By: Dr. Charles Kambanda
Edited By: Jennifer Fierberg
On June 2, 2014, the Minister of Justice – on behalf of the government of Rwanda (GoR) – issued communiqué “assessing” Human Rights Watch (HRW) activities and conduct in Rwanda. The GoR broad accusations against HRW fit in five categories: (1) HRW is a tool for some unnamed “authorities” to which HRW pays allegiance; HRW is not independent. (2) HRW breached the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the GoR and HRW; HRW acts and/or reports on issues beyond the MoU (3) HRW conducts interviews and/or makes reports without consulting the GoR, (4) HRW is biased against the GoR in favor of opposition groups, (5) HRW reports wrong and malicious information on specific cases in Rwanda.
All the accusations against HRW underscore two critical issues: (i) the GoR “assessment” lack objective knowledge of the rationale, functioning and methodology of Human Rights organization in general and HRW in particular. (ii) The GoR does not appear to make out, or willfully refuses to acknowledge, the universal mandate and mission of Human Rights organizations.
Human Rights organizations “report” to the spirit and letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to anybody, organization or government.
The fountain of authority and power for Human rights organizations is common values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Human rights organizations ensure that the “mightiest” (governments) do not use their powers and authority to deprive people of their minimum rights and freedoms as laid down in the UDHR and elaborated in other international human rights legal instruments. The December 9 1998 UN Declaration reaffirmed this universal fountain of power and authority for human rights organizations, including HRW.
HRW is a renowned human rights organization in the fight for people’s rights and freedoms. HRW has criticized all governments, including superpowers, whenever those governments’ actions are inconsistent with the minimum standards for people to live meaningfully. HRW reports and /or documents are always open for public perusal.
The Government of Rwanda, in its “assessment” – paragraph 1 writes: “who and for what objectives does the organization serve? What motivations lie behind their publications? … To whom is HRW accountable and to whom does one complain when the organization is thought to be involved in acts harmful to one’s interest?” There are two possible explanations for the GoR questions about the “source of power and the authority” for HRW: (i) the government of Rwanda, does not know the fountain of power and authority for human rights organizations in general and HRW in particular or (ii) the government knows the source of power and authority for HRW but was only trying to sound sarcastic. Either way, the government of Rwanda’s questions about the origin of power and authority for human rights organizations are ridiculous.
The GoR knows or should know the universal moral and legal source of power and authority for human rights organizations. If the GoR believes, in good faith, that any human rights organization, including HRW, has failed to live to the ideal, the burden of proof is on the GoR. The GoR chose to remain ambiguous, behind ridiculous and/or sarcastic “questions”.
The GoR’s questions in paragraph one of their ‘attacks’ on HRW cannot be construed as Cartesian “methodical doubt” for two reasons: (a) Methodical doubt does not apply to a priori propositions and (b) on its face, the GoR set of “questions” is but classic cynicism.
It is standard practice for human rights organizations to receive donations for efficient execution of their work. It is undisputed that successful human rights organizations must have a network of high profile individuals and organizations. It is not sufficient to argue that because HRW receives donations from individuals and groups and HRW makes financial reports to such people, therefore HRW is not independent. Protecting human rights is a complex job. Human rights organizations need high profile and experienced partners to access information and influencing the international community to mount pressure on human rights violators. The GoR cannot use HRW network of high profile individuals or groups – the world over – to argue that HRW is not independent. The GoR missive provides no admissible evidence that HRW lacks independence.
Human Rights organizations, like HRW, have universal mandate beyond partisan politics and political compromise
The December 9, 1998 UN Declaration is unequivocal on the mandate of human rights organizations, including HRW. Under the December 9, 1998 UN Declaration Human Rights organizations are mandated “… to criticize government bodies and agencies and to make proposals to improve.” Under the 1998 UN Declaration States are under duty to protect human rights defenders against any violence, retaliation and intimidation as a consequence of their work. Therefore, GoR is under legal duty, under the UN Charter, to work with and protect human rights organizations, including HRW.
Human rights organizations’ work is not defined by any MoU between a country and the concerned human rights organization. Although such MoU may be helpful for human rights to operate, where a MoU is inconsistent with the human right organization’s universal mandate, the mandate prevails.
