Impunity? Not in Rwanda, that's why Diane Rwigara is behind bars

Tuesday September 4 2018

Diane Rwigara (left) and her mother Adeline in the High Court at Kigali on November 16, 2017.

Diane Rwigara (left) and her mother Adeline in the High Court at Kigali on November 16, 2017. They face charges of forgery, inciting insurrection and promoting sectarian practises. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG 

JOHNSON BUSINGYE
By JOHNSON BUSINGYE
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The highly emotional, agenda-driven social media space tends to blur reality, and often drives narratives far removed from facts on the ground.

It is important to set straight the matter of Diane Rwigara and put it in the right context, particularly as a misguided campaign that has crossed the line into outright incitement to targeted violence against a particular group.

Ms Rwigara attempted to qualify as an independent candidate in the 2017 presidential elections.

However, she failed to meet the requirements laid down in law, which include submitting 600 signatures of endorsement, with at least 20 from each of Rwanda’s 30 districts.

Three other independent candidates fulfilled the criteria and were on the ballot, but Diane Rwigara was not.

Ms Rwigara did not contest the National Electoral Commission’s disqualification of her candidacy, nor did she challenge it in court.

The NEC also found indications of systematic forgery in the documentation submitted by Diane Rwigara, particularly in the lists of signatures.

Electoral fraud is a criminal offense, and the appropriate authorities accordingly commenced investigations.

Integrity

At the close of investigations, the criminal investigation detectives believed they had evidence of serious crime.

Among other things, media then reported unauthorised criminal break-ins into our National Identity Agency and access to ID details of people who would eventually surface on her list of seconders from districts.

The Media again reported that many of these people were surprised at finding their names and identification information on those lists.

The integrity of Rwanda’s elections is based on the integrity of voters' electronic data and the supporting infrastructure. Any attempt to compromise the system merits thorough investigation.

Other suspicious activities involving Ms Rwigara, her entourage and her family, also attracted media attention and later investigation by police.

One example, reported widely in local and international media, and sections of the diplomatic community in Kigali, was the apparent disappearance of Ms Rwigara, and demands for the government to account for her “disappearance”.

Efforts by police to enter the Rwigara home to investigate this allegation were rebuffed by an employee of the family.

Days later with pressure mounting, the police’s only option was to lawfully enter the barricaded compound as witnessed by media. Ms Rwigara and her family were found alive and well in the house.

They were taken in for questioning because they had failed to respond to several summons, as part of the ongoing investigations, and later escorted back to their home.

Judicial process

Ms Rwigara, her mother and sister were subsequently charged and presented in court. Charges were later dropped against her sister.

Ms Rwigara and her mother were denied bail because of the likelihood that they would use their substantial financial means to evade justice. The case then proceeded to court.

The law presumes the innocence of suspects until proven guilty after trial.

Ms Rwigara and her mother were accorded full rights to legal representation, all the time required to prepare their respective defence, lawyers of their choice and other rights they are entitled to under law. The next hearing is scheduled for September 24th.

It is wrong to claim that Diane Rwigara is undergoing the judicial process described above because she contested the 2017 presidential election.

She was a vanity candidate who had no chance of winning more than a handful of votes, and she posed no political challenge to any of Rwanda's established parties.

It is also disingenuous to question Rwanda's credentials in women empowerment and gender equality.

This policy remains firm in law and practice, and it will grow stronger. It's not just about women; it's about all Rwandans, men and women. And it's based on the desire to sustain the practice of good politics, which is vital to Rwanda’s rapid and inclusive socioeconomic development.

Rwanda has recovered, reconciled its population, built unity and continues to register progress in every aspect, because Rwandans have turned the page from a destructive era of impunity and entitlement. 

Where in the past some could, and did, get away with any kind of crime, today’s Rwanda is characterised by equality and the rule of law.

Diane Rwigara is subject to the same rules of the game as any other citizen.

In the Rwandan context, turning a blind eye to widely-reported impunity is simply not an option. Ms Rwigara's rights will continue to be respected, and she will have her day in court. Any opening to impunity would erode Rwanda’s gains. 

The government I serve believes, as a matter of justice policy, that litigation should come to an end without undue delay, and without consideration of external pressure, so that the ends of justice are served.

Johnston Busingye is the Minister of Justice of Rwanda.

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