Home Rwanda Decides 2024 HRW’s Absurdity On Rwanda, Human Rights Advocacy Or Neo-Colonialism?

HRW’s Absurdity On Rwanda, Human Rights Advocacy Or Neo-Colonialism?

by Vincent Gasana
10:59 am

It was never really a story, and since it was so widely publicised to become one, it ought at least to be an old one by now. But we are unlikely to hear the end of it any time soon, if ever.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) employee, was refused entry into Rwanda, by the country’s immigration. That was all we knew, all else was speculation. Predictably however, the organisation immediately published a “report,” condemning Rwanda. It would have been better advised to have examined its conduct, and asked itself why and how it found itself in a position where one of its employees would be denied entry into the country.

Rwanda is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections, and if past experience is anything to go by, the country will be prepared for an onslaught from supposed human rights organisations, with HRW at the forefront of what has clearly been shown to be an information and political war against Rwanda.

Any well governed nation, accords special privileges to certain groups. These include for instance, journalists and human rights organisations. These groups practise or advocate for universally accepted values, the rights of individuals, in the case of human rights organisations.

These privileges were fully bestowed on HRW by Rwanda. The country signed a memorandum of understaning with HRW, in which the organisation was asked to bring any issues of concern directly to the ministry of justice. As part of the agreement, HRW enjoyed a direct line to the minister of justice. An arrangement that any group whose objective was advocacy for human rights, would surely have gratefully grabbed with both hands.

Yet HRW did everything they could to torpedo it. Rather than approach the Rwandan authorities with any concerns, they would rush to the media, with accusations they claimed to have researched, but which turned to ash, once in contact with the reality on the ground.

The accusations included claims of people who had apparently been summarily executed, in essence, state murder. The organisation claimed to have fully researched its information, even going as far as providing photographs of the supposed victims.

As might be expected, the ministry of justice launched an immediate investigation, with the then minister visiting the scene of the alleged crimes. Of the supposed victims, some had died of natural causes in hospital, and others had miraculously risen from the dead. At least one returned from an extended stay in a neighbouring country for work, to find himself having been declared dead, by an international organisation. And HRW’s response the debacle? “We stand by our report.”

It did not occur to them to re-evaluate their processes, or recommit to properly honour the agreement they had signed. Preposterous claim followed even more absurd ones, until eventually the Rwandan authorities had had enough, and scrapped the agreement with HRW. Their decision has been vindicated by the fact that if anything, the organisation’s claims against the country have got more outlandish with each report or statement.

The anti Rwanda attacks are by now old hat. They tend to intensify round about major events in the country, an international conference, the annual Kwibuka or remembrance period, and now of course, national elections.

In a long essay, which can be found online, The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda, former United States of America (USA) diplomat, Richard Johnson, concluded that “what Human Rights Watch does on Rwanda, is not human rights advocacy. It is political advocacy, which has become profoundly unscrupulous in both its means and its ends.”

Every statement, report, even a comment, that comes from HRW, bears out everything in Johson’s paper. The latest hysterical outburst, as good an example as any.

The employee, Clementine de Montjoye, is, we are told, a senior researcher in the Africa division of HRW, and was travelling to Rwanda, for “meetings with officials from foreign embassies…” when she was refused entry.

No sooner had Rwanda immigration officers waved her good bye, than HRW issued one of their regular reports on Rwanda.

These reports are in essence, one and the same report. They are taken from an existing template, and updated as and when HRW has a new anti Rwanda claim, or complaint. Beyond that there is really never anything new in them.

Lurid claims of torture, murder, “enforced disappearances” are repeated ad nauseam, until they lose their meaning. If HRW is to be taken at its word, Rwanda, it seems, has been torturing, murdering, enforcibly disappearing the same individuals, over and over again, for the best of thirty years.

Reporting about itself, the organisation quotes its executive director, Tirana Hassan’s displeasure with the country.