The GoR believes that letting human rights organizations to operate in Rwanda is a “favor” to those human rights organizations (refer to paragraphs: (1) (22)). The government of Rwanda appears to suggest that they can terminate the “favor” for human rights to operate in Rwanda at will. In addition, the GoR appears to believe that HRW activities are limited to the “2011 MoU” (refer to paragraphs (2) (3), (4), (5). The GoR’s beliefs, above, are inconsistent with the existing international law and practice. The GoR is wrong because under the December 9 1998 UN declaration, it is incumbent of government to work with human rights organizations. Breach of this legal duty has serious legal, political and/or diplomatic consequence for any government under the UN Charter.
The GoR does not determine holders of human rights and freedom. Likewise, the GoR does not stipulate interviewees for human rights organizations’ research.
Human rights organizations protect and promote people’s rights and freedoms as stipulated in the various international legal instruments. It is not for the GoR to instruct human rights organizations on individuals and/or groups human rights organizations may or may not interview for their research. Accordingly, the GoR does not have powers to prescribe holders of rights and freedoms. Apparently, the GoR believes that: (i) FDLR (a Hutu rebels group) members and their sympathizers do not have legitimate rights for HRW to defend and advocate for. In paragraph (6) the GoR writes “… HRW seems to have become more overtly the campaign mouthpiece of the FDLR, the armed genocidaires”, refer also to paragraphs: (7), (8). (ii) Every real or perceived enemy of Kigali regime is not a holder of rights and freedoms. In the GoR’s logic, all their “blacklisted” individuals and groups neither should neither contact human rights groups nor should human rights groups contact such groups for any reason, including research on human rights violation. For this reason, the GoR reproaches HRW because HRW carried out interviews with Kigali regime “enemies”, refer to paragraphs (6), (7), (10) and (21).
In their research, Human Rights Watch conducts interviews with different stakeholders. However, human rights organizations analyze each stakeholder’s information for consistence and accuracy. The GoR unreasonably believes that the information the government gives to human rights organizations is overriding. Therefore, because the ministry of justice lectured HRW researchers on certain issues and HRW final report did not contain the governments information, then HRW is biased, refer to par. 10. It is absurd reasoning, at least, for purposes of research methodology. The public has access to HRW phone numbers because this information is public. HRW uses the same phone numbers to contact its interviewees. Is it proof of “bias” for HRW that the GoR arrest anybody who has HRW phone numbers?
Governments are not at liberty to violate human rights and freedoms because the government is “fighting insecurity”
Human rights and freedoms are not seasonal. Human rights and freedoms stand and must be protected in time of peace, war and/or insecurity. As if to justify their violation of human rights and freedoms, the GoR argues that “The Ministry of Justice wishes to clarify that in the last few months our police, army and intelligence units in the North West have dealt with security challenges as a result of armed cross border criminal incursions into Rwandan territory […] These arms, without exception, are brought into the country from FDLR bases in the DRC. They are transported in covertly, on foot, bicycles, motorcycles, in sacks of food etc. by FDLR. […] A number of attacks rocked Kigali city before this. Again several have been nipped in the bud, thwarted or they simply became too risky to carry out. […] For clarity Rwanda considers that one gun or explosive in the wrong hands, even before an attack, amounts to a very high level of threat to our peace and triggers the deployment of the necessary capabilities to decisively deal with it”, par. (13). Apparently, Kigali regime wants human rights organizations to cover their eyes to the government enforced disappearances, summary execution and arbitrary arrests because the government is fighting “insecurity”.
If governments were allowed to get away with violation of human rights and freedoms because the government is “fighting insecurity”, then there would be no point in talking about human rights protection and defense. The GoR reproaches HRW for not letting the government of Rwanda get away with human rights violation under pretext of dealing with “insecurity”.
Kagame government has always gotten away with gross violation of human rights under pretext of “fighting insecurity”. It is well documented that as early as 1990, Kagame and his army staged “attacks” from the “enemy” to create conducive environment to perpetrate horrific crimes. The UN Mapping Report and the Spanish Court indictments for Kagame and his top commanders are detailed on how Kagame used “fighting insecurity” to exterminate the Hutu. Kagame is probably playing the same old trick to exterminate the people of Northern Rwanda (who are predominantly Hutu) under pretext of “fighting insecurity”. Apparently, Kagame wants to make some parts of Rwanda a “no-go” area for human rights organizations to give his regime a chance to exterminate people. Interesting, Rwanda is not at war.
