When President Paul Kagame has a problem, he often looks west for solutions. When his poverty-stricken country needed cash, he asked Western countries for handouts, and continues to receive them. When he needed to restructure Rwanda’s economy, he modelled it – quite successfully – on the technology-centric economies of Britain and the USA. When he wanted Rwanda to integrate more closely with the international community, he made the country learn English.
Eventually, he found himself looking west so much that he asked Tony Blair for a handful of seasoned political advisors, stationed in the Rwandan president’s office under the aegis of Blair’s African Governance Initiative.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when Kagame needed a way to deal with troublesome political opposition, he looked west – and saw an admirably efficient model in America’s “extraordinary rendition” program, which in its heyday combined a global network of secret prisons, a parallel and completely unaccountable judicial system, torture and detention without charge. This was how America (Land of the Free and Home of the Brave) chose to deliver justice in the War on Terror, and Kagame can hardly be blamed for implementing the same system in his own country; especially when he’s receiving advice from Blair, one of the major facilitators of extraordinary rendition while he was British prime minister.
The details of Kagame’s own parallel detention program were outlined in an Amnesty report released Monday. “Scores of people are held in detention in military camps and the safeguards which protect detainees in police stations and other official places of detention are circumvented. Hidden from view, detainees have been unlawfully detained as well as reportedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated.”
The report goes on to detail a number of specific cases where suspects were summarily detained without charge; tortured into making false confessions; and where suspects’ families were not informed of their detention. In total, Amnesty documented 45 cases of illegal detention and 18 allegations of torture or ill-treatment, although the rights group was at pains to clarify that it suspected the numbers involved to be higher.
Somewhat ironically, even though Rwanda’s network of secret military prisons and unlawful detention mirrors those established by the United States and supported by Britain, the Amnesty report could force both those countries to scale back their relationship with Rwanda.
“The report is the latest blow to the Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s battered reputation following allegations of persecuting opponents, gagging media and arming rebels in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. International donors have partially suspended aid but Britain in particular is under mounting pressure to go further,” wrote David Smith in The Guardian.
Rwanda, naturally, denies these allegations. “There is no torture in our country and we can’t investigate on a false allegation,” said Alphonse Hitiyaremye, Rwanda’s deputy prosecutor general. Meanwhile on Twitter, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo went on the attack: “Rwanda will act on all credible claims of torture but won’t engage in a shouting match w/another NGO seeking headlines at Rwanda’s expense.”
Rwanda and international NGOs don’t get along at the best of times; in a recent Time magazine cover story, Kagame lamented that his country’s image was determined entirely by Human Rights Watch reports (an exaggeration, but one perhaps indicative of his persecution complex).
If he really is that worried about Rwanda’s image, however, a simple solution presents itself: stop abusing human rights. Without Kagame and his government’s well-documented stifling of free press, intimidation of opposition, illicit support for rebels in the DRC and now establishment of a secret and illegal detention system, there would be very little for human rights groups to write reports about, and Kagame might well start getting more credit for the things he’s doing well, especially in terms of the thriving economy.
That’s the advice Tony Blair should be giving to Kagame – and should have given to George W Bush a decade ago. DM
Photo: Rwanda’s Paul Kagame (REUTERS)
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