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Africa

Verdict again postponed in Rwandan genocide denial case

Rwandan opposition members are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the trial of Victoire Ingabire.

In early 2010, Rwandan opposition politician Victoire Ingabire returned to her home country after spending 16 years in exile in the Netherlands. She wanted to run in the presidential election as the candidate for the United Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi). But the government of President Paul Kagame refused to allow her party, and two other leading opposition parties, to participate in the election.

Victoire Ingabire sith shaven head in court (PHoto:Shant Fabricatorian/AP/dapd)

The sentencing of Victoire Ingabire has already been postponed twice

A few months after her arrival in Rwanda, Ingabire was arrested. Paul Kagame was re-elected president with 93 percent of the votes cast.

Kagame regards Ingabire as a danger to national unity, mainly because of controversial statements she made referring to the 1994 genocide. Since her arrest in 2010, she has been in prison several times. The verdict against her was due to be announced on October 19, 2012, after several postponements. A new date has been set for October 30, 2012. The former deputy leader of FDU-Inkingi, Eugene Ndahhyo, expects a guilty verdict. “We're dealing with the repressive machinery of the ruling party, the FPR, which rules with terror,” he said. “They chase members of the opposition out of the country and the government has huge financial resources to sabotage the opposition.” As a result, many members of the opposition live in exile.

Ndahhyo is one of them. From his base in France, he told DW, “We are in touch with party members who live in Rwanda, but everything is done in secret as we don't want to endanger them,” he said. Opposition members living in Rwanda risk being "arrested, intimidated or killed and live in great fear.”

Difficult past

The Rwandan government fights everything it regards as a danger to the country's stability. That is, above all, because of the country's painful past. The 1994 genocide perpetrated by members of the Hutu majority cost an estimated one million lives. Most of the victims belonged to the minority Tutsi. The killing only came to an end after 100 days, following the intervention of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Paul Kagame. Six years later Kagame was elected president. He has ruled since then with an iron fist.

Victoire Ingabire is seen as a threat to national stability because she called for Hutu war victims also to be commemorated and for a legal process to be instigated that would examine their fate.

The charges against her are based on this so-called genocide denial.

A traditional gacaca communal court photostream/

Traditional gacaca courts were set up to promote post-genocide healing

She is also accused of providing financial support for the Hutu rebel group “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda”, endangering national security and inciting opposition to the state. State prosecutors have called for a life sentence.

Political opposition ‘not possible'

Ingabire is not the only member of the opposition in prison. Deo Mushayidi is also behind bars. He founded an opposition party “People's Defense Pact” in Belgium. In 2010 he was arrested while travelling to Burundi and taken directly to Rwanda. He was accused of planning a coup, disseminating hate propaganda and using forged documents. He received a life sentence.

Bernard Ntaganda was sentenced to four years for endangering national peace, promoting ethnic divisionism and attempting to organize a demonstration that had not been approved by the government. Like Victoire Ingabire, he had also wanted to run against Paul Kagame in the 2010 elections.

Gerd Hankel from the Hamburg Institute for Social Research has been monitoring Rwanda, and President Kagame's treatment of the opposition, for some time. He says the government ignores basic rights such as the freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. He also expects a harsh verdict for Victoire Ingabire. “The draconian prison sentences that are handed down generally are proof that political opposition which deserves the name is not possible in Rwanda,” Hankel told DW.

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