INTERNATIONAL democracy prize-winner Frank Habineza is pleading with Commonwealth leaders to use their Perth meeting to pressure Rwanda to stop the killing and imprisonment of the Government’s political opponents.
Mr Habineza, the president of the Rwandan Greens Party, who fled to Sweden last year after his party deputy was decapitated and other political leaders were jailed, wants the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to help bring “democracy and the rule of law” to his homeland.
He said the international community was once again “turning a deaf ear to what is happening in Rwanda”, as had happened during the 1994 genocide when 800,000 people were massacred.
Speaking from Sweden this week ahead of a speech in Perth next Sunday at a Greens forum on human rights and the Commonwealth, he said the international community wanted the current government to continue because it pushed economic reform.
“They (the international community) think the country will get stable with economic development, so they’re not worried about democracy,” Mr Habineza, who was awarded a democracy prize in the Swedish Parliament in April, said.
“But if you have economic development without democracy, then (Rwanda) will become like Zimbabwe. Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) was one of the best cities in Africa, but because of a lack of democracy they lost everything.”
In April, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices gave a scathing report of human rights abuses in Rwanda, especially around the time of its elections in August last year.
The report said there had been reports of two high-profile killings, that of the Greens vice-president and an independent journalist, that had not been fully resolved.
Also among serious concerns were that “security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons (and) restraints on judicial independence and limits on freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion.”
WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said CHOGM should provide an opportunity to focus on human rights violations within the Commonwealth, not only in Rwanda, an opportunity the Australian Government “could not throw away”.
“For CHOGM to be relevant, for the Commonwealth itself to mean anything, it must have strong, enforceable human rights standards,” Senator Ludlam said.
“The Rwandan Government is not the only one in the Commonwealth that needs to be held to account, and the Australian Greens will continue to push for the Commonwealth to take a decisive stand on human rights.”
The Australian Greens forum begins at 5pm next Sunday at the Uniting Church on William St, Perth.
Other speakers include Meena Krish on the Sri Lankan conflict and Ulli Helen Corbett on the rights of indigenous peoples.
*UPDATE: A joint media release between Senator Bob Brown and Frank Habineza, calling on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting-CHOGM, is attached below.
10/18/2011 – 12:00