Bashir v ICC: Where is African justice in all of this?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives in Khartoum from Johannesburg on June 15, 2015. Bashir left South Africa even after a court ordered him not to leave as it decided whether to arrest him over alleged war crimes for which he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. AFP PHOTO

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives in Khartoum from Johannesburg on June 15, 2015. Bashir left South Africa even after a court ordered him not to leave as it decided whether to arrest him over alleged war crimes for which he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. AFP PHOTO

Sudanese president Gen Omar al-Bashir suffered a very ‘un-presidential’ couple of days at the just concluded 25th Ordinary Summit of the African Union in the Johannesburg, South Africa’s financial capital. After a group of activists asked a court in Pretoria to follow through with an ICC (International Criminal Court) indictment, what followed was both hilarious and alarming in equal measure.

The head of state was forced to hide away and then flee in the dead of the night. That, I found quite amusing. A president is supposed to be treated in a ‘presidential’ manner; so, the idea of one being forced to sneak onto his own plane and then lie that he isn’t on the manifest is laughable.

However, if we move beyond the funny side of al-Bashir’s ‘Escape from Joburg’, the fact that an ICC indictment could cause the potential arrest of a sitting head of state, moreover one whose country wasn’t a signatory to the Rome Statute that instituted the Hague-based court, is no laughing matter.

This indictment is, in the minds of many Africans (myself included), a power move by a western dominated UNSC (United Nations Security Council). A move that neither the Sudanese government nor the African Union could appeal. When the UNSC’s move was first publicized I bristled at the legal loophole that allowed the Council to refer anyone it wanted to the court. I thought that it was the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. After all, what was the probability of one of them being referred to the ICC for crimes against humanity? None at all. Were any of them perfect? Not at all.

However, I will not hide my head in the sand and pretend that everything was sunshine and rainbows a decade ago in Darfur.

There was a reason that the UNSC decided to refer the Sudanese president to the ICC as per United Nations Security Council Resolution 1593 in a resolution adopted on 31, March 2005.

Their move was based on a report submitted to the UNSC by the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur. According to the report, the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed militia were responsible for serious violations of international human rights law. These alleged violations included rape, torture and enforced displacement among others.

The victims of these crimes deserve their day in court. Their hurt mustn’t be swept under the carpet. For too long, a culture of immunity has reigned on our beautiful continent. Most especially when the victims have been civilians. This must end.

Enter the AfCHPR (African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights). This Arusha-based court, first established in 2004, should be Africa’s answer to the ICC. However, since its establishment it has dealt with only three cases; one involving Senegal (in 2009), another involving Tanzania (in 2013) and the last involving Burkina Faso (in 2014). None of the cases it has heard have involved serious crimes against humanity.

Are we going to pretend that no such crimes have taken place? Are we going to ignore the crimes in the Central African Republic? The crimes in the DRC? The xenophobic attacks in South Africa against migrants?

There have been ample opportunities for the court to make itself relevant. I ask its judges, how have they ensured that the court protects human rights in Africa?

Is its hands being tied by the fact that only 27 of the African Union’s 54 countries have signed and ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Establishing the AfCHPR so far? (Thankfully Rwanda is a signatory)

Is the lack of cases being referred to it due to the fact that Africans do know that such a court exists to defend their rights? Or do they simply not trust the court to try sensitive cases (such as Sudan’s) in an impartial manner?

If we want to get the ICC off our backs we need to show the world that we have our own legal mechanisms to combat the worst instances of human rights abuses. Until that happens, Africa’s arguments against the court will ring hollow. We cannot allow our fight against the neocolonial ICC (and the international system to that gives it teeth) to be falsely interpreted as endorsing impunity.

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World Policeman? Perhaps when US cops stop brutalising blacks and getting away with it

Video posted to YouTube on June 6, 2015, showed a McKinney, Texas policeman brutalising a young black woman.

Video posted to YouTube on June 6, 2015, showed a McKinney, Texas policeman brutalising a young black woman.

Before last weekend I had never heard of the town of McKinney, Texas. Now, until the moment I breathe my last, the word ‘McKinney’ will always bring a rush of blood to my head and tears to my eyes.

A video that was posted to Youtube by a white teenager shows an enraged white police officer screaming at a group of black children in bathing suits, forcing them to sit on the ground and telling them to “shut up”. Which is in itself horrible. No adult in their right mind has the right to treat children in such a humiliating way.

However, what takes the footage from the realm of merely disturbing to jaw-droppingly horrendous was seeing the same policeman manhandle a black girl in a bikini, throw her on the ground, place his knee on the small her back and cuff her. All the while she cries and calls for her mother. If you think that’s the worst of it, you’d be wrong. When a group of her friends saw her distress and tried to come to her rescue, the madman pulled out his firearm, cocked it and pointed it in their direction.

“Oh no, I silently screamed, please don’t shoot them in the back”! For a second I thought I would see more black men get killed right on camera. Thankfully, he didn’t pull the trigger and simply went back to berating the children sitting in the grass.

If you’ve followed the news, you’ll know that this incident is simply the latest one in an anus horribilis for black people in the United States.

