The verdict in the fatal accident during which journalist John Ntwali died, will almost certainly understandably, disappoint his friends and family, but they are likely to accept that it is all that the law allowed. For Human Rights Watch (HRW), and other Rwanda detractors, however, the objective was to use Ntwali’s death for their campaign against the country, and they are determined to wring every last drop of advantage from it. The organisation has now mobilised several other NGOs to get behind its crusade. But can they really be clear about the agenda up to which they have signed, or up to which they have been signed?
In Kagarama primary court, Moise Bagirishya, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, expressing great remorse, for the reckless driving that ended in the loss of a young father’s life.
Although a great deal of money, for most Rwandans, his fine of a million Rwandan francs, just under $1000, does not begin to atone for his actions. Without a change in the law however, that was all that was available to the court.
The story is one of a tragically needless loss of life, as a result of mindlessness on the roads, and following the verdict, perhaps one of whether there should be a change in the law, to make the punishment in such cases, more appropriately punitive.
We are often reminded that in the hands of the thoughtless, and inattentive, the motor car, can be considered a deadly weapon, and so it proved, in the case of John Ntwali.
What it should never have been, is what HRW has attempted, and continues to attempt to make it.
No sooner did the organisation get wind of Ntwali’s fatal accident, than they snapped into thoughtless action, making a quantum leap to a conclusion that ran with their long held anti Rwanda narrative. “Suspicious death of investigative journalist” they pronounced, demanding not just “an independent investigation” but an international one, presumably involving them too.
They rolled out the now familiar, pre packaged accusations against Rwanda, “an abuser of human rights” perpetrator of “enforced disappearances,” a place where journalists are suppressed, murdered, or both, the list goes on. As HRW would have it, come judgement day, Rwanda will have more to answer, than the devil himself.
Interestingly, as all Rwanda’s detractors, the organisation finds it necessary to twist the facts, or simply assert outright lies, as they try to illustrate their accusations. This is now particularly evident, in the attempt to turn a road accident, of which there are all too many, into something altogether more sinister.
The police issued no report of an accident, claimed the organisation. Except that the police did do exactly that. Ntwali had been summoned to the police, before his death. No, he had not. The police had had no interest in him, whatsoever. And most brazenly of all, that the trial of the driver of the car, was held in camera, journalists were excluded, neither the accused nor the prosecution were in court, and a statement announcing the verdict, was read out to the media afterwards.
In the real world, the actual events were quite the opposite. The trial was open to the public, in fact, because not everyone could be accommodated within the small courtroom, some observers listened to the proceedings, through the windows. The prosecution, the accused and his lawyer, were all in attendance to hear the verdict as it was handed down.
A far cry from the claims marshalled by HRW, in “a joint statement by 90 Civil Society Organisations and Press Associations” to reiterate the demand for that “independent investigation” into the journalist’s death.
The organisation seems to have trawled the world for every NGO, from the Union of Journalists of South Sudan, Somali Journalists Syndicate, to Ethiopian Labour Rights Watch, to name but a few.
It is unlikely HRW imagined that the government of Rwanda would suddenly buckle under what they themselves no doubt regard as intense pressure, so, what might be the objective? Is it simply to raise publicity, to be seen apparently fighting for human rights? Or is it cement to further demonise Rwanda?
If the objective had been human rights advocacy, HRW would not have consciously sabotaged a privileged position in Rwanda, from which it could do its work. It is now almost a decade, since the Rwanda government, invited the organisation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), by which it had a direct line to the Minister of Justice, to raise any concerns on human rights it might have.
If they raised an issue with the government, and were not satisfied with official action, they would be free to publicly voice their objections. But after signing the agreement, the government would see claims in the media, about which they knew nothing.
On several occasions, when the allegations seemed serious, an investigation team, led by the minister himself, would go to the scene of the alleged crime, only to find the claims entirely false, or the truth had been stretched.
Someone about whom HRW raised the alarm claiming that he had “disappeared” would be found in hospital, undergoing treatment. People named in a report to have been summarily executed, miraculously come to life, or were found to have died of natural causes. On, and on, it went, until the Rwanda government had enough and cancelled the MoU.
A former American diplomat, Richard Johnson, was so appalled by HRW’s campaign against, the country, he outlined it in a paper, The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda.
“What Human Rights Watch (HRW) does on Rwanda is not human rights advocacy” begins the 55 page document, published in 2013, “It is political advocacy which has become profoundly unscrupulous in both its means and its ends. HRW’s Board of Directors should hold Executive Director Kenneth Roth and the HRW personnel who cover Rwandan issues accountable for this travesty, which has dangerous implications for Western policy toward Rwanda and for the overall credibility of Western human rights advocacy. Donors to HRW should think seriously about what causes their money might serve. Western governments should be careful about following HRW advice, and courageous enough to challenge them publicly when need be.”
Evidently perceiving the organisation’s self appointed role, as arbiter of how Rwanda politics are to be organised, Johnson goes on to write that, “HRW’s discourse on Rwanda over the past twenty years has been viscerally hostile to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which defeated the genocidal Hutu Power regime in 1994, and systematically biased in favor of letting unrepentant Hutu Power political forces back into Rwandan political life.”
This perfectly describes HRW’s every utterance, and report on Rwanda.
On publication of his paper, HRW promptly dismissed it a fabrication, putting it about that there was no American diplomat by that name, and that in fact, the real Richard Johnson was an American soldier, who lived up to the ripe old age of 90, and was now lying six feet under, in Arlington cemetery.
This was either alarmingly shocking, that such a well resourced, international organisation, which employs researchers in every corner of the planet, should fail to determine an all too easily verifiable fact, or more likely, that HRW was knowingly disseminating a lie, to obscure inconvenient truths about itself.
There was indeed an American soldier named Richard Johnson, but since there is neither copy right on either name, nor the combination of the two, another American, who grew up to be a diplomat, also answered to Richard Johnson. This Richard Johnson, is in the rudest of health, enjoying his retirement.
None of this however is likely to concern HRW. It will simply pull together all the insinuations, half truths and outright lies, about the death of John Ntwali, and defiantly proclaim, “we stand by our report.”