by Ann Garrison
Oct. 14 marked the seventh anniversary of Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire’s arrest shortly after she attempted to run for president against Rwanda’s military dictator, President Paul Kagame. I still remember my last conversation with her for the KPFA Evening News on Oct. 10.
The “UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003” had been officially released on Oct. 1, and she said that the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) should be expanded to include Rwandan crimes in Congo. That most certainly has not happened, and Victoire’s been in prison for seven years instead. Kagame’s powerful friend Bill Clinton defends him by saying that his crimes in Congo “haven’t been adjudicated.”
In that last radio news report including Victoire’s voice, ICTR defense attorney Peter Erlinder said: “If the United States wants something to happen, in terms of punishing these criminals, there’s a way to do it. If the U.S. doesn’t want it to happen, it won’t happen, tribunals or no.
“Because the United States controls the ICTR, because the United States controls the ICC, because the United States controls the Security Council. So extending the mandate of the ICTR has no effect unless the policy of the United States changes to allow the prosecution of the RPF and Kagame for the crimes that are already known that they’ve committed, and those crimes have been known for 15 years.”
Victoire’s commitment to peace, justice and the rule of law enabled her to at least imagine recreating the ICTR as a just court.
The Brussels-based International Women’s Network for Democracy and Peace commemorates Oct. 14 as Ingabire Day, a day of solidarity with Victoire Ingabire and all political prisoners. In a video produced for this year’s Ingabire Day, her supporters around the world repeat, “We are Victoire and Victoire is all of us.” They also say that she was arrested for making the following statement upon her return from the Netherlands to Rwanda in January 2010:
“It is essential that all Rwandans, regardless of their ethnic group, understand that it is time to unite to share mutual compassion in order for us to build a sustainable peace in our country. That is the reason why I am back in Rwanda. It is in order that we should all walk together on the path of unity and reconciliation so that we can work together to find the solution to ensure that injustice never prevails again, and finally all Rwandans can live freely in our country.”
The Brussels-based International Women’s Network for Democracy and Peace commemorates Oct. 14 as Ingabire Day, a day of solidarity with Victoire Ingabire and all political prisoners.
I asked Claude Gatebuke, Rwandan genocide survivor and founder of the African Great Lakes Action Network, to explain Victoire Ingabire’s message.
Claude Gatebuke: Her message was “Let’s tell the truth about what happened. Let’s tell the truth about the massacres and atrocities committed against the Tutsis. Let’s tell the truth about the massacres and atrocities committed against the Hutus.” And that implicated the government of Rwanda led by Paul Kagame, especially his ruling party and military, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), because they committed massacres and atrocities against Hutus, and Tutsis actually, but mostly against Hutus.
Ann Garrison: President Paul Kagame, his party and his international supporters, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Rev. Rick Warren, claim that ethnic conflict has been overcome in Rwanda, that Hutu and Tutsi have reconciled. So why did Victoire call for reconciliation?
CG: That reconciliation story is simply not true. Because of the RPF’s ethnic cleansing against the Hutus, and the extremist Hutus’ ethnic cleansing against the Tutsis, there are people who are still hurt, who have not seen justice, who are still harboring trauma and fear. It’s a hurtful lie to state that it’s over and that the ethnic conflict has ended. That is why Victoire called for true reconciliation and healing.
Everyone needs to know the truth and have some closure about what happened to their families. Everyone needs to be able to mourn their dead, and Hutus cannot mourn so long as it’s illegal and dangerous to say that Hutus were also victims, as Victoire did.
AG: And isn’t there still an issue of Hutu people having equality in Rwanda?
CG: Yes, there is a big issue with that. One especially harsh policy that Hutu people are subjected to is Ndi Umunyarwanda, which basically requires every Hutu to apologize to the Tutsis for the 1994 genocide. This includes Hutu children who had not been born at the time the genocide took place. It also includes Hutu children who were way too young to have been involved, children who were 10 years old or even younger. They have to apologize for crimes committed by extremist Hutus in 1994, as if the crime is universal to the Hutu ethnic group.
