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Pasteur Bizimungu not above the law

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd June 2004 03:00 AM

In his Thursday Postcard of June 10, 2004, Dr. Abdul Raheen Tajudeen betrayed his lack of information and circumstances surrounding the former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu’s trial and subsequent conviction in court.

In his Thursday Postcard of June 10, 2004, Dr. Abdul Raheen Tajudeen betrayed his lack of information and circumstances surrounding the former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu’s trial and subsequent conviction in court.

By Andrew Ruhumuriza
In his Thursday Postcard of June 10, 2004, Dr. Abdul Raheen Tajudeen betrayed his lack of information and circumstances surrounding the former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu’s trial and subsequent conviction in court. For the Rwandan public who have closely followed the former president’s frequently shocking political statements and attempts to disregard the law with a determination to ethnicise the politics in the country and public threats of eliminating a section of the Rwandan society, it is a clear-cut case and all Bizimungu and his lawyers can do is to exercise his right to appeal.
A day before Bizimungu left office, he declared in parliament that Rwanda’s fundamental law was based on the Arusha Agreement, and reminded the public that the country had to be governed by the principles of the Agreement during the transitional period. In March 1995, one Clude (Chui) Rukeba submitted an application to the then government of national unity in Rwanda, petitioning the new government to grant him permission to resume political activities of the Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR), a party once headed by his father, Francois Rukaba.
UNAR was the oldest nationalist party in Rwanda, having spearheaded the struggle for independence from the Belgians. As cabinet prepared to discuss Rukeba’s application, Bizimungu reminded the ministers that if they allowed the resumption of political activities by UNAR, they would be committing a crime on the account that they would be making a decision which contravened the Arusha Agreement around whose principles, the country was being governed.
Cabinet consented and Bizimungu carried the day. He had successfully invoked one of the key clauses in the Arusha Agreement which stated that the only political organisations allowed to operate in Rwanda during the transitional period were the political parties recognised by the Arusha Agreement. Any other political party would have to wait until the end of the transitional period. Indeed, Bizimungu was a principal signatory to the agreement. The Arusha Agreement during the transitional period, constituted the main part of the law that governed Rwanda.
In June 2001, Bizimungu called a news conference to announce a new political party he was setting up and to spell out his political programme. His erstwhile colleagues in the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) and leaders of other political parties signatory to the Arusha Agreement told him that he was breaking the law.
The former president refused to budge and went ahead to carry out his political activities, which turned out to be out rightly divisive.
Bizimungu denounced the Arusha Agreement as irrelevant and made it clear that he was not going to be bound by the existing law governing the land. Ironically, he was one of the key political leaders who negotiated the agreement.
When Bizimungu chose to ignore the provisions of the Arusha Agreement, and in this case, the clause governing the formation of political parties in relation to the transitional period, he was breaking the law.
Whether former president or not, a law had been violated, and this constituted a crime. Now, Dr. Tajudeen contends that “it should not be a crime to form political parties to contest public opinion and canvass support.” I would concur with him, but in this case, the Arusha Agreement, to which Bizimungu was a signatory, was clear. Any violation of any of its clauses was a crime.
As it turned out, the former Rwandan president was not only breaking the law, which he worked to put in place, but he was also seeking to be treated differently from the rest of the population, thus placing himself above the law.
If Bizimungu had publicly invoked the Arusha Agreement to stop Rukeba from resuming activities of his well known political party in Rwanda, why was the same clause not going to be applied if anyone else, and Bizimungu in this case, contravened the agreement?
The former president did not resign to form a political party. Bizimungu stepped down in March 2000, a few hours before the Transitional Parliament voted to impeach him, one day after he stood in the House, where he attacked and insulted the legislators at the height of his conflict with the Transitional National Assembly.

His issue does not have to be politicised as it is a case of law and order. Dr. Tajudeen says justice “must be seen to be done.”
How does justice get to be seen to be done if society does not treat its citizens equally before the law? I am referring to Rukeba and Bizimungu. The Panafricanist intellectual observes that Rwanda “has confounded critics by the giant strides it has made in trying to confront its painful history and build a better society since the end of genocide.” Part of Rwanda’s remarkable success that Dr. Tajudeen refers to, was registered because the country has been governed by the rule of law, where all Rwandans are equal before the law, a dispensation that had not existed before. By applying the law, the government was in no way “criminalising political disagreement”, as indeed there is today in Rwanda sufficient latitude for political expression.
The allegation by Dr. Tajudeen that the RPF treats opposition as “ethnicity, divisive Interahamwe sympathisers” is misinformed.
I would strongly recommend him to read Bizimungu’s interview with Jeune Afrique L’Iltelligent no. 2112 of July 3. 2001 , where the former president declared that if political dispensation in the country does not comply to his own vision, “the Hutus are again going to take up their weapons and wipe out the remaining Tutsi population in the country.” What this interview revealed to Rwandans is that Bizimungu had learnt nothing from the recent history of Rwanda. It is evident from the interview that he still believes that ethnicity should be central to politics in Rwanda. He also demonstrated his conviction that political disagreement in Rwanda should be resolved by eliminating a section of the society.
Bizimungu’s divisive political utterances stunned Rwandans to the core.
By publicly threatening the Tutsis with a possibility of another round of genocide, Bizimungu was clearly breathing inspiration into those elements who believe genocide is an unfinished business. On the other hand, the statement coming as it did from the immediate former head of state for the genocide survivors, it was a frightening reminder that the possibility of being wiped out still remains.
for most Rwandans, the response was that even if Bizimungu was genuinely not agreeable to the political situation in Rwanda, by threatening that the Hutus were going to carry out another round of genocide against the Tutsis, he had simply crossed the line and everybody began to wonder when law enforcement was going to intervene.
However, even with this level of dangerous provocation and incitement, Bizimungu remained a free man until he chose to match the rhetoric with mobilisation around a clearly divisive ideology designed to polarise the Rwandan society, and all this at a time when the law, according to the Arusha Agreement, did not allow the formation of new political parties.
As a former president, Bizimungu had convinced himself that he could flout the law at will and any action on the part of law enforcement would be regarded as political witch-hunt. Bizimungu’s gamble has paid off, considering that there are those like Dr. Tajudeen, who seek to view an otherwise criminal case from a political prism.

The author is the director of the Dialogue Centre Kigali

Pasteur Bizimungu not above the law

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