Today the Rwanda Civil Society Platform published a position paper entitled: The Rwandan Civil Society Platform’s Position on the current Human Rights Watch Reports on Rwanda. You can download a copy here.
However, I am afraid this initiative might appear reactionary and amateurish for the following reasons;
- It is outdated: what has lately been a vested intercourse, namely the ‘bias of HRW on Rwanda’, is now water under the bridge; we have moved on;
- The position appears to be backed by little or no research, in comparison to:
- The Op-ed/reaction of the Rwandan Ministry of Justice in the Newtimes on the same topic here
- The Op-ed of Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe here; and
- The book by Richard Johnson: ‘The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda’ Here
- I think it is not its place as the Rwanda Civil Society Platform to take such positions, especially, when they are adding no value.
My understanding of the role of the platform is to ensure that human rights for all, including for suspected terrorists are respected and that human rights organizations from all over the world find a favorable working environment in Rwanda.
It is increasingly being established that one organization in particular (HRW) is biased towards Rwanda. That is a pity…
However, the government of Rwanda, through its spokesperson, the Ministry of Justice and other representatives are doing a great job to point that out.
Independent individuals, such as Stephen Kinzer and Dick Johnson are also making sound and credible publications to expose that.
In other words, everybody is doing their job!
The Rwanda Civil Society Platform, on the other hand, should have made a more ‘accurate’, or at least on-the-ground position on the allegations made earlier by Human Rights Watch and, now believed by many western governments, on the famous ‘forced disappearances’. Which started the debates.
That is what, as a human rights activist, I expected from you. Apart from the police and government’s responses, what is the Rwandan civil society’s assessment on the matter?
– Did you speak to these suspects?
– Were they indeed disappeared?
– Are they treated well? Have they been tortured? etc.
After that, feel free to come out and make a position paper saying: hey, Human Rights Watch is lying: we met the prisoners, they are in good conditions; they were arrested in respect of the law, and now we call the government of Rwanda to uphold due process of the law and swiftly present them before a judge.
That is news. That is what human rights organizations do. Otherwise, what you have done here is first of all substandard, compared to other publications on the matter, and simply redundant.
If I was a journalist running a story on the alleged forced disappearances: I would call in a representative of government, who would give me the government’s version? And then, who do I call in next, to give me an independent version? Who has the civil society’s version on the matter? I have to say its HRW!
The position of the platform is: ‘We would like to strongly request the government to always ensure strict respect of the law in terms of arresting and detaining any person suspect of engaging with negative forces that are currently working to destabilize the security of the country and well being of the people.’
This is not a recommendation to the government. This is a threat and a warning to all negative forces out there: did you hear us? We will arrest and detain you! But wait a minute: this is a message of the Army Chief of Staff! Are you sure it is coming from an NGO?
People should not blame HRW, they should blame RCSP; Thanks to you, we all prefer to read HRW publications instead of yours. Even when they could be sensational or disingenuous, at least they have the merit of being original.
As for your publications; we get better versions from the government’s spokespersons.
I raised these issues in private with the Chairperson of the Platform. He did not seem to grasp the intricacies of an otherwise simple concept: do your job!
I am posting this now, because I want other people to join the debate, and help me explain to him. Read the paper here and comment below.
The best way to fight biased reporting on Rwanda, is to strengthen our own civil society and media. We can’t spend our time writing rebuttals. If the RCSP had done its job, HRW would have had nothing to publish, or at least publish a story that is led by local expertise and accuracy.
Allegations that there is no freedom of expression in Rwanda; that everyone, including the civil society, toes the line of the government, are reinforced by such position papers; which, I am ready to bet, the government did not even ask for!
Why? Because they have their own team of ‘researchers’ who write rebuttals and confront criticism! How about you let them worry about their critics and find your niche, somewhere…
Right now you are not serving the interests of Rwandan people. At least not my interests as a Rwandan citizen. Which in fact are to hold the Rwandan government accountable on my behalf.
From the look of things, I am afraid that, God forbid, if I was to be detained, HRW would report it. You, the Rwandan civil society, would not! And that is a shame…
Posted 12th June 2014