The right to a fair trial does not exist in Rwanda – and this is causing a diplomatic fallout with SA, writes Peter Fabricius.
Taking a principled stand sometimes does not win you many friends with African governments.
South Africa has annoyed many fellow-African governments with its stand supporting the rights of homosexuals – even if Pretoria did not exactly stand up for those principles recently by directly criticising Uganda for its new, drastically homophobic law.
Now South Africa has fallen out with Rwanda, essentially over the principle of the right to a fair trial.
Colonel Patrick Karegeya and General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa fled here from Rwanda in 2006 and 2010 respectively because they feared persecution by Paul Kagame’s government.
Both had been close to Kagame, occupying top positions in his feared security apparatus, but fell out with him for reasons that are not clear.
Rwanda asked South Africa to extradite them to face charges of terrorism and/or otherwise plotting to violently overthrow his government.
Instead, Pretoria granted them political asylum, deciding, apparently and almost certainly correctly, that they would not face fair trials in Rwanda.
Within months or perhaps weeks of that decision on Nyamwasa, the first attempt was made to kill him. He was shot in the stomach as he drove into his Atholl home.
Six men from Rwanda and neighbouring countries are standing trial for attempted murder. Within days, a separate group of men were arrested on their way to try to smother him in hospital.
And on New Year’s Day this year, Karegeya was found dead in a room at the Michelangelo Hotel, apparently strangled by a Rwandan “businessman” he had befriended and some accomplices.
And then last Monday night, a group of men broke into what was supposed to be a safe house in Johannesburg, owned by the South African government, where Nyamwasa and his family were staying under its protection.
They were not at home and so no one was hurt.
But it was “the final straw” for the South African government, which expelled three Rwandan diplomats, which it said its security agents had linked to what it said was an assassination attempt against Nyamwasa.
Strangely, a Burundian diplomat, also involved, was expelled too, according to South African officials.
Rwanda retaliated by expelling six diplomats, all but the High Commissioner, George Twala.
The South African government made it clear that was not the end of the matter and that it would probably recall Twala – which Kigali would no doubt reciprocate for by recalling its High Commissioner, Vincent Karega. And so on.
Maybe this will end only with the severing of diplomatic relations completely.
That seems likely, since Kagame is evidently determined to stop at nothing to kill his political enemies wherever he can find them in the world.
South Africa is not the only country where they have been murdered.
Kagame has denied ordering the killing of Karegeya or the attempts on Nyamwasa’s life, though he told the Wall Street Journal this year he wished he had been responsible for Karegeya’s death.
He clearly feels perfectly justified in doing this because he regards them as traitors – and South Africa as an accomplice to treason for harbouring them.
It is true that while in exile Nyamwasa and Karegeya did help found the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition political party.
On Friday, Kagame’s Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, tweeted: “We have expelled six South African diplomats in reciprocity and concern at South Africa’s harbouring of dissidents responsible for terrorist attacks in Rwanda.” But there is insufficient evidence the Rwanda National Congress is anything more than a legitimate political party.
And all the international, African and South African legal instruments dealing with refugees make it clear that refugees such as Nyamwasa have the right to participate in non-violent political activities.
At the heart of the problem is Kagame’s authoritarian style of government.
If the rule of law prevailed in Rwanda, South Africa could afford to send Nyamwasa home for a trial which would test the terrorism charges.
But under the Kagame regime, that would be to sign a likely death warrant.
* Peter Fabricius is Independent Newspapers’ foreign editor.