Sadly however, black people getting mistreated, unjustly jailed and shot like dogs is par for the course as it pertains to their treatment by their government’s law enforcement from time immemorial. What gets my goat is that instead of dealing with their country’s own issues I see congressmen and women discuss countries that they have never visited and know nothing of. Just last month a congressional subcommittee met to discuss Rwanda’s human rights issues. The proceedings were a joke and so were the witnesses called.

Only a few days ago, the US Justice Department brought FIFA boss Sepp Blatter’s world crashing down, charging many of his minions with corruption and racketeering. To date, we don’t know if there will be a World Cup football tournament in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Mind you, I’m not saying that FIFA’s corruption didn’t need to be exposed; far from it. However, I must ask, if the US justice department has so many resources to fight corruption around the world, then why don’t they use some of that money to tackle systemic racism and corruption in their own backyard?

Watching the news, you’d think that police violence is a twenty-first century issue. That would be the furthest thing from the truth. The only difference now is that eyewitnesses are catching the incidents on camera. Which brings me to the question, how has police training evolved in the social media age? Especially our own national police right here in Rwanda.

Where before a single incident could be relegated to memory and an errant police officer labeled a ‘bad apple’, these days a single event can destroy public goodwill and trust. I’ve had the chance to chat with the National Police’s top leadership about social media’s ability to tar the good name of the institution; they too see the risk in an ugly incident going viral. It is therefore incumbent that police training acknowledges this new reality. A reality where a few incidents can make police the enemy in people’s eyes; I don’t think we want to live in a country where people flee at the sight of a police officer whether or not they have committed a crime.

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Paternity leave: Time with newborn children should not be the exclusive preserve of women

Should fathers be denied the right to care for their newborn children? I think not

Should fathers be denied the right to care for their newborn children? I think not

My Rwandan sisters, who hope to have children one day, must be dancing a little jig after reading last week that Parliament has finally welcomed a draft law that establishes and governs the maternity leave benefits scheme. The draft law was tabled in the lower House by Dr Uzziel Ndagijimana, the minister of state in charge of economic planning, on the 26th of last month.

After years of crying and gnashing of teeth, it would seem that the powers that be finally heard the wails emanating from the women who’d been forced leave their newly-born children in the hands of nannies to mournfully go back to work.

The draft law aims to ensure that women earned their full salary for the entirety of their three-month long maternity leave.

Unlike the previous maternity leave article, which put the entire financial burden on the employer, this one is shared between the employer and Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), with each paying six weeks full salary to the new mothers. If I’m not mistaken, all employees (and employers) will add a small amount to their normal monthly RSSB contributions in order to fund the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme.

As someone who hopes to have a family some day, I cannot overstate just how happy I am to find about this. I’ve complained for years now about the 2009 Labour Law, as it pertained to maternity leave.

I railed against Article 66 of the law which mandated that, and I quote, ‘The mother with no maternity insurance coverage shall, during the first six weeks of her maternity leave, have the right to her entire salary. During the last six weeks of her maternity leave, this mother may either resume service and receive her full salary or else, have the right to twenty per cent of her salary’.

I railed against it because it put an unfair burden on families, making them choose against their financial wellbeing or the wellbeing of their child. And lets be honest, it really wasn’t a choice. Not with the childcare bills adding onto the ‘normal’ housing, food, transport and utility bills.

What really got my goat was that this anti-family clause was passed by a parliament that was stacked with, guess what, MOTHERS. I’m pleased that we are doing away with the Faustian Pact we’d forced families to agree to.

However, while it would seem that we’ve moved forward with the issue of maternity leave, it would seem that we’ve decided to remain static on the issue of paternity leave.

I can actually hear thousand of eyes rolling as they read the words ‘paternity leave’, but bear with me.

Currently husbands can only enjoy four working days of leave in the event that their wife gives birth. That is problematic in many ways, and not only in the most obvious ones.

Firstly, it puts an unfair burden on wives. Imagine if a wife has given birth by caesarian procedure, wouldn’t she need a lot of help not only to take care of the newborn but also herself? Who else will do it other than her husband? Her mother? What happens if she is an orphan? Her mother-in-law? What happens if her husband is an orphan? This is Rwanda so this scenario is possible. Why force the couple to burden people who weren’t involved in making the baby anyway?

Secondly, if we are to be honest, the four-day paternity leave assumes that men don’t need to be at home that much after their wife gives birth because they aren’t needed to keep the baby alive and healthy. After all, its not as if we can breastfeed them right? But as any child expert will tell you, extremely strong bonds are created between fathers and their children at even the initial stages of life.

So, by forcing men to leave their child and go make money after a measly four days this law is doing two things, halting the rich father-child bonding relationship in its tracks and re-emphasizing gender stereotypes and roles i.e. that taking care of the child is a woman’s ‘duty’ while earning money is a man’s.

Thirdly, the law actually only concerns married men. So if you get your fiancé or girlfriend pregnant, you actually don’t have a right to enjoy paternity leave, it can be legally denied by your employer.

