Commonwealth betraying its values, says Rwanda opposition leader


The Secretariat did not respond to requests for comment.

“What kind of organisation can do something like that? An organisation that talks about democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech but you cannot participate,” Ingabire said.

Ingabire was pardoned from her 15-year jail after eight years in 2018 but lives under constant government surveillance.

She says a climate of reporting neighbours exists throughout Rwanda and that one of the only people she trusts is a woman she met in prison who was jailed for having abortion.

“Women can report on their husbands, kids can report on their parents, you don’t understand how they’ve destroyed Rwandan society.

“You cannot trust anyone.”

When this masthead visited her home, she pointed out at white car parked on top of one of Kigali’s famous hills overlooking her home from where she said she and her visitors were constantly monitored.

This white car is permanently parked on a hill overlooking the home of Rwanda’s leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire in Kigali. Credit:Latika Bourke

Despite being pardoned she has been denied permission to leave the country several times and has not seen her sick husband in the Netherlands or her son since she returned home 12 years ago.

Four of her associates have been assassinated and four more disappeared. State-sponsored disappearances are a trademark of Kagame’s regime and had previously come under criticism by the Australian government, United Nations and a string of human rights organisations.

“Of course I worry for my own life, you never know what can happen, but I know that I have to go ahead, I can’t stop,” she said.

When questioned by a BBC reporter about his government’s record on human rights at the end-of-summit news conference, Kagame launched into a 26-minute tirade, saying he didn’t need “any lessons from BBC or anyone” and criticised the media for interviewing Ingabire.

“Take an example who is always written about and people who have been here, even during this CHOGM, you are visiting this woman called Ingabire — Victorie — whom BBC and others [are always presenting] as the face of opposition, that’s fine,” he said.

He claimed that no-one in Rwandan prison was being incarcerated unfairly and that there are people who are not in prison but should be, including Ingabire.

“This woman was released from prison before she served her full sentence,” he said.

“Some people decide to make her an angel for freedom and democracy, where does it come from? She’s out there, she’s not in prison but this I’m saying she should actually be in prison if we had [not] forgiven her.

Scotland praised Kagame for his stewardship of the country since the genocide and did not offer any criticisms of his human rights record.

“Where Rwanda had been in 1994 and you see where Rwanda is now, it is breathtaking,” she said.

When questioned by the BBC about her refusal to release an Ernst & Young report examining the Secretariat’s finances, she too bristled.

“It is deeply, deeply disappointing that the BBC who have such a remarkable reputation should have failed adequately to assure themselves of the facts,” she said.

Rwanda’s hosting of the summit has thrown the Commonwealth’s commitment to human rights into the spotlight, with the former French colonies Gabon and Togo, admitted to the group.

But Scotland said no country was perfect and the pair were welcome into the Commonwealth.

“There is not one country I can think of who can honestly say that they are without error, in need of improvement or opportunities to change,” she said.

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