Rwandan Response to UN Human Rights Council on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Fails to Dispel Accusations of Human Rights Abuses
In January 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council, through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group issued a Human rights report on Rwanda. The report identified several areas of human rights abuses by the Rwandan Government , its police, army and militia and proposed recommendations to address them. The Rwandan government, in a lengthy response, rejected most of the findings, asserting that the group overlooked the achievements and the planned initiatives undertaken by the current administration to promote the respect of human rights.
On May 30, 2011, in the report A/HRC/17/4/Add.1 the UN Human Rights council UPR committee published the Rwandan government response outlining the stated initiatives to remedy the grave abuses committed by government officials, the Rwandan Defense Forces and the Local Defense Forces, a government militia.
The UPR report had singled out several areas, including the following points documenting grave human rights by the Rwandan government.
- Freedom of association and political rights
- Freedom of expression and access to information
- Recommendation no 58: Urgently investigate cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, including those which may constitute enforced disappearances (Sweden)
- Recommendation no 69: Adopt concrete measures to avoid discrimination and protect the rights of the peoples of the Batwa community and other minorities as well as request technical assistance from the United Nations to identify their basic social needs ( Spain)
- Recommendation no 70: Further ensure that the country’s religious minorities are able to freely practice their respective beliefs (USA)
- Recommendation no 71: ensure that children under the age of 18 were not recruited into any armed group on the national territory (Slovenia); Prohibit child recruitment into Local defense Forces or into any armed group (Hungary)
- Recommendation no 72: take concrete measures in addressing the problem of human trafficking including by tackling the root causes, introducing effective prevention measures, timely prosecution and punishment of traffickers and providing protection and support to victims (Malaysia)
What is surprising in the response by the Rwandan government is the staunch defense of the Local Defense Forces (LDF), overwhelmingly accused by various human rights organizations of being an instrument of repression, and the children camp of Iwawa, that was compared by several independent media and observers to a concentration camp and the Soviet Union gulag.
UPR report had documented cases in which LDF of recruited children and/or was responsible for most grave rights abuses in the countryside.
According the Rwandan government “Local Defence Force which has been trained to maintain security among the population. Laws governing the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), the Rwanda National Police (RNP) and the Local Defence Force (LDF) are very clear: no one can be recruited to join any of the three forces before attaining 18 years.”
Regarding Iwawa, the Rwandan government claims to have “established Iwawa vocational centre ( based at Iwawa Island in the Western Province) where former young street children (who are more than 18 years old) are taught various professional skills like commercial farming, construction, carpentry, tailoring, among others.”
Regarding the Batwa and indigenous groups, the Rwandan government response appears to deny the existence of such groups, by stating that: ” ..Rwanda has vulnerable and marginalized groups but no indigenous people have been identified in Rwanda. It is not yet scientifically proven which group was the first to settle in Rwanda. What is scientifically proven is that all Rwandans belong to one ethnic group: they speak one language, share one culture and a common destiny.”
The Rwandan government response appears to contradict itself by denying the existence of groups among the Rwandans, while recognizing them. Also, the response appears to defy the anthropological studies on ethnic groups residing in African great lakes region, that show based on scientific research that the pygmees, a group including the Rwandan Batwa, were the first inhabitant of the region. Also, the Rwandan statement appears to be in contradiction with the official line on the 1994 civil war.
The official government line is that the 1994 civil war resulted in the genocide of Tutsis. If the government response is consistent , then the Tutsis as a group could not exist, hence the government official line on the 1994 civil is a contradiction.
The Rwandan government accuses the FDLR of rather being the one responsible for the abuses described in UN UPR report. .
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