What is happening in Rwanda? Apparently, nothing good. This week, Genocide Watch sent out an alert for the country. They sent out a “genocide watch” for Rwanda and noted “there are signs of continued discrimination, polarization and denial between the main ethnic groups, the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. Ethnic distrust continues despite significant progress in Rwanda’s post-genocide peacebuilding.”
According to the report:
Rwanda’s National Unity law severely restricts free speech. Allegations of genocide denial, ‘genocide ideology,’ and ‘divisionism’ are used to clamp down on criticism of the Rwandan government. Reference to ethnicity is illegal. People are only allowed to identify as Rwandans. Statements that Hutus were killed when Rwanda invaded the Congo in 1996–1997 can be prosecuted as “divisionism.” Tensions at universities cause students to fear dissent. Limits on free speech are hiding ethnic tensions that could escalate into renewed violence.
Many Hutu citizens believe that the official government narrative has portrayed all Hutu to be perpetrators or bystanders. They point out that there were also many Hutu rescuers. There is a growing movement among Hutus abroad to deny the genocide by claiming it was a “double genocide” by Hutus against Tutsis, but also by Tutsis against Hutus. Such denialism ignores the disproportionate, targeted, intentional murders of 800,000 more Tutsis than Hutus. France also denies its role in the genocide.
Genocide Watch calls on the Rwandan government to lift restrictions on free speech, but not hate speech or incitement, so that citizens can more openly reflect on the 1994 genocide. Foreign governments, including France, the U.K., and the United States, should support these efforts while respecting the United Nations’ official recognition of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi.
President Paul Kagame deserves a lot of the blame here. His government allows no dissent inside and outside of the country. Critics wind up dead or in prison. Right now, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle played him in Hotel Rwanda) sits in a Kigali jail after being kidnapped and brought to the city last August. While the charges against Rusesabagina include terrorism, his real crime is speaking out against Kagame.
The West was quick to embrace Paul Kagame as the true savior of Rwanda and he has done whatever he can to keep that myth alive. According to Foreign Policy:
Kagame has carefully shaped the story of Rwanda’s genocide, keen to portray himself as the sole hero of that dark period. In Rwanda, he has projected himself as the man who militarily ended genocidal killing while the rest of the world looked away. His story has several gaps, but scholars and former comrades who have questioned this heroic narrative have been persecuted, imprisoned, and sometimes found dead.
Many lingering questions about Kagame’s alleged crimes during that period are nearly impossible to investigate in Rwanda today: Kagame’s government strictly controls who conducts research in the country, barring many of those it deems unsympathetic. It has destroyed data collected by researchers that would contradict Kagame’s propaganda. Academics and reporters who have pursued such research have had their families threatened in the United States and Canada and have required state-issued bodyguards.
Kagame’s government strictly controls who conducts research in the country, barring many of those it deems unsympathetic.
The most damaging allegations indicate that Kagame oversaw mass killings himself, during and after Rwanda’s genocide. It is an accusation backed up by U.N. investigators and journalists such as Judi Rever, who in her recent book, In Praise of Blood, painstakingly compiles witness testimonies of Kagame’s human rights violations. Kagame’s critics also include genocide survivors, who largely speak in private, for Kagame has taken over and silenced the survivors’ support groups in Rwanda.
Challenging Kagame’s heroism in Rwanda today is treated as an act of treason, a direct challenge to the president. And the consequences are swift, sometimes fatal. Prior to Rusesabagina, Kagame had been publicly challenged by a popular Rwandan gospel singer, Kizito Mihigo, an orphan of the genocide and until recently a darling of the government, prominent in Rwanda’s annual genocide commemorations. Last September, the Human Rights Foundation and its chairperson, the Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, posthumously awarded Mihigo the Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent; Mihigo had been found dead in a Rwandan police cell seven months earlier.
So now, the world has a choice to make here. It can continue to support Kagame’s regime and perhaps another genocide or it can take action to free Paul Rusesabagina and make Kagame abide by international law.