Rwanda: The political party Ishema ry’u Rwanda, including treatment of its members and supporters, as well as political opponents in general, by authorities (2016-March 2017) [RWA105769.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. The Political Parti Ishema ry’u Rwanda

Sources report that the political party Ishema ry'u Rwanda ([translation] “Pride of Rwanda” (RNA 23 Jan. 2017) or “Honour of Rwanda” (Ikiriho 30 Jan. 2017)) (hereafter Ishema) was formed on 28 January 2013 by 12 Rwandans (Great Lakes Post 3 Nov. 2016; Jambonews 16 May 2013). Sources indicate that it was formed in Paris, France (Umoya 28 Nov. 2015; Great Lakes Post 3 Nov. 2016). According to sources, its leaders want to return to Rwanda to register the party (RNA 24 Nov. 2016; Reuters 23 Nov. 2016).

An article published in 2013 by Jambonews, a news website on the African Great Lakes in general and Rwanda specifically (Jambonews n.d.), indicates that a conference of the Ishema political party took place in Brussels on 28 April 2013 (Jambonews 16 May 2013). The same source reports the following about the conference:

[translation]

The party [Ishema] announced that it has given itself 24 months to produce concrete results. To this end, they announced that they will work everywhere, in small groups of 6 people, but in Rwanda, these groups will begin their work discreetly to avoid sabotage. Therefore, in the next few days, conferences with the various party sections will begin with the goal of developing a program and strategy for the party. The party is urgently trying to set up a radio station to communicate with the public; not one broadcasting online, as already exists, but a genuine radio station that can reach a peasant in the heart of the countryside. Internationally, the Ishema party says it is ready to show countries with interests in the Great Lakes Region that their interests can indeed be guaranteed while at the same time safeguarding the interests of the local population. (Jambonews 16 May 2013)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) article indicates that the Ishema party [translation] “is led by people who are relatively young and new to politics” (AFP 24 Jan. 2017a). According to a document dated 17 January 2016 that was prepared by the party and published on the website leprophete.fr, a blog started by Thomas Nahimana [secretary general of the party] (Jambonews 16 May 2013), 27 party members attended the Ishema conference held in Brussels from 15 to 17 January 2016 (leprophete.fr n.d.).

1.1 Leaders

Sources report that Thomas Nahimana [a Rwandan political opponent exiled in France since 2005 (RFI 24 Jan. 2017; Africanews 24 Nov. 2016)] is the secretary general of the Ishema political party (RFI 24 Nov. 2016; Jambonews 16 May 2013; Le Pays 4 June 2015). Sources state that he was chosen by his party to run as a candidate in the 2017 Rwandan presidential elections (US Fed News 8 Mar. 2016; The Rwandan 3 Nov. 2016; Gahunde 20 May 2015).

According to the 2013 Jambonews article, Basesayabo Déogratias is the leader of the Ishema party in Belgium, and Nadine Claire Kasinge is the spokesperson and head of training in Canada (Jambonews 16 May 2013). According to an article published by the same source in 2016, Venant Nkurunziza is [translation] “another leader of the Ishema Party” (Jambonews 24 Nov. 2016).

On 15 March 2014, Chaste Gahunde, an Ishema member, published on his website (gahunde.org) a list of party members that includes the following people: Nadine Claire Kasinge (senior spokesperson), Nkurunziza Venat (campaign director), Chaste Gahunde (assistant spokesperson), Virginie Nakure (spokesperson for the United Kingdom), Joseph Ndahayo (spokesperson for Belgium and the European Union), Irene Uwamahoro (spokesperson for Norway), Ernest Senga (spokesperson for Australia), Jeanne Mukamurenzi (spokesperson for the other Scandinavian countries), Alexandre Muzungu (communications and technology advisor), Pudent Igiraneza (youth liaison manager), Valence Maniragena (spokesperson for Russia) and Bitangisha Sixbert (business liaison manager) (Gahunde 15 Mar. 2014).

2. Treatment of Ishema Party Members by Authorities

According to the 2013 Jambonews article, Thomas Nahimana said during the conference on 28 April 2013 that his family had received [translation] “threats” because of what he wrote in “his newspaper [leprophete.fr website]” (Jambonews 16 May 2013). During the conference, he said the following about the threats that his family had received:

[translation]

