The Africa Great Lakes Coalition (Washington, DC)

28 May 2014

Rwanda: Open Letter to American Universities That Invited Paul Kagame to Speak This Semester

Photo: World Economic Forum
Rwanda President Paul Kagame at World Economic Forum in Davos January 2013


The text of a letter to the presidents of major universities:

May 28, 2014

Frederick M. Lawrence Office of the President Brandeis University Irving Enclave 113, MS 100 415 South Street, Waltham, MA 02453

Drew Faust Office of the President Harvard University Massachusetts Hall Cambridge, MA 02138

L. Rafael Reif Office of the President Massachusetts Institute of Technology 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 3-208 Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

John L. Hennessy Office of the President Building 10 Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305-2061

Anthony P. Monaco Office of the President Tufts University Ballou Hall, 2nd Floor 1 The Green Medford, MA 02155

RE: Rwandan President Paul Kagame's visit to Your Universities

Dear Presidents,

As a Coalition of Africa-focused human rights and peace organizations representing a broad range of individuals, including Rwandans, Ugandans, and Congolese people, we write to express our dismay at your decision to welcome the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame to your universities.

We regret to inform you that your invitation of Paul Kagame to your institution co-signs his repressive practices inside Rwanda and his aggressive interventions in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010 a Human Rights Watch article insisted that, if "leaders continue to ignore the darker side of Kagame's story, they will only compound the problem. Burying the truth about horrific crimes is a very effective way to sow the seeds for future grievances and more violence."[1]

Consider these recent charges and reports on Kagame's militarily aggressive activities in Congo, politically oppressive activities within Rwanda and alleged assassination of dissidents abroad:

  • In 2008, The Spanish National Court, The Audiencia National (charged disgraced Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), indicted forty Rwandan military officers for terrorism, mass killings, and several counts of genocide against Rwandans, Congolese, and Spanish citizens, following the 1994 genocide, Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu has said he has evidence implicating Rwanda's current President Paul Kagame, who has immunity from prosecution as a head of State.[2]
  • Following the August 2010 election where Paul Kagame won with 93% of the votes, many observers have called it fraudulent and noted that it was marred with political violence, incarceration, and intimidation and repression of press freedom. The White House issued a statement raising concerns that "[n]o one should underestimate the enormous challenges born of the genocide in 1994. Rwanda's progress in the face of these challenges has been remarkable, and is a testament to the people of Rwanda. Rwanda's stability and growing prosperity, however, will be difficult to sustain in the absence of broad political debate and open political participation."[3]
  • On October 1, 2010, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) published The United Nations Mapping Exercise Report, which documents crimes committed in the Congo from 1993 to 2003. It singled out the crimes committed by the Rwanda army by noting that "the apparent systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide."[4]
  • In May 2011, British news sources reported of attempted assassinations carried out by Rwandan government personnel against Rwandan refugees and exiles. [5]
  • The June 3, 2011 report from Amnesty International condemns Kagame's government, saying "The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), in power since the 1994 genocide, tightly controls political space, civil society and the media, contending that this is necessary to prevent renewed violence. Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents cannot openly and publicly criticize the authorities. People who do speak out risk prosecution and imprisonment."[6]
  • July 21, 2012 The New York Times reported that the U.S. State Department said that "it would cut military aid to Rwanda for the year, citing evidence that the country was supporting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The move is significant, coming from one of Rwanda's staunchest allies." [7]
  • December 18, 2012 President Obama personally called Paul Kagame to emphasize "the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC, abiding by the recent commitments he made in Kampala along with Presidents Kabila and Museveni, and reaching a transparent and credible political agreement that includes an end to impunity for M23 commanders and others who have committed serious human rights abuses." [8]
  • October 3, 2013 The United States sanctioned the Rwandan government and blocked further military aid because of its support for M23 rebels in the DRC who is believed to be using child soldiers. Reuters reported that the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Rwanda was sanctioned because of its "support for the M23, a rebel group which continues to actively recruit and abduct children" and to threaten the stability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [9]
  • On March 12, 2014, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to express his "deep concern over the numerous attempted attacks and killings of Rwandan dissidents living outside that country." Chairman Royce called on the State Department to "reevaluate U.S. engagement with Rwanda." [10]

As you can see from the above cases, the global community led by the United States is moving in a direction to hold the Rwandan government accountable for its repressive actions inside Rwanda and its destabilizing activities in the DRC and elsewhere in Africa.

If your universities were genuinely invested in sustainable peace and development in Rwanda, and if it is determined to cultivate a relationship with Kagame, we are insisting on greater caution and responsibility. We urge you to make your partnership with Kagame conditional on improvements in his human rights record, extension of political freedoms, cessation of his pursuit of dissidents abroad and an end to repeated interventions and support of proxy militias inside the DRC.

Without these measures, you will open your university to a great deal of warranted criticism, negative media attention, and an almost certain historical stain as one of the institutions that supported the despotic rule of another African strongman.


The Africa Great Lakes Coalition (AGLC)


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