The government of Rwanda is probably unfamiliar with human rights organizations’ methodology
Human rights organization depend on stating or promoting facts so that States and non-state actors can use that information to pressure the government named as human rights violator. Human rights organizations name and shame abusive governments through media coverage. Human rights organizations shine spotlights on human rights violation/violators. Human rights organizations focus on governments and their agencies, not private individuals or groups. Interestingly, the GoR believes that human rights organizations should “investigate” the armed and unarmed opposition in the same way those human rights organizations investigates Kigali junta violation of human rights. Again, the GoR is wrong on.
First, human rights organizations have no mandate to criticize private individuals or groups’ violation of human rights. There is good public policy for this: (i) the government, not private individuals or groups (armed or unarmed), has the constitutional duty to protect people’s constitutional rights and freedoms. (ii) The subject matter of human rights groups is the common values and principles enshrined in the UDHR and other international human rights law instruments. The government, not private individuals or groups (armed or unarmed), is the custodian of those values and principles. Therefore, for promotion and protection of these values and principles human rights organization focus on government, not private individuals or groups. It is true that government and rebel fighters are equally bound by humanitarian law and so human rights organizations might investigate rebels’ activities. However, the central institution for human rights organizations’ criticism is the government. The GoR is wrong to think that human rights organizations’ close scrutiny of the government’s human rights violation is proof of “bias”.
Kigali regime wrongly compares its human rights violation culture with the United States
In a fallacious enthymeme, the GoR argues that “… Rwanda does not claim to be perfect, no country is. That said [unlike the US that runs Guantanamo bay and other illegal detention facilities] we neither run offshore prisons nor maintain secret prison locations anywhere”, par. 22.
First, it is absurd that the US, a civilized nation, runs these inhumane and illegal facilities. However, HRW cannot be blamed for the US government acts because HRW is not a US government agency. It is well documented that HRW and other human rights organizations have criticized the US government for these shameful detention facilities. HRW did its job; they criticized the US for Guantanamo bay and other illegal detention facilities. The GoR cannot use this argument to impeach HRW. The GoR, as a member of the United Nations, should exert pressure – directly – to the US government to close these illegal detention facilities. Attacking the US government under pretext of “impeaching” HRW is unreasonable and dangerous for the government of Rwanda.
Second, assuming that HRW and other human rights organization did not criticize the US government for running “… offshore prisons nor [maintain] secret prison locations”, the GoR cannot use that argument to get away with their abuse of human rights because “even some other countries are doing it’. Of course, had HRW closed their eyes to US government “offshore prisons and secret prison locations”, that evidence would have been admissible to impeach HRW credibility.
Third, ludicrous as the US Guantanamo bay prison facility is, the US government violation of human rights and freedoms of the detainees, therein, is distinguishable from Rwanda’s case. The US government is holding non-citizens in those illegal detention facilities. Rwanda government, on the other hand, is accused of violating its citizens’ rights and freedoms in illegal dentition faculties (safe houses). In any case, does it matter the location of the illegal detention facilities, “offshore” or not? Is Kigali regime seeking credit because their illegal detention facilities are not “offshore” so HRW should keep a blind eye on those facilities?
The GoR accusation that HRW reports wrong information on specific cases is misguided
The GoR claims that: (a) “HRW has … in the guise of human rights work, unilaterally mounted a relentless campaign against the RNP [Rwanda National Police] and attacking the independence of Rwanda’s judiciary by making [unsubstantiated] “findings” that Lt. Joel Mutabazi was abducted from Uganda, that he was tortured and forced to confess to crimes, usurping the courts’ role in the process and putting the courts’ capacity to issue restraining orders to stress tests”, par. (9). (b) “… Of grave concern … HRW has joined the fringe that is struggling in vain to … legitimize the FDLR. According to HRW, today FDLR is a “Rwandan armed opposition group” made up, “partly”, of people who committed the genocide here in 1994. Again the intent to cleanse the FDLR of, inter alia, the genocide ideology that is its organizational raison d’etre, the terror it believes in and practices both in Rwanda and DR Congo …” par. 12.