That’s what I discovered when I re-read the clause pertaining to paternity leave (which interestingly enough actually isn’t found in the Labour Code but rather in the Ministerial Order N°03 OF 13/07/2010 Determining circumstantial leaves). Article 2 states that reasons for circumstantial leave include a ‘worker’s WIFE delivery’. So, if you haven’t put a ring on it, you are out of luck mister.

Lastly, it is my understanding that each and EVERY worker, whether male or female will contribute to this maternity insurance scheme. Therefore it is only fair that both genders should be able to benefit from it. I’m not saying that I should get the full six weeks that we shall contribute for, but I do think that we husbands, fiancés, boyfriends and baby daddies should be allowed more time with our families. Four days simply aren’t enough

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David Himbara needs to reveal where he found $190,000 to badmouth Rwanda

There is nothing like a pantomime performance by a disgruntled former hotshot to get my creative juices flowing once again. Throw in an American official who thinks he knows what’s best for Rwanda and you have a medley that banishes any writer’s block I might have been suffering from.

Himbara personally hired a top-tier DC lobbying firm in August 2014, paying them a total of $190,000 since the contract started.

Himbara personally hired a top-tier DC lobbying firm in August 2014, paying them a total of $190,000 since the contract started.

I find nothing quite as sad and utterly depressing as watching a once reasonable and respected man descend into a public joke. But that, in my opinion, is what David Himbara has become; a public joke.

The former head of the Strategy and Policy Unit now seems to spend all his time writing nonsensical posts on Facebook (and replying to each and every comment his ‘fans’ post as well), running to the Canadian police and regaling them with tales of bogeymen living under his bed and organizing press conferences with clueless Toronto Star journalists.

Instead of using his intellect to take a breath and reconsider the path he’s marching down, he’s instead doubling down. And whereas before I could simply treat him like an old man ranting and raving but harmless at the end of the day (a bit like the village drunkard), certain events over the past few days have made me change my mind and realise just how far down the rabbit-hole he’s gone.

On the 20th of last month, the US Congress Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations sat down to hear about ‘Developments in Rwanda’.

The farcical two-hour long hearing was an archetypical ‘blind men leading blind men’.

New Jersey Representative Chris Smith is Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee chairman

New Jersey Representative Chris Smith is Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations Subcommittee chairman

On one hand you had Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith, a New Jersey native, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, of California (both who I’d wager had never actually stepped sub-Saharan Africa, never mind Rwanda) and on the other you had Robert P. Jackson (Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

Bureau of African Affairs at the US State Department), Steven Feldstein (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the US State Department), David Himbara and Robert Higiro (both representing the hilariously named ‘Democracy in Rwanda Now’), Sarah Margon (Washington Director, Human Rights Watch) and, to give a semblance of partiality, Willis Shalita (a Rwandan-American blogger).

As one would expect, the hearing was full of rumors, unsubstantiated allegations and straight buffoonery. I would go into details but I don’t want to insult your intelligence and waste your time.

Despite the hilarity, one thing stood out for me; Shalita’s allegation that Himbara, who ‘works’ as a human rights advocate and good governance consultant, “personally hired a top-tier DC lobbying firm in August 2014. He paid them $70,000 in the first quarter of this year, and a total of $190,000 since the contract started”.

Himbara doesn’t deny this. When someone asked him to confirm the allegation, he wrote, and I quote, “in the United States, lobbying is a way of life. Yes indeed, we raised resources to get technical help to learn how the complex United States government works, and how to get our message across”.

That’s right; a man who lives a middle-class existence in Canada is able to afford a US lobbying firm. This then leads to the question, ‘from where is he getting the money’?

Genocide financier,Felicien Kabuga has successfully eluded international courts for years. Is he the source of Himbara's windfall?

Genocide financier,Felicien Kabuga has successfully eluded international courts for years. Is he the source of Himbara’s windfall?

When he writes, “we raised resources” who exactly is that mysterious ‘WE’ he talks about? Is it money sourced from FDLR-owned mines in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo? Is it sourced from Genocide financier and fugitive of justice Félicien Kabuga? Is it from alleged Rwanda National Congress moneyman Tilbert Rugiro? Is it from chronic meddler businessman George Soros?

The one source of the funds that I must immediately rule out is rank and file members of the Rwandan opposition in the diaspora. Why do I discount them? Due to the fact that the vast majority of them are barely able afford a night out on the town, never mind a donation to a barely there pressure group.

What we are seeing is not an organic manifestation of opposition disagreement, but rather a mysteriously well-funded smear campaign waged against the Government of Rwanda.

Unfortunately for whoever is funding Himbara nefarious moves, the evidence on the ground here in Rwanda will always reign supreme. As President Kagame famously declared, “Les faits sont têtus”. There is no getting away from the facts.

The government that we, Rwandans, elected to has brought real change to our lives. A government that distributes livestock to the very poorest among us; one that embraces the rights of women; one that put in place a free 9-year basic education policy; one that fought and defeated a genocidal regime. It is one that has made ‘small’ Rwanda a major international player.

To Himbara and his funders I say, keep throwing good money after bad. You need more than a Washington DC lobbying firm to effect change. You need to convince us that you are credible. Sadly, you are the furthest thing from credible.