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Opinion

Rwanda takes a strict line on genocide denial. The US should support that.

To help Rwanda protect its postgenocide democracy from renewed ethnic divisions, Washington must be more alert to ideology at work there.

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The founding RDR ideology and strategy, never repudiated since 1995, is to return the genocide perpetrators and their supporters to power in Rwanda by force or by negotiation. Ingabire’s predecessor as RDR president in Europe, Charles Ndereyehe, is the subject of an Interpol warrant for genocide crimes committed against Tutsis in 1994. Ingabire’s RDR and FDU have long had ties with the FDLR in eastern Congo. The United States and the United Nations treat the FDLR as a terrorist group; two of its Europe-based leaders are under arrest in Germany.

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Ingabire’s personal links to the FDLR are cited in a 2009 UN Experts’ Report about the FDLR. Her public statements in Europe since 2000 are a rich trove of genocide ideology and denial. And Ingabire’s campaign in Rwanda prior to her arraignment was clearly aimed at mobilizing ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis.

Her first stop once back in the country was to visit Rwanda’s main memorial to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, where she raised the issue of remembrance of Hutu victims. This is like going to Auschwitz to raise the issue of the German victims of Dresden. Ingabire also chose to meditate at the tomb of the first president of the Rwandan regime, which took over on independence from Belgium in 1962. This regime institutionalized racism against Tutsis and organized an initial mass killing of some 15,000 of them in 1963-64. Next, she visited with convicted perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in hospitals in two Rwandan towns, repeated her often-stated condemnation of the special genocide courts that convicted them, and promised to abolish these courts if elected. (Thanks to these 15,000 courts, set up in 2001 and already projected to end their work this summer, there are over 500,000 genocide perpetrators in Rwanda who have confessed or been convicted. Many are now at large again after having served their sentences.)

To my knowledge, the US never admonished Germany for banning the Nazi-like “Socialist Reich Party” in 1952, or for prosecuting Holocaust deniers, or for banning the two dozen right-wing hate groups it has shut down over the past 18 years. We should treat Rwanda with the same understanding and respect.

Ingabire will be brought to trial soon. She is, of course, innocent of the charges against her until proven guilty. The US government will be able to assess the Rwandan government’s case against her, its conduct of the trial, her defense, and the court’s ruling.

In the meantime, the State Department should certainly reconsider whether it really wants to make comments that appear to press Rwanda to welcome into its political life an émigré party that is heir to the genocidal regime of 1994.

Richard Johnson is a retired American diplomat living in Kigali.

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