The BBC reported today that Victoire Ingabire has been sentenced to eight years in jail by the Rwandan court system. Ingabire was jailed in 2010 when she returned to Rwanda from exile to run against President Paul Kagame in the 2010 elections, which were undemocratic to say the least. Among other charges, like “threatening state security” and “terrorism,” the latter of which were dropped, she was charged with “belittling the genocide.” This last charge, which was filed under the genocide ideology law, seems quite problematic.
In her speech, Ingabire stated her belief that the reconciliation of and emotional recovery of all Rwandans is necessary. She also stated that she does not believe there is a policy in place to allow for this, because Hutu deaths are not being memorialized, when there were, in fact, many Hutus who were killed as well. Her statements were illegal under the genocide ideology laws, so she was arrested. Some believe that this was highly politically motivated, as she was one of the primary opposition leaders who wanted to run against Paul Kagame in the 2010 elections.
It is laws and policies like these that make reconciliation difficult. Also, it is my understanding that, since the genocide, it has been deemed illegal to ask someone if he or she is a Hutu or a Tutsi. The argument is that this will unify Rwandans. Instead of being Hutus or Tutsis, they are Rwandans. I believe that these methods of ignoring the necessity for ethnic sensitivity in reconciliation policies could end up hurting Rwandans more than helping.
Here is what I believe to be the controversial part of her speech:
“But then again, if you look around you realize that there is no real political policy to help Rwandans achieve reconciliation. For example, if we look at this memorial, it only stops at people who died during the Tutsi genocide. It does not look at the other side – at the Hutus who died during the genocide. Hutus who lost their people are also sad and they think about their lost ones and wonder, ‘When will our dead ones be remembered?’
“For us to reach reconciliation, we need to empathize with everyone’s sadness. It is necessary that for the Tutsis who were killed, those Hutus who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it. It is also necessary that for the Hutus who were killed, those people who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it too. Furthermore, it is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.”