AG: Isn’t wealth and power also concentrated in the hands of a Tutsi elite, with token exceptions?
CG: Yes, there is a small group of Tutsis, mostly military men who came from Uganda, the country that the RPF invaded from in 1990, who basically run the country. Wealth and power is concentrated in that group.
AG: In 2010, Bernard Ntaganda also tried to run for president and went to prison instead. Before his arrest, he told me that Rwanda’s greatest problem is that a small group of people control all the wealth and all the power, and the rest of Rwandans are very poor.
CG: That is still true.
AG: I should add that Bernard Ntaganda was released after four years, but as a former convict, he is no longer eligible to run for president.
CG: Yes, that’s the law. It applies to Bernard Ntaganda, and it will apply to Victoire Ingabire when she is released. It will also apply to Diane Rwigara, a woman who tried to run for president against Kagame this year, if she is convicted of the charges she’s now facing, as she no doubt will be.
AG: Several years ago, you told me that “Victoire Ingabire doesn’t believe in invading the neighbors.” Could you explain that again?
CG: Kagame and Uganda’s military dictator Yoweri Museveni invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1996 and then again in 1998. Despite a 2003 peace agreement, much of Congo is still under de facto Rwandan occupation and wracked by violent struggles over Congolese resource wealth.
Kagame’s excuse for invading DRC has always been hunting down “Hutu genocidaires” who had fled into Congo as his army advanced. Most of those who fled were simply refugees, not genocidaires, and his army massacred 200,000 of them, as was documented in the “UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003.”
The invasions and resource plunder have also cost millions of Congolese lives. Many died violently but even more died of hardship while fleeing the violence or in refugee camps that lacked food, water and basic medicines. Many of those were children.
Victoire wants the surviving Hutu refugees to be able to return home safely to join a real reconciliation process in Rwanda instead of serving as Kagame’s excuse for his crimes in Congo. She doesn’t want Rwandan militias occupying Congo and plundering its resources.
There is also evidence that Kagame’s party has been harboring and arming Burundians who want to overthrow the Burundian government of President Pierre Nkurunziza and that they have even attempted to conscript Burundian refugees into a rebel army. Victoire Ingabire doesn’t believe in invading Burundi or any of Rwanda’s other neighbors. She wants to build sustainable peace and democracy.
AG: I remember, in 2010, watching a Dutch television journalist ask Victoire’s little boy Riszt Shimwa why his mother was returning to Rwanda. He said, “So there won’t be any more wars.”
CG: That’s true, and Riszt has had to grow up without her because of her courage.
AG: Victoire’s husband, Lin Muyizere, has also been without her for seven years, but he said that she is not just their Victoire anymore, that she now belongs to all of us.
CG: Yes, her family has been totally supportive of her and very generous in sharing her with us.
AG: And what did Rwandans and their friends do on Ingabire Day?
CG: It was a big day for people who believe in freedom all around the world. Even here in the United States there were gatherings to celebrate her courage. There were gatherings in Brussels, Belgium, Zambia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, France and other nations.
There was a book launch in London, where the book she wrote in captivity, “Between Four Walls of the 1930 Prison,” has been translated into English and made available on the Friends of Victoire website and amazon.com. If you’d rather support Friends of Victoire than Jeff Bezos, order it from them. It’s actually 2 euros less – translated into dollars – from Friends of Victoire.
AG: OK, to close for now, let’s add that Victoire Ingabire’s appeal of her conviction and 15-year sentence is before the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which could rule any day. And that the U.S. is the largest bilateral donor to Rwanda, and Rwanda is a longstanding U.S. military partner and proxy on the African continent.
CG: All true.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at email@example.com. Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan Genocide survivor and the founder of the African Great Lakes Action Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.