Canadian attorney John Philpot received the Victoroire Ingabire Umuhoza Prize for Democracy and Peace on March 19, 2022. The prize is given in recognition of the Rwandan former political prisoner. These are his remarks.
I would like to thank the International Women’s Network for Democracy and Peace for the honour of receiving the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza pour la Démocratie et la Paix 2022.
The title of this award is appropriate with the three relevant expressions, namely :
- Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza
The War on Rwanda was an assault on democracy and peace coming from Uganda with the support of the United States and other Western countries. Its sole purpose was to overthrow the legal government and impose a dictatorship.
The criminalization of the losers of the war of aggression was intended to exclude the majority from political life.
We know that Rwanda was one of the most advanced African countries before 1990. The country was functioning quite well. Rwanda could have solved its internal problems but for the illegal invasion by the Ugandan Army/Rwandan Patriotic Front. There was no justification for such an aggression:
- No one in Uganda was threatened.
- The Tutsi minority inside Rwanda was respected by the government.
- Rwanda had no intention of attacking Uganda.
- Rwanda was not threatening anyone.
- Uganda's self-defence could not be invoked.
- There was no justification by the UN Security Council
The legal history after the victory of the Uganda/RPF aggressors deserves comment.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has convicted dozens of Rwandans for various crimes. The collective international memory is imbued with the idea that all these genocidaires have been convicted: "the genocidaires are in prison as they should be". However, many of the political and military leaders and people close to Habyarimana were acquitted. No plan to exterminate the Tutsis has been proven, for the good reason that no such plan ever existed. No national agreement to kill the Tutsis from April 6, 1994, has been proven. On the contrary, we all know that the planning for the war came from the Rwandan Patriotic Front and its partners in the West, especially the United States.
The incriminating evidence against the Hutu defendants was lacking and the evidence accepted by the judges was largely unreliable. The decision-makers largely fostered Western prejudice against the accused and had a mission to convict the "genocidaires”. And of course, the real criminals who planned everything were not charged, but are in power in Rwanda. The RPF has been granted total impunity by a systematically biased prosecutor.
The late Ramsay Clark said that "the ICTR is war by other means.”
This unfair demonization of the losers of the war is omnipresent in the West. It is pure propaganda. These trials conducted under the concept of universal jurisdiction have taken place in many countries in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The accused were convicted by judges or juries who did not know Rwanda and its culture and who had colonizing minds that accepted the lies of the syndicated witnesses who came from Rwanda. These trials must stop.
We have prepared a provisional list of prisoners around the world that we are distributing tonight. We believe that all prisoners in Africa, Rwanda and the West must be released immediately.
It will be up to the next generation of Rwandans to decide how the Rwandan people will remember the Rwandan political prisoners and have them released when Rwanda becomes democratic again.
Democracy and Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza
Rwanda has been in a political struggle for a good ten years if not more. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has been one of the great political figures of the country and has succeeded in breaking the chains of prison by her example and by the national and international support in her favor.
I think that political investment in Africa will be most useful. The West will not bring democracy to the African Great Lakes Region, the proof being the behaviour of the West for the twenty-seven years since 1994. The Empire is aware of the behavior of the Kagame government, but the Empire supports Kagame without flinching.
One is reminded of the recent comments of Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018, regarding the absolute silence of the West during the invasions of Congo by Paul Kagame. Dr. Mukwege noted the West's double standards in the face of these monumental wars against the Congo.
We remember the silence of the Western powers regarding the bombing and invasion of Iraq (twice), Syria, Gaza, and Libya. We note the inaction regarding the murderous sanctions against Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and Syria. This silence disappears when it comes to Russia's military operation in Ukraine. The extremists in Ukraine are proxies of the United States against Russia just as the RPF was when it invaded Rwanda.
The West refuses to create a tribunal regarding the crimes against the Congo described in the Mapping Report of 2010. The West turns a deaf ear to the abuses against women in the Congo.
Despite best efforts, the United States and Belgium have not helped Paul Rusesabagina, who was illegally kidnapped and taken to a Rwandan prison.
The West will welcome with open arms millions of Ukrainians but refuses many Rwandans among the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Africa. And the 9 men of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda who were released from the prison in Arusha are not welcome in the West. What a shame!
