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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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Russia further tightens EU gas supplies

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Russian firm Gazprom has booked just one third of offered additional gas-transit capacity via the Yamal-Europe pipeline via Poland for November and not booked any volumes via Ukraine, Reuters reports. The tightening of the supplies amid a crunch in world energy markets was “blackmailing Europe in order to obtain Nord-Stream 2 certification”, Yuriy Vitrenko, the head of Ukraine gas firm Naftogaz said, referring to Russia’s new pipeline to Germany.

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Italy using anti-mafia laws to scapegoat migrant boat drivers, report finds | Global development

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Italian police have arrested more than 2,500 migrants for smuggling or aiding illegal immigration since 2013, often using anti-mafia laws to bring charges, according to the first comprehensive analysis of official data on the criminalisation of refugees and asylum seekers in Italy.

The report by three migrant rights groups has collected police data and analysed more than 1,000 criminal cases brought by prosecutors against refugees accused of driving vessels carrying asylum seekers across the Mediterranean.

The report by Arci Porco Rosso, the NGO Alarm Phone, and the nonprofit Borderline Sicilia, found evidence of police officers offering immigration papers and other incentives to migrants to persuade them to testify against the suspected boat drivers, who, in some cases were asylum seekers forced at gunpoint by traffickers to navigate refugee boats.

The NGOs claim the new evidence in the report confirms that Italy has spent decades pursuing a policy of criminalising asylum seekers, alleging prosecutors have been filling its prisons with innocent men used as scapegoats.

“We have examined over 1,000 court cases, spoken to hundreds of people involved,” the report stated. “We spoke to persons accused of boat driving, lawyers, judges and members of the police and coastguard, to reveal the full extent of Italy’s process of criminalising migration.”

Using police data and evidence presented in hundreds of court cases, the report revealed how refugees were targeted for prosecution.

Before sending a boat to Italy, from Libya, Tunisia, or Turkey, the report said smugglers often choose a migrant as a driver. This can be someone who does not have enough money to pay for the trip or with experience of navigation.

When the boat enters Italian waters, the authorities ask passengers to identify the driver, who is then arrested.

An Italian jail.
Boat drivers, who are often refugees, are being prosecuted for serious charges, such as human trafficking and criminal association, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Boat drivers, who often come from war-torn countries, are accused of crimes, from illegally piloting migrant boats to the country, to trafficking in migrants, to criminal association. They can face sentences from 15 years to life in prison.

Although in several court cases judges have recognised the “state of necessity” – that the unlawful conduct is justified to protect the perpetrator or another person from imminent and serious danger – hundreds of cases are currently making their way through Italy’s legal system.

Since 2013, at least 24 people have received sentences of more than 10 years, while six have been given life sentences, according to the report.

“This happens when, unfortunately, during the journey, some of the passengers die,” said Maria Giulia Fava at Arci Porco Rosso. ‘‘In that case, the boat driver is charged with murder. It is in those moments that justice is transformed into a terrible machine that risks destroying the lives of these people forever.”

Four Libyan professional footballers were arrested in Sicily in 2015 and sentenced to 30 years after 49 people died during a sea crossing. The men’s families and friends said they were refugees fleeing the civil war to continue their careers in Germany and were forced to pilot the boat. Last year, Libyan warlord Gen Khalifa Haftar reportedly refused to release 18 Italian fishers accused of illegally fishing in Libyan territorial waters until Italy had freed the footballers. But the move was unsuccessful.

Italian prosecutors’ use of anti-mafia laws in the cases of migrant boat drivers, which the report said has been framed as a continuation of the country’s prolonged battle against organised crime, has led to hundreds of boat drivers facing draconian charges, such as criminal association.

Evidence in the report appears to show that in some instances police have offered incentives to migrants to identify those driving the boat as being part of smuggling operations.

“In one case a Nigerian witness told us that the police officers promised him that, by providing an accusatory statement [against a boat driver], he would be allowed to go to school and have a bed in a hostel,”, said the report. “Sometimes, the same thing happens with translators, who are asked by the authorities to find the boat drivers among the other passengers.”

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International monitors suspend Russia-Ukraine mission

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International monitors in Russia-occupied east Ukraine have suspended operations to protect staff following protests in Donetsk over Ukraine’s capture of Andrei Kosyak, who Ukraine said was a Russian national on a covert mission. “Because of safety concerns and because of our safety rules and considerations we suspended our operations,” Yaşar Halit Çevik, the chief monitor of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s ‘special monitoring mission’, told Reuters Sunday.

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