Honourable John Kerry
US Secretary of State
October 12, 2016
Dear Secretary of State
We are very pleased to learn that you will be visiting Rwanda from October 13-14, 2016 to attend a meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol. Even though it is not a state visit to Rwanda, we have no doubt that the Rwandan authorities and particularly President Kagame will be desperate to have a meeting with you as a public relations exercise. He would be dreaming of a meeting with a very high US Government like yourself in order to show to the Rwandan citizens and the world that he can still do business with the United States despite changing the Constitution, allowing himself a third term in 2017 and potentially staying in power till 2034.
The political platform composed of political organisations Amahoro PC, FDU – Inkingi, PDP – Imanzi, PS –Imberakuri and Rwanda National Congress‐ RNC, would like to hail once again the position of your government, pointing out its disappointment over the loss of opportunity by the Rwandan regime to transfer power peacefully, something Rwanda has lacked since the social revolution of 1959. We hope that if, for one reason or another, you have to meet President Kagame, to please make your position clear to him in private or publicly in Rwanda. This is yet another opportunity for the US to show its leadership in championing democracy and human rights.
As you rightly pointed out, the change of Constitution to suit the political ambitions of one man is bad for the future stability of the country and for its economy. Indeed President Barack Obama while addressing African leaders in August 2014 rightly pointed out that “When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife” and you rightly highlighted in your address in September 2015, on the occasion of the Human Rights day, that “only democracy allows a country to benefit from the full energy and talent of its citizens, and from the progress and innovation that the unconstrained flow of ideas can create”.
Rwanda is considered by Freedom house report 2015, as a no free country, Reporters without borders report 2015 rank Rwandan among the bottom 20 countries out of 180 countries where there is no freedom of expression, behind Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, even behind South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone which have known devastating wars as well as behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. World happiness report 2015, puts Rwandan people among the bottom five alongside with Burundi, Benin, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo with unhappy people.
The USA Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 states among other things:
“The most important human rights problems in the country were government harassment, arrest, and abuse of political opponents, human rights advocates, and individuals perceived to pose a threat to government control and social order; security forces’ disregard for the rule of law; and restrictions on civil liberties. Due to restrictions on the registration and operation of opposition parties, citizens did not have the ability to change their government through free and fair elections.
Other major human rights problems reported included arbitrary or unlawful killings; torture and harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest; prolonged pretrial detention; government infringement on citizens’ privacy rights and on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association; the alleged recruitment of Burundian-origin refugees, including possibly some children, to serve in armed groups in Burundi; government restrictions on and harassment of some local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly organizations that monitored and reported on human rights; and a small number of reports of trafficking in persons, government restrictions on labor rights, and child labor”.
We agree with the Special Rapporteur of the UN General Assembly, Mr Maina, that: “the fear of a new genocide cannot be invoked to impede fundamental freedoms in any society, which in fact are necessary to prevent conflicts and genocide”, stressing that “a society without room for critical voices to speak freely and peacefully is unsustainable”.
We are very pleased that the European Parliament resolution on Rwanda, the case of Victoire Ingabire (2016/2910 RSP), passed on October 6, 2016 “…Strongly condemns politically motivated trials, the prosecution of political opponents and the prejudging of the outcome of the trial; urges the Government of Rwanda to extend economic and social achievements to the field of human rights in order to fully move towards a modern and inclusive democracy; urges the Rwandan authorities to ensure that Victoire Ingabire’s appeal process is fair and meets the standards set under Rwandan and international law; underlines that trials and the charges brought against accused persons cannot be based on vague and imprecise laws, and the misuse thereof, as is occurring in the case of Victoire Ingabire;
Expresses its deep concerns at the Rwandan Supreme Court’s denial of appeal and judgement sentencing Victoire Ingabire to 15 years’ imprisonment and at the worsening conditions of her detention; believes that the appeal process conducted in Rwanda did not meet international standards, including Ms Ingabire’s right to presumption of innocence;
Reminds the Rwandan authorities that the EU has raised its concerns regarding respect for human rights and the right to a fair trial within the official political dialogue with Rwanda under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement; calls for a prompt and impartial review of Ms Ingabire’s case, based on facts, in accordance with the law and without any restrictions, improper influences, pressures or threats; calls for Victoire Ingabire’s rights, including her access to legal representation and adequate food and treatment, to be upheld in prison…”
We earnestly request your government to use its political, diplomatic and financial leverage to stop President Kagame from pushing the country over the edge by refusing to transfer power peacefully in 2017. We request in particular that Paul Kagame take the following measures without any further delay:
- open the political space,
- release all political prisoners including Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Deo Mushayidi and all prisoners of conscience languishing in prison
- accept dialogue between the government and the opposition.
Jean Damascene Munyampeta
Chair of the Platform
+32. 488 96 37 65.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
US Department of State
Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa
HE Erica J. Barks-Ruggles
Ambassador of the United States to Rwanda