The atmosphere in Africa is different from that in the West. A lot of support for Ms. Ingabire has come from Africa. We think of the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights and its judgments in favor of Ms. Ingabire and Leon Mugesera. The African Bar Association did its part in favor of Ms. Ingabire at its congress in Kenya summer 2018. We can question the official history of Rwanda without being attacked as a denier.
The eight men in Niger who were imprisoned and released by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are experiencing a crisis unlike any other. Several have been acquitted and others released after serving their sentences. The same West that funded the Tribunal refuses to reunite them with their families after their trials. Since 2004, the West has denied many the right to be reunited with their families in Europe or Canada. Out of breath, the ICRT/Mechanism has imposed a permanent relocation on the eight men forcing them to move permanently to Niger in December 2021. This solution, accepted backwards, was incomplete. In Niger, the men would be far from home and would be cut off from the Tribunal's financial support after one year.
Mr. Jerome Bicamumpaka has refused to travel to Niger. Ill and undergoing treatment, he remains alone in Tanzania and must be reunited with his family in Canada. We fully support this man who has been cleared of all suspicion at the ICTR. Canada, which is refusing him for the moment, is responsible for this injustice.
The problem of the released/acquitted has intensified greatly with Niger's decision to exclude them from Niger. They have been under house arrest in Niger since December 27, almost three months. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to find a solution. The Mechanism should have brought them to The Hague immediately. Tanzania is not accepting them fearing that they would be in Tanzania indefinitely. The Mechanism cannot give orders to the sovereign Tanzania.
The United Nations, the master of the Tribunal, must resolve the issue to allow family reunification in the countries that have sponsored and funded the Tribunal.
There is a group of children (adults) of the prisoners who have formed a group SAVEOURPARENTS @saveourparents. This group is working hard for the men in Niger. We understand that support for the prisoners will continue beyond the current struggle for these nine men to be reunited with their families. This group is in Brussels today after their demonstration in The Hague for the nine men who were victims of the ICTR. This group deserves our active support.
The Future of Democracy in Rwanda
The medium-term outlook for Africa is quite positive and the political work for Rwanda has promising paths. My experience is that there is a great openness in Africa.
Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza has courageously proposed a roadmap with an inter-Rwandan dialogue that deserves the support of Rwandans in Rwanda and in the Diaspora.
Africa does not support the West's massive sanctions against Russia. This would include at least South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, and others. A perspective of nonalignment and independence from the Empire is emerging. Kagame supported the attempted coup by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in Ethiopia. The TPLF lost. We know that Kagame is trying to become the policeman of the Empire that is losing its influence in Africa. Kagame will lose his influence by becoming the agent of the unloved West.
I underline the excellent article by Emmanuel Neretse published on March 9: Hungry for Truth, Peace and Justice: Rwanda-Ukraine: si éloignés géographiquement, mais si proches géopolitiquement!
There are multiple forums in Africa, one of which I am familiar with, the African Bar Association, which is also well known to many of our friends you know, such as Mr. Charles Taku and our dear Ms. Carolyn Buisman. We can express ourselves freely in the African Bar Association. This Association sent a delegation to Burundi during the crisis of 2016 and contributed to the protection of Burundi. You also know that it made a statement in favour of Victoire Ingabire a few days before her release. Last year the meeting took place in Niger. We got to know the people who became the lawyers of the eight Rwandan men in house arrest in Niger. The African Bar Association took up the cause of Ambassador Alex Saab, a Venezuelan being illegally detained in Cape Verde for illegal extradition to the United States.*
This year's African Bar Association Conference will be held August 7-11, 2022, in Lilongwe, Malawi. I am attaching a copy of the announcement and invitation to submit papers. There will be an opportunity to make presentations as per the rules. This will be an opportunity to speak with many Africans. This conference is not limited to lawyers, but open to judges as well. Judges, legislators and parliamentary staff, politicians, policy-makers, businesspeople.
There are probably other forums in which the Rwandan opposition can get involved. We are familiar with the #NoMore movement that was born in Ethiopia but is beginning to spread in Africa. We believe that the political struggle must be with [a] priority [in] Africa and not with European politicians.
*Editor’s Note: Alex Saab was illegally taken to the United States on October 16, 2021.
John Philpot is a defense attorney in International Criminal Law in Montreal and is active in Palestinian and African support organizations and the peace movement. Johnrphilpot at gmail.com, @philpot_john.