(New York) - The Rwandan government should reverse its decision barring Human Rights Watch's senior adviser on Africa, Dr. Alison Des Forges, from Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said today.
Rwanda has not previously excluded any Human Rights Watch staff member from the country since the organization began monitoring its human rights actions in 1991. Des Forges, who has been working to promote human rights in Rwanda for Human Rights Watch for 17 years, won the prestigious MacArthur Award for her reporting on the 1994 genocide.
"A nation like Rwanda, which has seen such deadly violations of human rights, should show the world that it welcomes review of its record," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "We've asked Rwandan authorities why they have excluded this highly respected human rights advocate but haven't gotten any official response. Unofficially the only explanation we have been given is that they don't like our criticism."
The Rwandan government first refused Des Forges entry to Rwanda at a border crossing with Burundi on September 4, 2008. She was refused a second time on December 2, when she flew to Rwanda to attend an international conference on legal aid for the poor. On that occasion, Rwandan officials prevented her from leaving the plane, and she returned to Belgium.
On December 3, the Rwandan authorities delayed for a day another Human Rights Watch staff member at the Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, border crossing. She finally received permission to enter Rwanda in the evening.
In October, the US government's Millennium Challenge Corporation gave Rwanda a US$25 million grant to support its efforts to strengthen civic participation, promote civil liberties and rights, and improve the judicial system.
"Rwandan officials see the awarding of a Millennium Challenge Corporation grant as a victory," said Roth. "But they should also see it as a call for needed improvements in their policies."
In addition to monitoring human rights, Human Rights Watch has worked to see justice delivered on behalf of victims of the 1994 genocide and of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Rwanda. Des Forges has provided expert testimony in 11 genocide trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), including that of Col. Theoneste Bagosora and two others found guilty on December 18. She has testified also in genocide trials in national courts in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada.
On several occasions, most recently on December 12, Human Rights Watch called on the prosecutor of the tribunal to ensure it carries out its full mandate by examining alleged cases against the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the dominant force in the current government of Rwanda.
In the past, staff members of other international organizations, journalists, and academic specialists thought to be critical of the government have also been refused permission to enter or work in Rwanda.
"By barring one of our staff, the Rwandan government is sending a message to others seeking to promote human rights in Rwanda that if you do your job too well, you also risk being kept out of the country," said Roth. "That's not the way for a government to improve its human rights record."