Seven years wrongly stuck in a Rwandan cell? There is nothing to worry about, says the Netherlands

The Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire did not have a fair trial, judged the African Court of Human Rights. But the Netherlands is right behind the authoritarian Rwandan regime and insists that nothing is wrong.

Victoire Ingabire has been in a Rwandan cell for more than seven years. The opposition leader was convicted in 2012 for, among other things, conspiracy against the state of Rwanda and the trivialisation and denial of the genocide. Ingabire has always denied fault, and was supported in this by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who spoke of an unfair and political process. The European Parliament also condemned the course of events.

The Netherlands and Rwanda have a particularly strong bond , certainly in the area of ​​justice. Since the genocide, the Netherlands has invested a lot of money and energy in improving the judicial system. With Dutch money, for example, prisons were built and judges trained.

There is also a special bond in the case of Victoire Ingabire. She came to the Netherlands just before the genocide in 1994. After reuniting with husband and children, the family lived in Zevenhuizen. Ingabire worked in the Netherlands as an accountant, went into Rwandan politics as an exile and decided to take part in the presidential elections in August 2010. A few months after her arrival in Kigali she was arrested and was given house arrest. This made it impossible for her to officially register her FDU-Inkingi party and to take part in the elections. Two months after the elections, Ingabire was arrested again and eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The Netherlands was even helpful to Rwanda, by conducting a search in the house of Ingabire in Zevenhuizen. Eventually, a number of documents were used during the Ingabire process. During that process, almost always an observer from the Dutch embassy was present. The Hague has so far always maintained that its trial has been conducted fairly and has never called it a political prisoner.

With the judgment of the African Court of Human Rights and Nations, a new situation seems to have arisen. Ingabire’s Dutch lawyer Caroline Buisman fought, and ended up at the African Court of Human Rights to challenge the state of affairs during the trial in Rwanda. And that court came last week with a statement that caused a stir.

Conspiracy against the state? There is no question of that. Downplaying and denying the genocide? There are also no indications for this, judges judged.

Furthermore, the Court ruled that Ingabire had violated the rights to a proper defense, because the lawyers were not allowed to subject witnesses a charge unhindered to a cross-examination not always having access to their client.

Conspiracy against the state? There is no question of that. Downplaying and discoveries of the genocide? There are also no indications for this. Was it a total victory for Ingabire? Not that. She was not right on three points. According to the Court there was insufficient evidence that the judges were biased. The court also ruled the search of a cell of an important witness. This witness stated that some of the witnesses had been tortured to blame for confessing to Ingabire. In addition, the prison sentence was in line with the applied laws.

That does not alter the fact that the Court gives a huge blow to Rwanda. The ruling is binding, Rwanda is obliged to take measures within six months.

But whether something really is going to happen? Rwanda does not recognize the African Court in this case. Yet Caroline Buisman is hopeful. “Rwanda can not ignore this statement. We are going to urge Rwanda to release. There is actually no alternative. A new process will take far too much time. The Court itself can not force Rwanda, but donors and the African Union can exert pressure. ‘

Will the Dutch state also adjust its position? It does not seem that way for the time being. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is making great efforts to trivialize the case in answers to questions from Vrij Nederland. ‘The Netherlands will consider whether this judgment can be considered within the cooperation with Rwanda,’ says Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra. And even after the verdict of the Court, Zijlstra refuses to call Ingabire a political prisoner. ‘Mrs Ingabire has been convicted on appeal for, among other things, conspiracy against the government. That is punishable in Rwanda. ” To reinforce his arguments, he even refers to a Letter of May of May 2012, which reports on its process. Minister Zijlstra: ‘Where there is a suspicion of an unfair trial, the Netherlands addresses the Rwandan government accordingly.’

That ruling is a ‘gotspe’ now that the African Court has ruled that there has been an unfair trial in the Ingabire case. But the minister does not respond to this.

From recent studies by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that there are detention centers in Rwanda and that torture is taking place . A UN Committee of Inquiry into possible torture had to abolish its mission because it was opposed and threatened by witnesses questioned. Another UN commission against torture expressed its concern at the end of November, including secret detention centers, illegal detention, arrest of critics, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Diana Rwigara was arrested last September. She, too, wanted to participate in the presidential elections in August, as did Ingabire, and this was made impossible to her. The Netherlands is worried about the arrest, Zijlstra answers to questions from Vrij Nederland. But her arrest must be seen “as an individual matter that must be judged independently.”

The trivializing attitude of the Netherlands about the state of affairs in Rwanda continues to cause surprise.

Update Thursday, December 7: ChristenUnie spokesperson Joël Voordewind says in a comment that Victoire Ingabire, now the African Court has determined that she “has been unfairly convicted for denying the genocide, must be released.” He thinks that Rwanda can not ‘just ignore this sentence’. He also refers to the sentence as a ‘clear tick on the finger of the Netherlands, which repeatedly repeatedly stated that the trial had been conducted fairly, something that the ChristenUnie always fought against.’ Voordewind thinks that the Netherlands should urge Rwanda to respect the ruling of the African Court, by releasing it.

By Anneke Verbraeken