My family was threatened, and my brothers were prevented from calling me and were forced to tell me that if the newspaper did not stop, bad things would befall them. We refused to suspend the newspaper. The governor (of the region [editor’s note]) personally went to my family, teeth clenched, only to show those who were watching him that they had to give me the message that the newspaper had to stop to spare them problems. (Jambonews 16 May 2013)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to several sources, on 23 November 2016, Thomas Nahimana, accompanied by members of his team, Venant Nkurunziza and Claire Nadine Kasinge, was prevented from travelling to Rwanda from Kenya (The East African 28 Nov. 2016; RNA 24 Nov. 2016; Rising Continent 23 Nov. 2016). According to an article published in November 2016 by Jambonews, [translation] “a crowd of about a hundred journalists, supporters and a few curious onlookers” were waiting on 23 November 2016 at Kanombe international airport in Kigali for three Ishema party leaders to arrive (Jambonews 24 Nov. 2016). Sources report that Rwandan authorities asked the airline not to allow Thomas Nahimana to board the flight to Kigali (The East African 28 Nov. 2016; Rising Continent 23 Nov. 2016). Other sources write that the Ambassador of Rwanda to Brussels posted on the social media Twitter that Thomas Nahimana, a Rwandan citizen, was supposed to travel with a Rwandan passport [Thomas Nahimana holds a French passport (RFI 24 Nov. 2016)] [translation] “to enter politics in Rwanda,” but Thomas Nahimana explained that “the Rwandan authorities never processed his application to renew his Rwandan passport” (RFI 24 Nov. 2016; Africanews 24 Nov. 2016).

Sources report that Rwandan president Paul Kagame believes that Thomas Nahimana should have been allowed to return to Rwanda (The East African 18 Dec. 2016; KT Press 11 Dec. 2016). According to The East African, a weekly newspaper that publishes political, economic and other news articles on East African countries (The East African n.d.), Paul Kagame said the following on 11 December 2016: “He [Thomas Nahimana] should have been allowed to return because he is wanted by judicial authorities” (The East African 18 Dec. 2016). Sources report that Ibuka [a nongovernmental organization that supports genocide survivors (Reuters 23 Nov. 2016)] called for Thomas Nahimana to be arrested on his return to Rwanda (Reuters 23 Nov. 2016; RNA 24 Nov. 2016). Sources indicate that he is [translation] “accused of inciting ethnic hatred” and of denying “the Tutsi genocide” through statements he made on his website, leprophete.fr (RNA 24 Nov. 2016; AFP 23 Nov. 2016). In contrast, according to the November 2016 Jambonews article, [translation] “no legal action had been taken against Father [Thomas] Nahimana or his associates” at the time of the article’s publication (Jambonews 24 Nov. 2016). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Several sources report that on 23 January 2017, Thomas Nahimana was denied permission to travel to Kigali, Rwanda (AFP 24 Jan. 2017b; Belga News Agency 25 January 2017; The East African 24 Jan. 2017). According to sources, Rwandan immigration authorities believe that he failed to inform them of his dual nationality, and that he is in possession of an expired Rwandan passport (The East African 24 Jan. 2017; RFI 24 Jan. 2017; Umunyamakuru 26 Jan. 2017).

3. Treatment of Political Opponents by Authorities

According to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 by the US Department of State, the Rwandan government “impeded the formation of new political parties [and] restricted political party activities” (US 3 Mar. 2017, 22). The same source also states that opposition parties “experienced difficulties in registering candidates ahead of the elections, depriving voters of a meaningful choice at the polls” (US 3 Mar. 2017, 26). Similarly, a 2017 article published in the Africa Research Bulletin, a newspaper that publishes reports on economic and political developments in Africa (Africa Research Online n.d.), several opposition parties are not officially recognized and may not participate in elections in Rwanda (Africa Research Bulletin 17 Jan. 2017, 21252C).

According to the Country Reports 2016, opposition leaders and critics of the Rwandan government faced charges of “genocide incitement, genocide denial, divisionism, and incitement to rebel” (US 3 Mar. 2017, 14). Similarly, according to a report on Rwanda published in 2016 by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, the Committee [UN English version] “notes with concern that opposition politicians … have been prosecuted on the basis of such charges [violations of the law on genocide ideology] and have been subjected to other acts of intimidation” (UN 2 May 2016, para. 39). According to the Country Reports 2016, Rwandan authorities have applied the laws “broadly, including to silence political dissent” (US 3 Mar. 2017, 17).

Sources report that members of unregistered opposition parties face arrest (US 3 Mar. 2017, 8; Human Rights Watch Jan. 2017, 3). The same sources also indicate that numerous political prisoners or members of opposition parties remain in prison (US 3 Mar. 2017, 14; Human Rights Watch Jan. 2017, 3).

According to an article published in November 2016 by Jambonews, [translation] “[a]ll opponents known to the regime are either in exile or in prison” (Jambonews 24 Nov. 2016). Similarly, a 2017 AFP article indicates that, in Rwanda, [translation] “[m]any opposition figures have been imprisoned or have voluntarily gone into exile” (AFP 4 Feb. 2017). According to a 2016 Rwanda News Agency (RNA) article, [translation] “[e]very other party [with the exception of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR), the only authorized opposition party in Rwanda] that has claimed to be in opposition has gone into exile, and some parties are operating in Rwanda without authorization” (RNA 21 Nov. 2016).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Africanews. 24 November 2016. “Rwanda : un exilé politique bloqué au Kenya.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Series. 17 January 2017. “Rwanda - Election Date Confirmed.” Vol. 53, No. 12.

