Saturday, March 18, 2006

Charles Murigande dismissed as “the same old story” a US state department report critical of the central African state’s human rights record.

17 Mar 2006 13:49:00 GMT
Hirondelle News Agency, Arusha

Kigali, March 15th, 2006 (FH) -The Rwandan government on Tuesday dismissed as “the same old story” a US state department report critical of the central African state’s human rights record.

“Rwanda is not a static country. Many things have changed over the last few years but the authors of this report simply didn’t take any of these positive changes into account”, said Foreign Minister Charles Muligande.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week released the 2005 human rights practices report in Washington, DC. The report documents the state of human rights in numerous countries around the world.

On Rwanda, the report noted that while “there were some improvements” in 2005, the “government's human rights record remained poor and there were instances when the government committed serious abuses”.

“During the year security forces sometimes used arbitrary arrest and detention. Authorities detained numerous individuals either after they expressed viewpoints unacceptable to the government or because of their membership in religious organizations”, said the report.
The report also accused the government of interfering in the justice system, restricting freedoms of the press, speech, assembly and association.

“There were eight independent FM radio stations broadcasting during the year, but they primarily focused on music, not news”, said the report. It also said that journalists exercised self-censorship in fear of threats from state agents. Furthermore, said the report, several Rwandan journalists remain in self-imposed exile.

The Rwandan minister of information, Laurent Nkusi, rejected the charges saying that the problem in Rwanda was that of incompetent journalists and not government control.

On the content of radio programs, he said that “brave” radio stations had come out with critical news and the government had not stopped that in any way. Still, he added, “we can’t run their programs or ask them to put more news and less music”.

Foreign Minister Muligande challenged the authors of the state department to produce evidence of any meddling in the justice system by the state.

“Whenever I meet some of those people and we talk about these things, they say that they have a feeling that human rights are not being respected. They should produce evidence, we can’t simply act on feelings”, said Muligande.

Gacaca troubles

The report said that while killings genocide survivors linked with genocide trials were “significantly fewer” than the previous year, reports indicated that in 2005, “unidentified individuals killed approximately 15 witnesses to the genocide throughout the country to prevent testimony and undermine the rural community”. The government was credited with “actively” working to stop the killing of witnesses to the genocide.

Gacaca courts were set up over three years ago to speed up genocide trials and reconciliation. The courts are presided over by elected “persons of integrity”. There is over 12,000 Gacaca courts with about 160,000 judges. The judges are not required to have any formal legal training. They are given basic training in legal principles and Gacaca law before they start hearings.

Furthermore, the report highlighted “concerns that in practice, the Gacaca courts were unfair and did not accomplish the twin goals of justice and reconciliation”.

“The Gacaca process was generally considered to be more effective at providing justice than at fostering reconciliation, and it was not always perceived as fair. For example some Gacaca judges denied defendants the right to present witnesses and ordered the imprisonment of those who questioned the impartiality of Gacaca judges”, said the report.

The report however noted that “most observers agreed in principle with the need for Gacaca courts” considering “the heavy volume of genocide-related cases, which the government estimated would take 100 years to resolve in the conventional court system”.


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