Authored by Eric Ngoga
For almost thirty years, Rwanda has been ruled by a government controlled by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a state party that took over the country after one of the most rapid and devastating genocides of the twentieth century. The genocide against the Tutsis, an ethic group in Rwanda, lasted 100 days and left around 1 million victims. This genocide came as a final tragedy of a four-year war in which the RPF military wing fought against the regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, previously president of Rwanda. The massacres of Tutsi ethnic people were the main reason that the international community decided to align itself behind RPF as a viable solution to peace in Rwanda. Rwanda's current president Paul Kagame, the strong man in Rwanda for the last twenty-five years, presents himself as a savior of Tutsis and the one who stopped the genocide. On top of that, he claims that Hutus and Tutsis are now reconciled.
After the genocide, one of the main efforts of the Rwandan government was to make everyone understand how genocide survivors were a group that must be protected from further suffering, as they had lost so much during the genocide. The objective was to make the survivors feel safe and that they would never be persecuted again because of who they are. Every year the powerful slogan “never again” appears in the whole country as a message to Rwandans in general and to genocide survivors, in particular, to let them know that now Rwanda is safe for them.
Through such efforts, the government of Rwanda with the help of its donors created different initiatives to show how they take the issues of genocide survivors very seriously. A fund was created to support genocide survivors financially. IBUKA, a very powerful organization with branches in various countries around the world has its main mission as advocating for the interests of genocide survivors. Other like-minded organizations worth a mention include AVEGA Agahozo, AERG, and GAERG, among many others. The National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) was created to prevent and fight against genocide, its ideology and to overcome its consequences.
The past years however paint a different picture of the Rwandan government. Genocide survivors are no longer safe in their own country. After having survived the genocide, they are being persecuted and killed by the government that claims to have saved them. From a legal point of view, genocide survivors are equal to other citizens in Rwanda. However, the government has lifted genocide survivors up and turned them into a symbol of a just, united, and free country where everyone feels safe. So, injustices committed against genocide survivors show a breach in the narrative of the RPF government about how safe they have made the country for Rwandans.
Compelling evidence of injustice was raised by former presidential candidate Diane Rwigara, herself a genocide survivor. In July 2019, she wrote an open letter to the president of Rwanda to sound the alarm on killings of dozens of genocide survivors by security services. In the letter, she raised the fact that those who have been killed were extrajudicially executed. She also raised the fact that genocide survivor associations and organizations are afraid to talk about it. Her letter was triggered by the murder of a prison guard named Jean Paul Mwiseneza whose death occurred after he had talked to Diane about the situation at the Mageragere prison in Kigali. During the funeral, the family was threatened. An official representative insinuated that what they say and to whom may bring them death. In her letter, to support her claims further, Diane Rwigara was able to give a non-exhaustive list of genocide survivors killed and how they were killed. The list was long to say the least.
After this letter, surprisingly, genocide survivor's organizations such as IBUKA and CNLG came out to fight against Diane Rwigara. The executive secretary of IBUKA said that not even one genocide survivor has been killed by security services. He added that Rwandans are safe and can express themselves freely in their country. The executive secretary of CNLG went further and assumed that Diane Rwigara is the one who put in danger the lives of genocide survivors because she was collaborating with people who want to create insecurity in Rwanda, and because of that, she does not have the right to talk for genocide survivors. The executive secretary of CNLG gave assurance that the government takes care of security of each and every citizen.
Not long ago, security services of Rwanda victimized yet another genocide survivor, Kizito Mihigo. Kizito Mihigo was a popular and beloved gospel singer. In 2014, after releasing a song considered by many as calling for reconciliation for all Rwandans, Kizito was arrested, unlawfully detained, and tortured. After dissapearing for over a week, he was paraded in handcuffs in front of journalists and made to admit to all of the crimes he was accused of without a lawyer. Among the crimes he was accused of included conspiring against the government and planning to kill the president. He was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released in September 2018 after a presidential pardon. He was arrested again in February 2020, and after four days in custody he was found dead in his cell. The official statement was that he committed suicide, but the truth is that he was killed by security services. No independent investigation was allowed in Kizito Mihigo’s death. Only a report released by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) was available to confirm the suicide hypothesis. However, after his death, audios that he made himself while in the prison were made available. In them, Kizito Mihigo clearly stated that he had been persecuted just because of the song he released in 2014. He gave all the details about his unlawful arrest and about how he had been tortured and obliged to accept all the charges or else face death.
Kizito Mihigo is the most recent and also the most famous in a long list of Tutsi genocide survivors who have been killed Rwanda's security forces. What is the reason this once-protected group came to be treated as an enemy of the RPF and Kagame? The only reason is that most genocide survivors no longer want to support the propaganda that the RPF uses to govern the country. Any genocide survivor who goes against or questions the narrative of what happened in Rwanda is treated by the RPF and Kagame as a traitor. Any genocide survivor who does not help in the plan of the RPF to remain in power is considered an opponent to be disposed of. This is shown by the recent speech of the general James Kabarebe to young genocide survivors, in which he tells them that RPF and genocide survivors are similar and they have to fight against anyone else who wants to destroy what they have achieved. We see a case in point: in the wake of her letter, Diane Rwigara was labeled a fake genocide survivor, as if “genocide survivor” is a title that people earn for some services to the RPF.
As we commemorate the twenty-sixth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, we should remember those who survived the unimaginable but then afterward succumbed to the knives and harsh treatment of the government that claims to have saved them. In Rwanda, the death penalty has been abolished, so no one in custody should die at the hands of the government. A genocide survivor, as any other Rwandan, may be punished and the law should be applied, but justice must be applied fairly. Right now, justice in Rwanda should be assessed for the way it is applied to the genocide survivors—those who lost everything for the RPF to get to the power. They should be judged using the right legal system, not the parallel legal system Kagame uses for his worst enemies. The latter parallel underground system should not exist at all.
Eric Ngoga is a Rwandan National and an affilate of the African Great Lakes Action Network. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @AGLANGLR