: Just using the prevailing standard of this article. The 6-week delay says more about the amount of time I can devote to articles like this than whatever you are trying to insinuate. Interesting that you chose to label my comment in your first line rather than respond to it. If your heroine is as Mandela-like as this article claims, I’m sure she would disapprove.

    The article is more balanced than most but it is a charge that is not new. People seem to think you can have policy in Rwanda that ignores the genocide of ’94 for to do so would be ‘manipulating’ the memory. Laws against hate speech and incitement are in the public interest. Similar laws exist in some European countries as I am sure the Professor knows. Also as a scholar in law I would have thought he would be more specific about the sections within these laws that he thinks can be abused. Or is it that he believes the problem is not the law but those implementing it? If so, it is something he should have made clear from the beginning rather than trying to fudge the issues.

Leave a Reply