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My story proves Rwanda’s lack of respect for good governance and human rights | Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza

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If Rwanda had hosted the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which has been cancelled for the second time due to Covid-19, the UK was due to hand the country the Commonwealth chair.

Rwanda would have held the responsibility for defending what the Commonwealth stands for – despite violating those same values for decades. When Rwanda was admitted as a member in 2009, I had hoped our government would apply Commonwealth values in its governance. But this did not happen.

In January 2010, I made the decision to leave my family and career in the Netherlands and return to my beloved Rwanda. I intended to register my party, the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda (UDF-Inkingi), and to contest the 2010 presidential elections.

But the Rwandan government does not tolerate dissenting voices. I was arrested and dragged into politically motivated judicial proceedings. After I was sentenced to eight years in jail by the high court, I appealed to the supreme court and the sentence was increased to 15 years. The African Court on Human and People’s Rights cleared me and held that Rwanda had violated my rights to freedom of expression as well as to adequate defence. After eight years’ imprisonment, I was released under presidential grace in 2018.

I spent five years in solitary detention, during which time I wrote a book, Between 4 walls of the 1930 prison: memoirs of a Rwandan prisoner of conscience. In it, I recount the three years between announcing my presidential candidacy to my incarceration in the infamous “1930” maximum security prison. I dedicated my book primarily to all who are engaged in the struggle for democracy in Rwanda, with a special thought for the vice-president of the Democratic Green Party, André Kagwa Rwisereka, who was murdered in 2010 and the former head of intelligence, Patrick Karegeya, who was murdered in 2013.

The more injustice that I and my fellow citizens have endured – including the killing of my close political aides – the more motivated I am to fight for democracy in Rwanda. On my release, I launched the political party Dalfa Umurinzi with a mission to strive for the rule of law and for sustainable development benefiting every Rwandan. Although the constitution provides me with the right to organise a general assembly, I’m not permitted to register my political party or be approved to operate.

In 2019, I received an international award from the Association for Human Rights of Spain (APDHE). I couldn’t travel to Spain to collect the prize because I had no right to leave Rwanda without permission from the justice minister. Two requests to do so have received no response from the authorities. I have not seen my family in the Netherlands for more than 10 years.

There is a pattern of limiting political participation to those affiliated to the ruling party and excluding serious contenders in Rwanda’s presidential elections. This is done by fabricating charges and abusing the judicial system. These acts represent a violation of Commonwealth core principles.

They also challenge the claim often advanced by the ruling circle in Rwanda that the established political system is based on power-sharing consensus democracy with the intent of overcoming ethnic divisions and accelerating development.

Rwanda’s oft-repeated development success story is flawed. In 2006, 72% of Rwanda’s debt was written off under the IMF and World Bank’s heavily indebted poor countries initiative, while Rwanda received more overseas development assistance than countries with similar incomes – a total of $17bn (£11bn) from 2000 to 2019.

Despite this, Rwanda remains one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 160th out of 189 countries in the UN Human Development Index of 2019. The government’s 2000 development agenda, which aimed to transform Rwanda into a middle-income economy by 2020, has not succeeded and delivery has been postponed to 2035.

Although economic growth has been high in Rwanda, it is characterised by low per capita income, low private investment, low exports and high reliance on aid. Since 2012, Rwanda’s borrowing has intensified, increasing indebtedness to 66% of GDP in 2020.

The main economic challenges include an undeveloped private sector, increasing unproductive indebtedness, high youth unemployment and a consistently high poverty rate, as well as a population happiness deficit.

Rwanda’s alleged role in regional political tensions has also prevented economic development. Reconciliation policies, implemented after the civil war and the 1994 genocide, are not inclusive. They weaken the social capital that is needed for our population to trust each other and work together efficiently. The repression of dissenting voices has encouraged Rwanda’s citizens to abstain from participating in social, economic and political decisions.

Prior to Covid-19, Rwanda had a cash gap of 15.7% of GDP a year to meet its sustainable development goals by 2030. This has increased to 21.3% of GDP per year. Given that its government was provided with significant financial assistance to support its development plan to transform Rwanda into a middle-income state over the past two decades, and has not succeeded, I would argue that any further financing must be accompanied by radical governance reforms. Current governance in Rwanda – that limits political space, lacks separation of power, impedes freedom of expression and represses critics of the government – cannot lead to sustainable development.

I believe I made the right decision to return to Rwanda. My story, and those of others who have been harassed, jailed, forced into exile or worse for challenging the government, are tangible evidence of a lack of respect for human rights and of good governance, and are violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values. Governance reforms should be a prerequisite before Rwanda hosts the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting and takes over the chair.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is president of the Dalfa Umurinzi political party, Rwanda

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.



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Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development

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Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.

The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.

Doreen Kajuju Kimathi
Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, who now volunteers for a widows’ support group. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.

“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”

Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.

While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.

For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.

But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.

The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.

Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization.
Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization. Photograph: Courtesy of CTWOO

The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.

Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.

Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa logo
Grassroots groups are emerging to build awareness of widows’ rights. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.

“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.

Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.

But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.

“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

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Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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