The Foreign Minister of Rwanda accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of having a racial bias and of being little more than a tool for Western countries "to manipulate African politics." Louise Mushikiwabo made these claims in an exclusive interview with Tim Sebastian on DW's Conflict Zone.
“Who would not support international justice? But the practice is that the lighter skin you are, the less guilty you are," Mushikiwabo told Sebastian.
Rwanda has been under intense international pressure by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US State Department and Reporters without Borders amid claims of human rights abuses and journalists being jailed. Outside observers also expressed concern that Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, may amend the constitution in order to serve a controversial third term.
Going after opposition members and journalists
On Conflict Zone, Mushikiwabo dismissed allegations by HRW that Rwanda, two decades after the end of the genocide, still severely violates human rights. In 1994, a rebel group led by Kagame put an end to the genocide that left 800,000 people dead. Since then, Kagame regained control of Rwanda, boosted its economy and education - and refuses to tolerate an opposition. All that at the cost of human rights?
"The government continues to impose severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association and does not tolerate dissent. Political space is extremely limited and independent civil society and media remain weak. Real or suspected opponents inside and outside the country continue to be targeted," according to a HRW report.
Mushikiwabo denied the report's authority: "I don’t recognize Human Rights Watch as a measurement of progress in Rwanda."
In April 2015, Cassien Ntamuhanga, director of the Christian radio station "Amazing Grace", was sentenced to 25 years in jail for alleged ties with an opposition party. Steven Feldstein of the US State Department also expressed "deep concerns" about the disappearance of Rwandan citizens and the threat to a number of journalists.
"These cases are used in a way that would have to fit a certain narrative about Rwanda," Mushikiwabo said. Reporters without Borders, the non-profit organization that picked up on several of these reports would be "out of business" if they stopped producing these stories,” she added.
A democracy at risk?
The Foreign Minister also endorsed a potential third term for President Kagame and expressed hope that he will run for another term in 2017. This despite controversy about "third-termism” in Africa and a required amendment of Rwanda’s constitution.
In his recent speech in front of the African Union, US President Obama expressed great concern about this trend: "Africa's democratic progress is also at risk from leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end."
Mushikiwabo’s denied this on Conflict Zone: "President Obama or anybody else are free to say what they want. The decision is by the Rwandan people. They are the ones who know who should govern them and speak.”
Tim Sebastian: And you think that impunity for all your leaders and staying in office year after year is serving the interest of justice?
Louise Mushikiwabo: "Is [it] a crime to stay in office? Is that a crime? Under which court?
Louise Mushikiwabo became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Paul Kagame's government in 2009. She simultaneously serves as Government Spokesperson. Born and raised in Kigali, Mushikiwabo studied at the National University of Rwanda and the University of Delaware. Aside from politics, she is also a public speaker and public relations consultant.
Is Rwanda choosing impunity over international justice? Watch the full interview now.