“The truth shall set her free”
While Victoire Ingabire faces imprisonment in Rwanda, her family remains exiled in the Netherlands. During the last two years of the trial, they supported Victoire Ingabire in any possible way, even trying to bring the case to the United Nations and the Dutch government, though these turned out to be nothing but futile attempts.
In an exclusive interview, eufrika.org spoke to Ingabire’s daughter, Raïssa Ujeneza, who received her mother’s conviction with resignation.
eufrika.org: How did you experience the past two years of the trial?
The past two years of the trial I experienced as very unsure, especially in the beginning. Our family knew the dangers in theory but I soon discovered that in reality it was much more nerve-racking than I had anticipated. To be a ‘long distant-spectator’ of the sham trial that was held in Rwanda against my mother was not easy. Not being able to communicate with her is the most difficult part. All the information we received pointed out that the Rwandan authorities are trying to mentally break my mother through isolation and exhausting her by slowing down the process. Only by seeing her strength I could stay strong myself and by the grace of faith in God’s purpose for all I stay hopeful.”
eufrika.org: What did you, other family members and supporters do during the last two years to direct attention to your mother’s trial?
Our family with the help of supporters has been organizing demonstrations against the restrictions of freedom of speech. This is the underlying problem not only of the arrest of my mother, but also of other opposition leaders, journalists and those who express criticism on the Kagame regime. We have approached the media and politicians in creating more awareness on my mother’s situation. Additionally we asked for governments to help convincing the Kagame regime to improve its ways, especially by making sure the right to a fair trial is respected. Besides that we have worked on providing financial support in regard of the expenses of the trial. As it was often postponed it was costly on the defense. Also we have tried to create more consciousness on the troubles Rwanda faces. We hope that Rwandans in and outside of the Rwandan borders, along with friends of the Rwandan community will acknowledge the problems the country faces and work together to improve the circumstances.”
eufrika.org: Only recently, your mother was found guilty of genocide ideology and conspiracy against the government by use of war and terrorism. How do you explain these charges?
Both charges are fabricated with the aim to put an end to her politics. My mother does not have a genocide ideology. Saying that she denies there was harm done to the tutsi in the genocide of 1994 is a lie. They based this charge on a speech where she said to believe that to move towards true reconciliation people have to acknowledge that not only tutsi but also hutu were killed in the genocide. She stresses that all who are guilty in committing genocide, whether hutu, tutsi or twa, should be fairly trialed and punished so that the many families who lost someone can finally have peace knowing that justice has prevailed. RPF members are among those who committed genocide, thus it is in the interest of the Kagame regime to prevent anyone from looking into this matter deeper for skeletons would be found in their own closet.
The charge on conspiracy against the government is another way the Rwandan regime tries to get people to doubt my mother’s intentions. From the beginning my mother strived to bring freedom and justice to the Rwandan people with a focus on reconciliation, stability and a sustainable development. The Kagame regime showed neither to take care of these aspects nor to care for the Rwandan citizens who suffer terribly because of poverty. Therefore my mother felt the urge to participate with the 2010 elections. She believes that not by any kind of violence but only through dialogue and fair distribution of power the Rwandan country can grow strong. She encourages true democracy through a peaceful rule – and seeing how Kagame rules as a dictator they are each other’s opposite. As I am aware that other critics of the Kagame regime even ended up dead, I strongly believe that the only thing that has saved my mother so far is the fact that the international community is monitoring her process. Hence the remaining way to silence her was imprisonment.”
eufrika.org: Many observers declare the judgment as the beginning of the end for the political opposition in Rwanda. What do you think the judgment means for the political landscape in your home country?
Actually I think the opposite is true. The judgment is rather a beginning of protests to injustice than an end to political opposition. I believe that there will be more political opposition to be observed, as time will pass. Those who did not dare to speak out before are now daring to show their concerns and are sharing their true opinions rather than keeping silence about all the wrong that happens in Rwanda under the Kagame regime. However I fear that this process of growing opposition is likely to spark violent acts because of the reluctance of the regime to deal with criticism correctly. I think the frustrations of the Rwandan people should not be underestimated. The political landscape of Rwanda is screaming for change and the Kagame regime as well as all others observing this have a responsibility in ensuring that this cry for help is heard and adequately responded to.”
eufrika.org: Would you say that one can still talk of a de facto separation of powers in Rwanda? Is an independent judicial power still given?
In Rwanda there is no separation of powers. Rwandan representatives, including the president himself, have been meddling with my mother’s trial since the beginning. They called her a criminal and said she belongs in prison on several occasions in the media. If the Kagame regime truly had respect for the separation of power they would not have spoken out to the public this way as there was still an investigation going on concerning the accusations against my mother.
Besides that, I take in account how the defense lawyers were merely given opportunities to do their job well compared to the prosecutor. Also witnesses who spoke in favor of my mother were hushed by the court and were not given any protection though there were reasonable indicators that maltreatment would follow as they did not cooperate with authorities that forced them to testify against my mother. These are all factors that confirm to me that de facto there is no separation of powers in Rwanda. My mother has been treated as a terrorist by the Rwandan authorities that seek to keep her isolated to the point that even during church services in prison she is to remain in the back where she cannot communicate with anyone. Still, even after two years of investigating her while she stayed in detention on remand, the court did not find anything sufficiently incriminating to keep her imprisoned longer than 8 years. I find this very contradicting. Meaning that I am honestly convinced the verdict could not have been heavier because she is innocent and the evidence speaks in her favor. But at the same time they could not have released her because that would have shown that her arrest was politically motivated.”
eufrika.org: What would the government under Kagame possibly loose if oppositional leaders such as Victoire Ingabire would gain influence in the country? What does Kagame fear?
