Unveiling the Shadows: Rwanda’s Reach Beyond Borders

Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director of Human Rights Watch

On February 15, 2024, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission convened a hearing where Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, illuminated the grave issue of transnational repression by the Rwandan government. Despite Rwanda’s commendable progress in economic development and infrastructure rebuilding post-1994 genocide, its commitment to civil and political rights remains in question. Mudge highlighted the perils faced by critics of the government and President Paul Kagame, emphasizing the risks that extend even to Rwandans living abroad.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in October 2023, evidence was presented on the Rwandan government’s surveillance and intimidation of dissidents beyond its borders. Tactics range from physical violence and online harassment to the misuse of international law enforcement mechanisms. This extraterritorial repression is aimed at stifling dissent and maintaining a facade of unanimity among the Rwandan diaspora.

The international community’s lack of response to these actions not only emboldens the Rwandan government but also leaves victims without recourse. The detailed testimonies within the report underscore the lengths to which Rwanda will go to silence opposition. Cases of harassment, physical violence, and legal manipulation against Rwandan nationals in the United States and other countries were documented, shedding light on a systematic approach to quash dissent globally.

One particularly striking case involved Eugene Gasana, a former Rwandan diplomat, who faced a series of legal and personal attacks after falling out with Kagame’s administration. Despite the questionable nature of the allegations against him, Gasana’s ordeal exemplifies the Rwandan government’s influence and willingness to pursue critics on foreign soil.

The report also delves into broader implications, suggesting that Rwanda’s actions are part of a worrying trend of governments exercising power beyond their territorial boundaries. Recommendations to the United States government include offering protection to Rwandans within its jurisdiction, investigating reported abuses, denouncing Rwandan repression tactics, and reviewing funding and cooperation agreements with Rwanda.

This hearing and the accompanying report are crucial in understanding the extent of Rwanda’s transnational repression. They call for a concerted effort by the international community to address these violations and uphold the rights of individuals, regardless of their geographic location.