Ruth Wedgwood on Rwanda’s Faux Democracy

Ruth Wedgwood on Rwanda’s Faux Democracy

Hell must have had central air conditioning installed, because I find myself in complete agreement with Ruth Wedgwood’s recent post at EJIL: Talk! on Paul Kagame’s rapid descent into authoritarianism.  Here is a snippet:

The West’s failure to address Tutsi violations of the laws of war has allowed Kagame to conclude, justifiably, that he can do nearly anything with impunity. He certainly hasn’t been intimidated by the observation of the U.N. Human Rights Committee in May 2009 that it was “concerned at the large number of persons, including women and children, reported to have been killed from 1994 onwards in the course of operations by the Rwanda Patriotic Army, and at the limited number of cases reported to have resulted in prosecution and punishment by the Rwandan courts.”

Nor has there been any penalty for Kagame’s destructive expedition into the Eastern Congo. The cross-border intervention gave the regime access to minerals ripe for extraction and valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Millions of civilians have been killed in the Eastern Congo conflict, and while Kagame was not the only culprit, his troops hardly quelled the violence.

At the same time, Kagame’s domestic critics have met with unfortunate fates. An outspoken political rival was recently shot and wounded in South Africa. A prominent newspaper editor was gunned down at the end of June, and the deputy president of the Democratic Green party was decapitated in July. Public meetings of rival parties have been banned. Kagame felt audacious enough to jail and threaten a 10-20 year sentence against an American lawyer and law professor—who hails from former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s alma mater in Minnesota—when he went to Rwanda to consult with one of Kagame’s political rivals.

Wedgwood’s post was written before the recent elections.  As she predicted, Kagame was elected by a majority — 93% — that “will impress even the modern grand viziers of Central Asia.”  (Side note: I love modern journalism, in which even the most obvious truths have to be qualified by attributing them to one side or another.  The Reuters article linked to above contains the following delicious quote: “Critics said the campaign playing field was uneven, with three would-be opposition candidates prevented from registering to contest the ballot.”  Critics said?  Does anyone other than Kagame believe that a campaign playing field can be even when opposition candidates are not allowed to participate in the process?)

Wedgwood discusses numerous other aspects of Kagame’s despotic reign, such as his invasions of the Congo, the murder of political opponents, the imprisonment of Peter Erlinder on charges of genocide denial (defined as representing a defendant accused by the ICTR of committing genocide), the sham that is gacaca, and the appointment of an indicted war criminal to Rwanda’s peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Wedgwood concludes by arguing that “the Obama team ought to take a close and critical look at its erstwhile friend in Africa,” because “[h]e is not what he seems.”  No, he isn’t.

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Africa, Foreign Relations Law, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, National Security Law, Organizations
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Stephanie Barbour
Stephanie Barbour

I share the sentinment, Kevin. Always surprised if I agree with Ruth Wedgood, but in fact it’s not the first time and it just goes to show you can be a human rights advocate in many ways…

Now I’m heading over to read more about the sham of gacaca.


The ‘sham of Gacaca’? Could you think of any other system which would try hundreds of thousands of murderers without freezing up the judiciary?  And would this uncompromising bloody dictator be the same man who a few years afo freed tens of thousands of convicted genocidaires and let them go back to their communities before they had even served their time?
As for Erlinder, the legal rights and wrongs of his prosecution are open to debate but the idea that he was prosecuted merely for defending genocide suspects at the ICTR is absurd. Read the court judgement- the Rwandan government drew on his academic writings and public statements to bring the case against him. Funny how holocaust denial is generally accepted, but genocide denial in Rwanda is some kind of despotic, evil thing.

Dov Jacobs

because “[h]e is not what he seems.”  No, he isn’t. The problem is that Kagame is EXACTLY what he seems. He was a ruthless warlord, and is a ruthless politician. As I’ve repeatedly said on my blog when discussing Rwanda (here and here for example), I remain perplexed at the leeway given to the Kagame regime in western circles. In France for example, there is a strong Tutsi diaspora that monopolises the discussion and resists any debate. The 1994 genocide cannot be a wall behind which the regime hides forever to avoid criticism, in the same way that jews should not use the Holocaust card against (genuine) critics of Israel. The debate about Erlinder is a little complicated. I’m not familiar with all his statements, but I’ve kind of understood that beyond his legitimate actions as a defense lawyer, he has come out with strong bordeline statements about what happened in 1994. More generally, one can’t deny beyond this case, that Kagame has been instrumentalising this law to attack opponents. The balance is certainly difficult to achieve between freedom of expression and civil peace, but taking sides is not necessarily very helpful… As for the Gacaca, the process is certainly… Read more »