The European Union has renewed calls for a “prompt and impartial” review of the trial of Victoire Ingabire, the jailed leader of the United Democratic Forces, a coalition of fringe Rwandan opposition groups.
Issuing both bouquets and barbs, the EU acknowledges the progress the Rwandan government has made on the social and economic front, but called on the EU Commission to ensure that Europe's aid to the country supported efforts to promote human rights and other political freedoms.
In resolutions adopted during a European parliament’s session on Thursday, the EU argued that charges brought against Ingabire were based on “vague and imprecise laws.”
While the European parliament says the handling of Ingabire’s appeal by Rwandan courts did not meet international standards because they ignored her presumption of innocence, it called on the Rwandan government to demonstrate willingness to investigate alleged abuses against opposition activists and journalists, and to bring military detention centres into conformity with Rwanda’s laws and international standards.
It concludes by asking the EU Commission to continue its evaluation of the bloc's support to Rwandan government institutions on a regular basis, with a view to ensuring that such support “fully promotes human rights, freedom of expression and association, political pluralism and independent civil society.”
It also urges Rwandan authorities to release all individuals and other activists that it sees as having been “detained or convicted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye took immediate exception to the resolution, saying it was objectionable.
“Rwandans will be very disappointed with the European Parliament. We believe it is responsible enough not to take decisions just for grandstanding. To act patronising, imposing and arrogant over other countries would not be in any sides interest,” he told The EastAfrican.
Ms Ingabire is currently serving 15 years in jail after the Supreme Court in 2013 found her guilty of inciting revolt, forming armed groups to destabilise the country and denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
But the carefully worded EU resolution that recognised Rwanda’s impressive social and economic progress that has seen “substantial improvements in living standards, evidenced by a two-thirds drop in child mortality and the attainment of near-universal primary school enrolment;” as well as the economic and political efforts that have been made “in order to improve the economy of the country and make it more industrialised and service oriented;” also took exception to an incident last month when a delegation from the European Parliament was denied access to Victoire Ingabire.
This is the second time that the European Parliament has debated and issued a statement on Ingabire’s case. The first statement was issued in 2013, shortly after the Supreme Court had upheld her conviction — which the EU condemned as a “politically motivated trial.”