Norway’s puzzling relationship with Rwanda

Foto: Nina Hansen/Dagbladet

By: Fred Winther Holt*


The Norwegian government is protecting the interests of Rwanda’s criminal head of state, president Paul Kagame. At the same time Rwandan refugees are denied protection in Norway.

Since 1994 Norway has spent 1 billion NOK on development aid to Rwanda. A lot may be said about Norway’s relationship with this small country in central Africa. In this article I will look upon Norway’s unrealistic view on women in Rwandan politics, Norway’s refusal to protect Rwandan refugees, and a recent call to end Paul Kagame’s impunity.

Women in politics

In July 2014 Prime Minister (PM) Erna Solberg visited Kigali, Rwanda. There she attended the conference «Women in Parliament». She honored Rwanda for having a high percentage of women in parliament.

– We believed that in the Nordic countries we were the best in the whole world, but you have won over us. Rwanda has 64 % of women in parliament – that is a world record, PM Erna Solberg said in her speech in Kigali. Norwegian media were present and reported about the event.

In fact, women in Rwanda’s parliament have no real political power. We know what happen to women with ambitions for power and influence. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza tried to become a candidate at the presidential election in 2010. She was not allowed even to register the political party of which she is the elected leader. Instead she was put in jail. By now she has served about half of a sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

This year Diane Rwigara wanted to compete with Paul Kagame at the presidential election on August 4th. Rwigara experienced that Rwandan authorities put obstacles in her way which made it impossible for her to register as a candidate.

The election was not free and fair, just a formality. As expected, Paul Kagame won by 99 %. After the election Diane Rwigara was put in jail. So was her mother and sister. They have told about being exposed to torture in prison. Now they are kept in isolation without possibility to talk together.

Asylum seeker refused protection

Dr Joseph Nkusi applied for protection in Norway. The Norwegian immigration authorities did not believe what he told about being a critic of the Rwandan regime and that he would face risk of persecution if he had to return to Rwanda. The Immigration Appeals Board made a big mistake when it did not consider Dr Nkusi’s blog on internet, Shikamaye, as evidence of such a risk.In October 2016 the Norwegian police forcibly returned dr Joseph Nkusi to Rwanda. Upon arrival in Kigali he was questioned by Rwandan police for days. Since then he has been kept in detention risking life imprisonment for expressions made while in Norway.

The indictment was to be treated by the High Court. Time passed by without any hearing at the court. After half a year the High Court found itself incompetent to judge in dr Nkusi’s case. Therefore, the case was transferred to another court, a so-called special chamber for judging on international crimes.

On 26th October 2017 a hearing was to be held in the special chamber. Journalists were present, among others one from Voice of America. However, the judges and dr Nkusi were relocated to another room which was not accessible for external observers. Due to said lack of competence of the court, the decision was simply to return the case to High Court. So it seems as dr Joseph Nkusi is being used as a ping-pong ball between Rwandan courts.

The Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board should review dr Nkusi’s application for protection in Norway. Of course, it seems somewhat challenging to get dr Nkusi out from prison in Kigali and back to Norway. Nevertheless, the Norwegian government has shown special skills in this field.

In May 2017 PM Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende succeeded in getting the Norwegian citizen Joshua French out from prison in Kinshasa, DR Congo, and back to Norway. Mr French was serving life imprisonment for contributing to murder.

Dr Nkusi has not made a single crime. He has used one of his basic rights as a human being, freedom of expression. The wrongdoer in his case is the state of Norway, which has failed to comply with her international obligations as a party of the refugee convention.

Wished extradition of a person protected by UNHCR

In June 2016 the Norwegian department of justice decided to extradite Eugene Nkuranyabahizi to Rwanda. The department failed to recognize that Mr Nkuranyabahizi is protected from refoulment, both by UNHCR and Norway herself.

According to Norwegian extradition law it is prohibited to extradite a person who may be exposed to high risk of being persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or political circumstances.

Norway has a long standing practice of not using the refugee convention’s cessation clause towards a refugee who is protected by UNHCR and has been resettled to Norway. In the case of Eugene Nkuranyabahizi, the Norwegian immigration authorities has not even made a try to use the cessation clause.

There is no indication whatsoever that Eugene Nkuranyabahizi no longer is in need of protection from being persecuted by Rwandan authorities. The human rights situation in Rwanda seems not to have improved since Nkuranyabahizi got protection and came to Norway. In Human Rights Watch recent report «We will force you to confess» it is documented how Rwandan security forces carries out arbitrary arrests, keep people in secret prisons, and most severely torture them.

On October 15th 2017 some media reported that «Norway is worried about the development in Rwanda». It seems obvious that the Norwegian government by no means will have the right to extradite Mr Nkuranyabahizi to Rwanda. Therefore, the Rwandan request for extradition, which appeared in 2013, should have been rejected long ago. After the department’s decision last year, an appeal was made. The case is still resting on the table of the Minister of Justice, Per-Willy Amundsen.

Stop Kagame’s impunity

Readers who are not familiar with the dictatorship of Paul Kagame, may find it useful to watch BBC’s documentary from October 1st 2014, Rwanda’s Untold Story.

Five Rwandan political parties in exile has established a political platform, called P5. On October 24th 2017 they made a call on the international community to help put an end to General Paul Kagame’s impunity. The aim is to obtain sustainable peace and security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region.

PM Erna Solberg is informed about the request from P5.



*The author is director of ESPOIR Human Rights Group in Norway. In March 2016 he received the «Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza for Democracy and Peace» prize awarded by the International Network for Democracy and Peace.