Rwanda opposition presidential hopeful turns to regional court to fight for civic rights

Wednesday May 22 2024

Rwanda's opposition leader Victoire Ingabire speaks to the press after her releases from the Nyarugenge Prison on September 15, 2018. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA


A prominent Rwandan opposition leader has moved to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) seeking the re-establishment of her civic rights including the right to vote in the July election.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame, wants to be granted a chance to vie as an opposition presidential candidate in this year’s polls.

In her application dated April 30, 2024, through her lawyers, Lumumba & Ayieko Advocates, Ms Ingabire is seeking orders to permit her to register a political party that she can use to vie and vote.

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“That the honourable court be pleased to issue an order compelling Ms Ingabire to register a political party and participate in the July 2024 presidential elections as a candidate pending the inter-partes hearing,” she says in her application.

Rwanda’s National Election Commission (NEC) has set May 17 to May 30 as the dates for submission of prospective presidential candidates' applications.


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Ms Ingabire is worried that with each passing day, she may miss out in presenting her papers by the May 30, deadline.

She also sought orders from the EACJ to allow her to travel to the Netherlands and see her children as well as her husband who she says is ill.

“The actions of the Rwandan government in ignoring Ms Ingabire’s multiple requests for authorisation to leave the country are in breach of the fundamental and operational principles of the EAC Treaty which require partner States to adhere to the principles of human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency,” she says in her petition.

Ingabire left Rwanda for The Netherlands in March 1994.

She founded a political party in 2006 and returned to Rwanda in January 2010, after years of exile, to participate in the presidential elections scheduled to take place later that year.

Instead, she was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting divisionism and conspiring against the government.

She appealed before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which ruled that Rwanda had violated her rights to freedom of expression and a defence.

After serving eight years in jail, five of which were spent in solitary confinement, in September 2018, she was released on a presidential pardon.

Speaking to The EastAfrican last year, she said she had requested the President to remove restrictions imposed on her, include travelling to see her family.

“Although the African Court for Human and People’s Rights ruled that the government of Rwanda violated my right to freedom of expression, Rwanda charged me with crimes I did not commit, and they refuse to recognise that ruling to this day. Thus, I cannot run for any elections unless I am rehabilitated. And laws allow President Kagame to do so. If he will accept to rehabilitate me I don't know.”