The taking over of power marks the Rwandan history by either the tutsi or the hutu taking control violently. And every time one was in charge of power the other was simply excluded, ruled out. I believe this is the fear of the Kagame regime, to be alienated. For my mother is a hutu and thus the Kagame regime’s expectations might be that her rise would mean the fall of the tutsi who are a minority with 15 percent of the Rwandan population. When considering that the hutu form 84 percent of the population, it could be concluded that the hutu would dominate Rwanda through a democratic system.
But on the contrary, my mother insists on creating a system that would meet the fears of both sides by guaranteeing equal representation. My mother realizes that it would be a transitional process to set up a true democracy where all Rwandans know they have rights and duties that they can use to stand assured in their choices in elections. In her awareness on this matter she has said that if she would become president she would set up a transitional government that makes sure the power is equally divided providing corresponding accessibilities for all.”
eufrika.org: What influence can oppositions in exile actually have on politics in Rwanda? What do Ingabire’s experiences teach you?
Oppositions in exile have contributed greatly on exposing the problems Rwanda is facing today. For a long time the international community complimented the Kagame regime. Many implied that developments were improving greatly in Rwanda, especially in the economical sector. Unfortunately most Rwandan citizens within the borders do not dare to speak out. Criticism on the government is occasionally paid off with ones life and this reality paralyzes the citizens. Also officials plunder from the poor families when there is an assumption that a member of that family criticizes the Kagame regime. These acts of terror make it that most citizens remain quiet. They are rather safe than sorry.
However, the Rwandans in exile, though many of them also fear Kagame’s influence that seems trans-boundary, feel the freedom to speak out. They approach the media, other political leaders and international organizations in their aim to create awareness on the severity of Rwanda’s critical circumstances caused by Kagame’s dictatorial regime. Pressure from the international community in practice appears to make a difference where a government is reluctant towards meeting the needs of its people.
My mother’s case definitely teaches us all that you should not fear to speak out, especially when you have the truth on your side. In her own words she said: “Shall I die or live, be detained or released what we have achieved will not go back. This movement is stronger than me. Remanding me in captivity or silencing my voice can only postpone the revolution. It cannot stop the movement.” This ongoing movement shows to be real as we more and more witness that the young generation of Rwandans are responding courageously by standing up for their rights. I believe this is a result of the support they feel from Rwandans outside of the country. In the end, although we are all in different parts of the world, still our vision is one: to be free and safe in our country so that we can build it up for future generations to be able to have what we lack today, a stable homeland.
eufrika.org: Which importance has a functioning opposition on the process of reconciliation in Rwanda? What position has and could Victoire Ingabire still have in that process?
For as long as not all groups are well represented in Rwandan politics, sustainable reconciliation cannot take place. A functioning opposition is most effective as dialogue takes place with other political parties representing the different groups of a society and this is why opposition is an essential factor in the process to reconciliation. My mother is strong of opinion that collaboration between the different ethnic groups is not just the right thing to do, but it is a necessary factor. Without it Rwanda shall continue the vicious circle it has been trapped in every time it came down to who is to take the power. My mother is neutral, considerate and fair to both sides but also she is quite convincing as she respects others’ values and seeks to meet on common ground. In sharing her vision she has the capacity to reach many, even the stubborn. I am convinced that when my mother will be given the opportunity to introduce her insights, this would consequently benefit all for she encourages tolerance.”
eufrika.org: Do you expect the international community to do anything about the recent sentence or do you think only Rwandan authorities should deal with internal affairs in Rwanda?
I have regard for a country to decide on its internal affairs without interference of the international community. Nevertheless, my regard halts where the authorities of a country fails its people. The Rwandan authorities failed to meet my mother’s right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and the right to a fair trial, to mention only a few. I absolutely support my mother for boycotting her trial when it appeared that the high court was acting partial during her hearing.
If anything, my mother’s trial has made it clear that Rwanda’s system is not performing as it should. The international community invests a lot of money in the development of Rwanda and therefore they should also expect to see improvement in return. Moreover I do not see how countries that highly value democracy and freedom of speech would support or even want to be associated with a country that fails miserably on these points as the Kagame regime is currently doing. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even the UN reported that the Kagame regime is responsible for violating human rights in various ways. It is up to world leaders who have a responsibility to maintain peace and to also secure that all factors that could threaten the safeguarding of peace are handled accordingly. Instead of improving the Kagame regime is getting worse. The question to me is not whether the international community should do anything about the recent sentence in my mother’s trial or the trial of any other who criticizes the Kagame regime. Their situation points to the actual problem: the Kagame regime that violently oppresses its citizens. So the question to me is how bad should it get before the international community intervenes?
eufrika.org: Finally it would be interesting to know if you think lodging an appeal could be crowned with success, the release of Victoire Ingabire?
Lodging an appeal in the Rwandan borders is unlikely to bring forth any success. The authorities clearly showed that they want Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza out of politics, out of the media, out of sight and basically out of peoples’ minds. Fortunately, there are other tribunals in Africa to which my mother and her lawyers can turn to for an appeal. We expect other tribunals to function independently and just, focused on fairness through the rule of law and not on political agendas. If that is the case indeed in other African Tribunals then I have all the faith that ‘The truth shall set her free’. Accordingly there would be a good chance that my mother shall be released. Of course we hope soon, she is very much missed.”
Interview by David Drengk