Rwanda touts itself as an open and welcoming destination, but the treatment reserved for those who may investigate abuse exposes the government’s deep-seated hostility to human rights monitoring and independent scrutiny of any kind. The Rwanda authorities can demonstrate that their projected openness is not just a façade and allow de Montjoye to return to Rwanda and carry out her work without obstruction or interference.”

It would be interesting to know whether Ms Hassan was merely playing to the gallery, or if she really expected the Rwandan authorities to jump to her instructions. If passed experience of HRW’s attitude to Rwanda, is any guide, her objective is more likely to have been an attempt to damage Rwanda’s image, than to get them to change their mind. Had she really wished to properly engage with Rwanda, a less patronising tone would have better served her cause.

Then again, had HRW wanted to properly engage with Rwanda, they would not have seemingly done everything possible to abuse the privileged position that had been accorded to them.

As it is, the reply to Hassan’s statement, from the Office of the Government Spokesperson, when it eventually came, was more of a riposte than a response. In a wryly written but pointed statement, we learn more about the circumstances of the refusal of entry to de Montjoye.

A representative of Human Rights Watch (RHW) was refused entry to Rwanda after misrepresenting the purpose of her visit to the immigration officer. There has been no engagement between the government of Rwanda and HRW for many years and no agreement that permits HRW to operate in Rwanda…” ran the statement.

The statement which contradicts HRW’s claim that Rwandan authorities knew of their plans to visit the country, goes on to helpfully suggest to them that since their reports on Rwanda are inventions that have no bearing on reality, they need not go to the trouble of travelling to Rwanda, before writing them.

As HRW has consistently fabricated reports and distorted the reality of Rwanda, they can do so without forcing visits or being present in Rwanda.”

The denial of entry reflects the authorities’ intensifying assault on human rights, months ahead of the country’s 2024 general elections” the report shrieked, again quoting itself, in a bizarre non sequitur of a claim.

It is a statement made on no other reasoning than that it sounds damning. Normally, HRW at least concocts human rights abuses on which it then bases its claims. It now seems as if it cannot be bothered to do even that. It just plucks statements out of the ether, as long as they sound condemnatory. And they are of course, expected to be taken as gospel. It shows both breathtaking self reverence, alongside utter contempt for Rwanda.

There is an hysterical, scattergun approach to HRW’s report, ironically demonstrating the very fabrications the Rwanda statement levels at them. They lurch from demanding the end of the Rwanda-UK migration agreement, where the UK would send some migrants that arrive on their shores to Rwanda, to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to accusing the country of avoiding international scrutiny.

Rwandan authorities have long sought to block independent scrutiny and criticism, including by denying to a number of international journalists…”

The opposite is in fact true. Like any other country, Rwanda reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone it considers inimical to the national good. At any one given moment however, there are any number of international journalists in Rwanda, scores of them during international events, such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), two years ago. One journalist, known to be one of the country’s most egregious detractors, was denied entry at the time. It is to this one case out of so many who did cover the event, as well as any other stories they wished, that HRW refers.

But of course, as Richard Johnson notes in his paper, far from seeking to advocate for human rights in Rwanda, HRW has long waged a political campaign. Theirs is little more than a neo-colonial self appointed supervisory role, using human rights as leverage, to demand that the powerful nations of the world exert pressure on Rwanda, to allow HRW to direct the country on how it should conduct its affairs.

Rwanda’s decision shows why the international community needs to reboot its approach to Rwanda’s deteriorating human rights record…A government that blocks a leading human rights organisation’s staff is not likely to stop its repression of human rights without greater international pressure…”

In his paper, Richard Johnson suggests the pressure should be not on Rwanda, but rather on HRW.

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.”

HRW’s discourse on Rwanda over the past twenty years” he goes on to write, “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.” 

As Rwanda commemorates thirty years since the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi, is it time, as Richard Johnson suggests, for the international community to fire a shot across HRW’s bow, and publicly call upon it to cease and desist from a thirty year harrassment of the country?

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