Africa Research Online. N.d. “About Africa Research Online.” [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 4 February 2017. “Rwanda : un opposant de retour d’exil candidat à la présidentielle.” (Factiva)

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 24 January 2017a. “Rwanda : un opposant en exil de nouveau interdit d’entrée sur le territoire” (Factiva)

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 24 January 2017b. “L’Afrique en bref de mardi 24 January 2017 à 16h00 GMT.” (Factiva)

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 23 November 2016. “Rwanda : un opposant de retour d’exil interdit d’entrer sur le territoire.” (Factiva)

Belga News Agency. 25 January 2017. “Rwanda : un opposant dénonce le refus de Brussels Airlines de l’embarquer vers Kigali.” (Factiva)

The East African. 24 January 2017. “Rwanda Denies Controversial Priest Entry Again.” (Factiva)

The East African. 18 December 2016. “Kagame: Rwandan Priest Should Have Been Allowed In.” (Factiva)

The East African. 28 November 2016. “Kenya Forced to Keep Prelate as Rwanda Denies Him Entry.” (Factiva)

The East African. N.d. “About Us.” [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017]

Gahunde. 20 May 2015. “Le parti Ishema se dit prêt à forcer l’ouverture de l’espace politique au Rwanda.” [Accessed 2 Mar. 2017]

Gahunde. 15 March 2014. “Ishema Party.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Great Lakes Post. 3 November 2016. “Ishema Party Press Release: November 23rd 2016 Is the Date to Land in Rwanda to Claim the Political Space.” [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017]

Human Rights Watch. January 2017. “Rwanda.” World Report 2017: Events of 2016. [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017]

Ikiriho. 30 January 2017. “Grande interview - Abbé Thomas Nahimana envisage un gouvernement rwandais en exil, si….” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Jambonews. 24 November 2016. Norman Ishimwe. “Un opposant politique déterminé refusé d’accès au Rwanda.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Jambonews. 16 May 2013. “Rwanda : le parti Ishema dévoile son programme à Bruxelles.” [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017]

Jambonews. N.d. “À propos de Jambonews.” [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017]

KT Press. 11 December 2016. “Kagame Prefers Fr. Thomas Nahimana Allowed to Enter Rwanda.” [Accessed 2 Mar. 2017]

Le Pays. 4 June 2015. “Appel d’un opposant rwandais au respect de la constitution - David engage le combat contre Goliath.” (Factiva)

Leprophete.fr. N.d. “Ishema Party Congress Resolutions: our Decision to Return to Rwanda to Exercise our Political Rights Remains Unshakable.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 24 January 2017. “Rwanda : l’opposant Thomas Nahimana une nouvelle fois empêché de rentrer au pays.” [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 24 November 2016. “Rwanda : rentrant d’exil pour la présidentielle, un opposant bloqué au Kenya.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Rising Continent. 23 November 2016. “Kagame Refuses his Political Opponents to Fly Back Home.” [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017]

Reuters. 23 November 2016. “Rwandan Priest with Political Ambitions Says Barred from Returning.” (Factiva)

Rwanda News Agency (RNA). 23 January 2017. “Le prêtre fondateur du parti ‘Ishema ry’u Rwanda’ ou ‘Fierté du Rwanda’ arrive au pays ce soir.” (Factiva)

Rwanda News Agency (RNA). 24 November 2016. “L’opposant Thomas Nahimana en grève pour défendre son droit de rentrer au Rwanda.” (Factiva)

Rwanda News Agency (RNA). 21 November 2016. “Un opposant rwandais annonce son retour jeudi à Kigali.” (Factiva)

The Rwandan. 3 November 2016. “November 23rd 2016 Is the Date to Land in Rwanda to Claim the Political Space.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

Umoya. 28 November 2015. “Testimonio de Nadine Claire Kasinge, en la 6ª edición de la "Relève Jeunesse Engagée", organizada por la Red Internacional de Mujeres por la Democracia y la Paz (RifDP, según sus siglas en francés, Réseau International des femmes pour la Démocratie et la Paix)” [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017]

Umunyamakuru. 26 January 2017. “Rwanda : l’opposant Thomas Nahimana est désormais déclaré ‘persona non grata’ au Rwanda.” [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017]

United Nations. 2 May 2016. Human Rights Committee. Observations finales concernant le quatrième rapport périodique du Rwanda. (CCPR/C/RWA/C) [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017]

United States (US). 3 March 2017. Department of State. “Rwanda.” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017]

US Fed News. 8 Mar. 2016. “‘Lessons in Nonviolent Conflict Resolution’ Lecture and Discussion to Be Held at Southwestern.” (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Africanews; Ishema ry’u Rwanda; Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs; Ligue rwandaise pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l’homme; professor, Université catholique de Louvain; professor, University of Antwerp; Rwanda National Congress.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; BBC; Current History; ecoi.net; Freedom House; International Federation for Human Rights; Political Handbook of the World; UN – Refworld.