Rwanda’s human rights failings exposed in Commonwealth bid

Rwanda’s Commonwealth bid meets opposition on human rights grounds. Iran’s opposition resolute in the face of government crackdown. Iraqi government bypasses electoral veto. 21 killed in violence over Philippine elections. Algerian 9/11 suspect proved innocent. All this and more in today's security update.
Maddy Fry
23 November 2009

A considerable degree of anguish has arisen over the prospect of Rwanda joining the Commonwealth, with human rights groups, NGOs and politicians claiming that the move will damage the union’s reputation for upholding human rights and the rule of law. The country applied to join in 2007, despite having previously been a Belgian colony and only recently switching from being French to English-speaking. Although it claims to have improved its record on human rights and democracy since the 1994 genocide, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) insists that these accomplishments have been exaggerated by the Rwandan government’s slick PR machine and the adeptness with which its leaders play “upon the conscience of the world.”

A report released by the CHRI, along with statements made by Human Rights Watch, further points to a government which, it is claimed, perpetrates widespread censorship regarding the genocide, including harassing independent media outlets and journalists, as well as curtailing freedom of speech, undermining democratic rights and repeatedly making repeated incursions into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the last 15 years. The Rwandan government, headed by President Paul Kagame, asserts that the claims have “no basis,” instead drawing attention to how the regime has been applauded in recent years for investing high amounts in health and education, reducing levels of corruption, and having 50% female MPs in its parliament. Representatives from CHRI insist that this is all a front, calling the country “an army with a state.”

The openSecurity verdict: Despite supporters claiming that allowing Rwanda to enter the Commonwealth, a group that, with the exception of Portuguese Mozambique, comprises only former British colonies, will encourage the government in Kigali to raise its standards, detractors insist the opposite will happen. Many fear that the move will make it harder for the group to exert pressure on states that do not conform to international standards, such as Fiji, who have been excluded due to their refusal to hold elections, and will tarnish the reputation of the Commonwealth as an institution which promotes human rights.

There are also suspicions that this is merely a well-calculated gesture on the part of Rwandan officials to snub the French government, with whom its relations have become increasingly sour since 2006. The two nations have exchanged barbed remarks over France’s supposed complicity in the 1994 genocide, with Kagame facing accusations of playing an active role in the assassination of President Habyarimana, the event which was thought to have been a catalyst for the ensuing carnage in Rwanda. In return, the Rwandan government has insisted that France helped to train members of the Interhamwe (the Hutu militia), who were responsible for the majority of the 8,000,000 deaths that occurred during the conflict.

Both governments deny the charges levied at them by the other side. Yet this has not prevented Rwanda from ostentatiously severing its ties with Francophone Africa by publicly switching its official language from French to English. Cynical observers insist that the bid to join the Commonwealth is merely another move along these lines.

The fact that so many developing countries see membership of the Commonwealth as something worth aspiring to may be a sign of it having continuing resonance beyond the negative connotations of its colonial legacy. Yet the criteria for membership should perhaps be stricter if the union still wants to be recognised as an institution which respects human rights. Should one of Rwanda accede with questions over its method of governing hanging, it may become yet harder to maintain such a reputation.

Irans opposition resolute in the face of government crackdown

A demonstration of moderate activists was broken up by riot police in Tehran after the leader of Iran’s opposition, Mir Hossein Mousavi, claimed that they were “ready to pay any price” to ensure that the movement to reform the country’s political system went ahead. His words came just before a group gathered to peacefully remember the killing which took place in 1998 of the Iran National Party leader Dariush Forouhar, was broken apart by Iranian police in what they saw as an attempt to prevent it from turning in to a rally. The security forces have been clamping down in recent months on what they have called “street riots” for fear of scenes similar to those which erupted after the fraudulent presidential election in June.

Iraqi government ignores veto

The Iraqi administration recently put forward an amended law aimed at allowing a general election to be held in 2010, yet a veto put forward by Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi derailed its slow progress thus far. The Iraqi presidential council have said they will review the law again, but there is a chance that Heshemi may choose to try and veto it a second time. This could have the potential of delaying the election and thereby threaten US plans for a troop withdrawal early in the New Year.

Election violence sees 21 killed in Philippines

A group of journalists and politicians who were abducted in Mindanao in the south of the Philippines have been found dead. The group were taken on Monday whilst registering for the 2010 elections, a process often marred by violent political rivalries, particularly within the south of the country. The convoy of vehicles which was hijacked also contained the wife of the local mayor, Ismael Mangudadatu. It is thought that the other victims were on their way to a local election office to register his candidacy to run against local clan leader Datu Andal Ampatuan. Mangudadatu's challenge is thought to have provoked the increase in tension between the two men’s respective clans which erupted into violence.

Algerian jailed as 9/11 suspect proven to be innocent

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, it has been revealed UK courts did not display crucial documents relating to those whom they suspected of perpetrating the atrocity, an event which led to an innocent Algerian pilot, Lotfi Raissi, being imprisoned for five months. Raissi was held in Belmarsh prison for five months where he faced the threat of being extradited to the US until classified documents, created by the FBI and anti-terrorist officials in the UK, revealed that he had done no wrong. The first person to be incarcerated after 9/11 and accused of being the main leader of the hijackers, Raissi will be compensated by the UK government, who have acknowledged and taken responsibility for the miscarriage of justice.

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