Dear Editor of Israeli newspaper, dear human rights and refugee activist, dear asylum-seeker.

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For the last couple of months I have been reading Israeli media with interest because my country Rwanda has been coming up at several occasions. Unfortunately, I am troubled by the image that I see painted of the country, the government, but mainly the Rwandan people.

Our country is portrayed as a terrible place to be deported to; our government as a dictatorship that tortures, extorts and deports asylum-seekers; and Rwandans, an insensitive people that would only accept to welcome African brethren in return for aid or pay-offs from Israel.

Here are the incorrect assertions circulating in the media:

  1. Israel (allegedly) lobbied the UN to vote for the term ‘Genocide against the Tutsis’ to replace ‘Rwandan genocide’

The term was established by a Judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), followed by a unanimous Resolution of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to that effect: ‘Resolution 2150 of 16 April 2014, adding to the ICTR Judicial Notice of 15 June 2006 & the Akayesu Judgement of 2 September 98; Confirming the ‘Genocide against the Tutsi’here is the link: https://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11356.doc.htm

  • The resolution was voted by the Security Council of which Israel has never been a member.
  • This was done in April 2014, four years before the asylum-seekers’ discussion emerged.

What occurred recently is: The United Nations General Assembly (not Israel) amended the title of 7th April from ‘International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda’ to: ‘International Day of Reflection on 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda’ – in accordance with the above mentioned court decision and UNSC Resolution.

  1. Israel paid Rwanda to receive asylum seekers, and Rwanda tortures and deports refugees:

Both the Rwandan and Israeli governments have denied any deal of payouts in return for receiving asylum-seekers. That is not who we Rwandans are; for instance, when the news broke that Africans were being sold as slaves in Libya, Rwanda was among the first countries to welcome them and offer to send aircraft to transport them from Libya to third African countries that were willing to take them.

It wouldn’t make sense to offer help to refugees, so that Rwanda can re-deport them, nor did the Libyan government need to pay Rwanda to do that.

The Rwandan government sends troops in peacekeeping missions across Africa and Americas and it has sent several humanitarian and rescue missions in times of disaster in its neighboring countries.

Two years ago, Rwanda was the first country to issue visa upon arrival to all Africans and since January this year, Rwanda is the only country to remove visa application to all citizens of the world; that is: every person from anywhere in the world can decide to come to Rwanda at any time; this, in spite of the fact that, other than Israel’s peculiar geographical location, Rwanda’s location is arguably as risky, facing as entrenched, historical and intractable security and existential threats for its people.

  1. Rwanda is a terrible place to be deported to:

This letter isn’t another tourism prospectus, for the issues it addresses are far remote from leisure, but I am compelled to share a few links: Rwanda was 11th out of 18 countries on CNN travel list 2018, 9th safest country in the world in 2017 according to the World Economic Forum, which also declares Rwanda among the best places in the world to be a woman. On the economic front, Rwanda remains a poor country, but according to the World Bank it is the second easiest place to do business in Africa and 56th globally.

On a human front, which I believe is most important, Rwanda has not had a single case of xenophobia in the past 25 years, for the simple reason that we have all just came in from other countries, took up different cultures, married there and speak various foreign languages. Rwanda is home to 180.000 refugees as of 2017. However, those are the refugees in camps, registered with UNHCR. Foreign nationals in general, including permanent residents are over a million people, which makes up ten percent of our entire population.

But I write this letter with no illusions; I am aware that it is not the truth that is sought for, but headlines with an anti-African narrative:

All reporting on this matter deny the obvious: They deny Africans the capacity to have goodwill. Commentators contend that we, Rwandans require payment from a western country to welcome Sudanese and Eritreans in their own continent. They refuse to conceive that Africans can flee from persecution in the west to pursue happiness on the African continent. In other words: they refuse to see that the world has changed.

For instance, I find it rather curious that since it recently emerged that the African Refugees will now be deported to Canada and Europe, no one suggested that Israel may have paid any of these countries or that the refugees will face xenophobia, torture or deportation. Yet, there are documented cases of all three in those western countries and none in Rwanda…

Just a bit of context, Rwanda’s recent history of discrimination and genocide makes its people very sensitive to the plight of others. A segment of Rwandans were prevented from returning to their home country for thirty years, because the government of the time claimed that the country was too small. During that period Rwandans were refugees in the African Great Lakes region and across the world, and its citizen are very familiar with the suffering of asylum-seekers, having experienced it themselves. An attitude I wish all people had…

Now, I am not without knowledge of the struggle of Israel to remain a Jewish state, and a state in which the Jewish people remain a majority and it is not my place to comment. That said, I support the fight of asylum-seekers to want to stay on Israeli soil, which is their human rights, protected by international law.

I will not try to tell other societies how to live; whom to welcome and whom to exclude. I am just reminding Israeli media and some politicians that what they are reporting on Rwanda is called ‘Accusation in Mirror’, a concept we are both very familiar with…

Sincerely.

Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza,

Human Rights Lawyer, Rwandan Bar-Association;

Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR)

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