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article imageOp-Ed: Rwanda, in crisis, uses coercive force to achieve justice

By Judi Rever     Aug 28, 2014 in World
What happens when moral law is absent and the arbitrary exercise of power becomes the only means of delivering justice? Tyranny ensues.
On Friday, Rwanda’s military court is expected to announce a harsh sentence against Joel Mutabazi, President Paul Kagame’s former bodyguard who escaped Rwanda three years ago after being tortured for his alleged ties to opposition.
For quite some time, Kagame had his eye on Mutabazi and other ethnic Tutsis that have fled a vortex of oppression and suspicion for the illusion of safety in Uganda. Some of those refugees have ended up dead -- their throats slit or shot in the streets of Kampala. Others have been beaten and bundled into vehicles by Rwandan operatives, only to be brought back unceremoniously, one by one, to face justice for crimes that could never be proven by independent courts.
Mutabazi, a human vault who was privy to two decades of Kagame’s war making in Africa’s Great Lakes region, was high on the list of Rwanda’s most wanted. Beforehand, he had narrowly escaped assassination and abduction in Uganda, a country that is nothing if not mercurial. A master at playing the international community and Kigali against one another, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has simultaneously offered political asylum to Rwandans in flight and given Rwandan agents a free hand to hunt those refugees down.
Mutabazi – demoralized and strung up on terrorism charges after several months in detention -- now awaits a verdict on his future. His case is nonetheless shocking even by Rwandan standards.
To wit:
• Mutabazi was not extradited through any legal bilateral cooperation between Uganda and Rwanda. He was kidnapped. The United Nations considered him a bonafide refugee in Uganda that had fled torture and persecution in his homeland. Interpol authorities confirmed that no notice from their office had ever been issued. Rwanda issued its own arrest warrant against him but Uganda’s state attorney had not yet approved it when Mutabazi was abducted in October 2013. Rwanda therefore broke international law and violated the Refugee Convention by seizing Mutabazi in the first place.
• The UN refugee agency considered Mutabazi a refugee at serious, imminent risk, hence his placement in a protected safe house. In 2012, attackers stormed Mutabazi’s residence in Uganda and shot at him but missed. In August 2013, armed men broke into the safe house, gagged and blindfolded him and were heading to Kigali with him in their vehicle but later released him after a Ugandan police chief intervened. The apparent state-sponsored murder and abduction attempts of Mutabazi by the Rwandan government are in direct violation of international law, as defined by a host of treaties, protocols and tribunals.
• At a pre-trial court appearance in Kigali, Mutabazi alleged he had been tortured, intimidated and there was a conspiracy to kill him in jail. At one point -- apparently under duress -- he switched his plea to guilty and admitted he had fomented a rebellion. He then turned around and denied all charges, setting himself up for more torture and possibly death. His wife Gloria and a right activist meanwhile stated they had received word Mutabazi had been beaten and sexually tortured in order to make him falsely confess.
• Rwanda’s military court has engaged in further undue influence by rounding up and prosecuting members of Mutabazi’s family – including his teenage brother, his sister-in-law and uncle -- using them to testify against him. At the same time, another brother still in Uganda has been hounded by Rwandan agents.
• Mutabazi has been tried without a lawyer. A Rwandan attorney initially assigned to represent him, Antoinette Mukamusoni, withdrew from the case, unable to perform her duties. She was allegedly fearful for her safety.
• The principle charges against Mutabazi are dubious at best. He is accused of having actively organized and coordinated terror activities, including a spate of grenade attacks in Rwanda – supposedly from the confines of a UN safe house in Uganda. He is also accused of being linked to the dissident opposition party the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), whose members are in turn suspected by Rwanda of conspiring with the Hutu militia group, the FDLR, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However a UN report in 2011 found no conclusive evidence that Kagame’s South Africa-based political opponents from the RNC, Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya, had provided financial or material support to the FDLR. Karegeya was strangled to death by suspected Rwandan operatives in Johannesburg on New Year’s Eve.
The very essence of a despotic government is when the power to make laws is the hands of a king, when a sovereign authority imposes rules by might. Kagame, recalling the absolutism of the Caesars, is laying down the law of the land as he pleases. In fact, what he is doing is breaking the law to enforce his own version of it. Plato, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson might be rolling over in their graves.
Of course, if it were just a case of pinning Mutabazi to the wall, all this would be less troubling. But in Rwanda, each day Kagame widens the crackdown, causing new alarm. In June, the United States said it was worried about the growing number of arrests and disappearances in Kigali, Rubavu and Musanze districts. The UK, for its part, said it was concerned at what appeared to be mounting acts of violence against opposition critics. Earlier this month, Rwandan prison authorities said 30,000 Rwandans sentenced to community services for their role during the genocide had disappeared. Meanwhile, the government of Burundi launched an investigation this week after a number of bodies were found floating in plastic bags in Lake Rweru, along its border with Rwanda. Pictures of a few corpses posted on Twitter show victims with arms tied behind their backs so tightly they might have stopped breathing or their ribs could have broken. Kagame's former soldiers have testified this was a signature technique used against enemies of his Rwandan Patriotic Army.
In the capital, Colonel Tom Byabagamba, Kagame’s former presidential guard chief was arrested last week for suspected crimes against state security. Also swept up were Brigadier General Frank Rusagara, former defense attaché to London, and retired captain David Kabuye.
The arrests suggest that Kagame is zeroing in on his inner circle, but it remains unclear whether these moves are signs of a regime now imploding. What is certain is that the walls are closing in and no one is above suspicion.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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