Brussels: The Controversial Arrest of a Former Rwandan Justice Minister

On the morning of March 28, 2024, a notable incident took place in Uccle, Brussels, when police forces arrested Stanislas Mbonampeka, an 82-year-old former Rwandan Minister of Justice and a prominent figure in the Rwandan diaspora. This event marked a significant moment in the complex relationship between Rwanda’s political history and the international community, particularly Belgium, where many Rwandans reside.

Stanislas Mbonampeka, a man with a distinguished background in both military and legal sectors, has played a pivotal role in Rwanda’s post-independence history. Initially part of Rwanda’s National Guard, he transitioned from a promising military career to pursue higher education, earning a law degree and eventually becoming a notable lawyer in Rwanda. His courage and commitment to justice were demonstrated when he defended individuals accused of collaborating with the FPR-Inkotanyi following their attack on Rwanda in 1990. Mbonampeka’s entry into politics was marked by his involvement in founding the Liberal Party (PL), positioning himself as a vocal critic of the ruling MRND party and serving as Minister of Justice in a coalition government before resigning due to political disagreements.

The arrest of Mbonampeka by Belgian authorities has sparked a wide array of responses, highlighting the sensitive nature of Rwandan politics and its diaspora’s impact. According to his family, Mbonampeka was taken to the new Haren prison, north of Brussels, under unclear charges. This incident has not only raised concerns about the legal grounds for his arrest but also about the broader implications for Rwandan political activists and critics living abroad.

The reasons behind Mbonampeka’s arrest appear to intertwine with his familial connections to members of Jambo asbl, a human rights organization known for its critical stance against the Rwandan government’s human rights record. His wife, Marie Claire Mukamugema, further embodies a symbolic resistance against the FPR’s narrative of Rwandan history, given her heritage and outspoken nature about the country’s past political transitions.

Moreover, Mbonampeka’s continued ownership of property in Rwanda and his influential role in the Rwandan diaspora seem to have made him a target for persecution, reflecting the Rwandan government’s broader strategy of exerting influence and control over its critics, both domestically and internationally.

The arrest has also shed light on the complex dynamics of Rwanda’s diplomatic relations, particularly with Belgium. The action against Mbonampeka is interpreted by some as an attempt by the Belgian government to appease Rwandan President Paul Kagame amid ongoing diplomatic frictions. This move comes at a critical time, ahead of Belgium’s electoral period, suggesting a potential motive of gaining favor among pro-FPR constituencies within the country.

The arrest of Stanislas Mbonampeka in Brussels brings to the forefront the ongoing challenges faced by Rwandan political figures in exile and the intricate web of international relations, human rights, and diaspora politics. As this situation unfolds, it will undoubtedly continue to attract attention from both the international community and those concerned with the rule of law and political freedoms. The broader implications for Rwandan expatriates and the global discourse on justice and accountability remain key issues for observers and stakeholders alike.