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Rwanda: Parliament Seeks to Abolish Rights Group

(New York) - The Rwandan government should reject a parliamentary request to dissolve one of the country’s leading human rights groups unfairly accused by a parliamentary commission of harboring genocidal ideas, Human Rights Watch said today.

After three days of debate, the Rwandan parliament on Wednesday asked the government to dissolve the League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Ligue Rwandaise pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l'homme, or Liprodhor) and four other civil society organizations because they allegedly supported genocidal ideas. The action was recommended by a parliamentary commission that also called for the arrest of leaders of the organizations.

“Dissolving Liprodhor would call into question the Rwandan government’s commitment to such basic human rights as freedom of expression and association,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

During the parliamentary debate, the commission made sweeping and unproven accusations against Liprodhor and the other organizations, including a rural association for improving agricultural output and an association of widows whose husbands were killed during the 1997-99 uprising in northern Rwanda.

The commission interpreted “genocidal ideas,” prohibited by law in Rwanda, so broadly as to include even dissent from government plans for consolidating land holdings.

“Under such a broad interpretation, any opposition to the government can be labeled ‘a genocide ideology’ and its proponents can be severely punished,” Des Forges said.

The parliamentary commission, established following the late 2003 killing of several survivors of the 1994 genocide, gathered information from local officials and others in about three-quarters of the country. It concluded that a “genocide ideology” was widespread, found in six of the Rwanda’s 12 provinces, at the national university, in a number of secondary schools and in many churches. One parliamentarian even alleged during debate that genocidal ideas had been found among survivors of the genocide, a statement that drew derision from other parliamentarians.

Information presented during the parliamentary debate this week included a number of inaccuracies, but Liprodhor had no opportunity to correct errors or to respond to allegations, neither during the time the commission gathered information nor during the debate itself.

The commission also called for action against several international nongovernmental organizations active in Rwanda, including Care International, Trocaire, 11.11.11 and Norwegian People’s Aid. It alleged—in some cases wrongly—that these international organizations supported local groups labeled by the commission as having a “genocide ideology.”

The commission and parliamentarians also castigated the Dutch government for aiding organizations said to have a “genocide ideology.” The Dutch government, a generous donor to both the Rwandan government and to a number of civil society organizations, was scheduled on Friday to discuss further assistance to Rwanda.

The commission criticized a number of churches and religious leaders for harboring genocidal ideas and recommended the establishment of a “forum” to govern religious activities. A similar forum, dominated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, already supervises the conduct of political parties, which are higher restricted in terms of their opportunities for action.

This is the second time that a parliamentary commission has proposed eliminating organizations. Last year a commission recommended ending the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), the one party then capable of seriously contesting the Rwanda Patriotic Front in the upcoming national elections.

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