First, regarding Lt. Mutabazi case, HRW is accused of stating that Mutabazi was abducted from Uganda where he had been granted political asylum. Did Kigali regime abduct or kidnap Lt. Mutabazi from Uganda? Abduction is the carrying away of any person by force or fraud. Kidnapping, at common law, is the crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or fraud. Mutabazi had been under UHCR custody, for some time, after surviving a number of armed attacks from his home. Before his final enforced disappearance from Uganda, the kidnappers had attempted to take him through Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. The Police of Uganda intercepted the kidnappers; Mutabazi was saved. Days later, Lt. Mutabazi went missing again. UNHCR and the government of Uganda mounted a search for Lt. Mutabazi, in vain. After a month or so, the government of Rwanda finally accepted that Mutabazi was in Rwanda. Kigali did not shed light on how Lt. Mutabazi ended in Rwanda. The government of Uganda “suspended” a senior police officer, who was allegedly involved in kidnapping Mutabazi. Under Uganda’s law, extradition is a court process. No security organ can extradite a person. Mutabazi was a refugee in Uganda. The international protection for refugee laws protected Mutabazi. Rwanda has clear legal procedures for them to apply for a person’s extradition to Rwanda. Kigali regime unlawfully seized and carried Mutabazi from UNHCR custody in Uganda by force. That is how Mutabazi ended up in Kagame’s torture chambers. Signs of torture were clearly visible on Mutabazi face when he appeared in court. Lt. Mutabazi informed court that he had been subjected to horrible torture. The Military court was adamant. How does HRW’s statement of the obvious become a ground for insane attack on HRW credibility?
Second, the GoR wrongly evokes the sub judice rule with regard to whether or not Kigali abducted or kidnapped Lt. Mutabazi from Uganda. The sub judice rule bars parties and attorneys on the case from discussing issues, outside court, that are before court for determination. Sub judice is not triggered when the issue discussed is not before court for determination. Lt. Mutabazi was charged with “treason”, “terrorism”, among other “crimes”. Whether Kagame’s assassins kidnapped Mutabazi or not, has never been before court because it is not in dispute. Supposing the sub judice rule applied in theis case, the government of Rwanda – a party to the case – not HRW would be prohibited from discussing the issue of Mutabazi’s abduction. Certainly, the GoR is hiding behind an inapplicable law principle to run away from explaining their flagrant abuse of Lt. Mutabazi’s rights and violation of international law (protection of refugees) and Uganda’s territorial integrity. By abducting Lt. Mutabazi the way Kigali regime did, Kigali regime committed an act of international terrorism in Uganda.
Third, whether or not FDLR or any Kigali regime opposition groups (armed or unarmed) is/are terrorist groups or they committed genocide, is not at the GoR discretion to determine. If the government of Rwanda argues that the armed or unarmed opposition groups are illegitimate because they are accused of “terrorism” and genocide, then Kagame junta is equally illegitimate because Kagame’s army is accused of international crimes including genocide and terrorism. A court in Spain has indicted Kagame and his top military officials on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism. A court in France has indicted Kagame and his top military officials for similar crimes, including genocide. The UN accuses Kagame and his troops of war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism and, possibly, genocide, in Congo, refer to the UN Mapping Report. The UN Security Council has adopted the Report of UN Panel of Experts detailing Kagame and his troops’ international crimes, including genocide, in Congo. On the other hand, the political leaders of FDLR who were arrested and tried at the International Criminal Court ( ICC) were set free, on ‘ no case to answer’ ground. When the ICC prosecutor sought indictment for the top FDLR military commander, Gen. Mudacumura, the ICC ruled that there was no basis for the court to issue indictment for FDLR military leader for international crimes. On appeal, because of the then negotiations between the court and Kigali government, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for FDLR top military commander in consideration of which Kagame agreed to surrender his notorious ‘terminator’, Bosco Ntaganda. It is important to note that all the original founders and commanders of FDLR, including FDLR top commander until 2005 renounced rebellion and joined Kigali regime. None of those FDLR commanders and founders was prosecuted for “terrorism” and “genocide”. Why does Kagame insist that FDLR and the Hutu refugees in DRC have no human rights and freedoms to be protected because they are “genocidaires”?
What the GoR calls “assessment of Human Rights Watch (HRW) activities and conduct in Rwanda” is a calculated spontaneous attack on HRW. The “attack” is ridiculous because the framers do not appear to appreciate the background legal and conceptual framework of human rights organizations in the promotion and protections for human rights. The government of Rwanda, or any other government, has no power to dictate on the methodology of, and mandate for, human rights organizations. The GoR cannot lecture HRW on what they may or may not include in their reports. The government of Rwanda is not charged with defining holders of human rights. HRW, like any other human rights organization, has its universal mandate in Rwanda and in other countries. While the GoR can challenge any human rights organization, including HRW, the GoR has a duty to substantiate its allegations, in good faith. Excuses such as “ other countries violate human rights also” and “ fighting insecurity” are not viable excuses for enforced disappearances, torture, summary executions and other gross violations of human rights the GoR of Rwanda in notorious for.