Friday, November 26th, 2010, on an unusual cold day (0 degree Celsius), a group of supporters of democracy and justice from the Great Lakes region, particularly from Rwanda and their friends from other countries of Europe gathered in front of the Department for International Department (DfID) in London. Some came from Belgium to support their colleagues in UK to raise awareness on issues related to the ongoing repressive situation in Rwanda. I would call the Belgian group The Professionals because of the way they transformed the outlook and impact of the demonstration after their arrival. One of the protesters had travelled from the Republic of Ireland. Another potential participant from Manchester only arrived to London long after the event had ended because of problems of transport he encountered.
A participant to the protest was interviewed by BBC World Service in its Kinyarwanda language (Gahuzamiryango Programme). She explained the reason the group had gathered at DfID. The focus was on the lives of oppressed millions Rwandans and memory of those killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as documented by the UN Mapping Report which was published on October 1st. Two of the protesters had their father imprisoned in Rwanda since 1994. Despite harsh conditions of life in prison, he had survived until today while tens of thousands had fallen victims of ill treatment, disappeared, been enslaved in mining fields of Eastern Congo, or died in the process of recycling the prison population where some have to give room to unstopping queues of waiting candidates to incarceration.
At the end of the demonstration an open letter of which a copy is reproduced below was signed by all participants then handed to a representative of DfID. The group of protesters were highly looking forward to December 6th and 7th when Paul Kagame will be visiting Brussels. They expected to let him know their feelings about his oppressive regime. January 16th, 2011 was another milestone they were geared to as it would be the first anniversary of Ms Victoire Ingabire’s return to Rwanda. As she is, among many in the exiled Rwandan community, considered as an icon of courage, hope for reconciliation and democracy in their home country, they were mobilising Rwandans around the world to come out in big number on that day to tell the international community how urgent was change needed in Rwanda.
Copy of open letter to DfID
November 26th, 2010
Open Letter to The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP
Secretary of State for International Development
1 Palace Street
Call for immediate release of Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and other political prisoners, and a stop to impunity of Rwandan leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide
On this day of November 26th, 2010, we supporters of democracy and justice from the Great Lakes region, particularly from Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, living in the UK, and friends from different European countries are gathered in front of the Department for International Department in London, to call upon your government to use its financial leverage to put pressure on the Rwandan regime led by President Paul Kagame. We request an immediate and unconditional release of Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Chair of FDU-Inkingi opposition party, freedom for all other Rwandan political prisoners, and prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and apparent acts of genocide committed in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was arrested and immediately incarcerated on October 14th. She continues to be detained in inhuman and humiliating conditions, paraded handcuffed each time she is brought into court hearing. The alleged crimes are seemingly politically motivated charges of forming a terrorist organization (Coalition of Democratic Forces as an alleged military wing of FDU-Inkingi). Ms Victoire Ingabire denies the accusations and has pleaded all along not guilty explaining that she was only being imprisoned for her persistent differing views on Paul Kagame’s government policies.
The UN Mapping report on crimes committed in Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003, which was released on October 1st, 2010, provides detailed evidence of atrocities including acts which could be qualified as genocide in front of a court, and of which Paul Kagame forces are responsible. The Rwandan government, conscious of the seriousness accusations in the UN report has been on the offensive to distract the international community and its partners by mounting monstrous allegations against Ms Victoire Ingabire which could not stand before an independent judiciary.
We consider that UK government has committed to support Rwanda at a high cost and without any value for money of what British citizens are giving away in terms of their taxes. This allocation has been so far distributed to Kagame’s government without questioning its records particularly on human rights grounds. At the time when Britain and British people are living under drastic budget cuts in different areas of their welfare, it should objectively be the moment to use the financial leverage the country has to put strict and new conditions on UK assistance to Rwanda.
Your government can help Rwandans take a commitment to make sure there is peaceful competition for and transfers of power between the political elites. Justice is needed for the country to achieve genuine reconciliation and sustainable development. To have long-lasting peace in Rwanda, there is a strong need of creating political space that enables a concerted and agreed transparent process of transfer and competition for power. In that line, we additionally call for a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and a Rwandan National Dialogue.
Prevailing situation in Rwanda demands a complete change of UK policy towards Kigali. Not reviewing current approach, and particularly using existing leverage of the millions of pounds of aid committed to the Rwandan government for several years, would be considered as a breach of trust between the British government and its taxpayers. This would as well look as a sign of deplorable indifference with regrettable consequences for the millions of Rwandan victims of institutionalized injustices.