Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Seeks Restoration of Civic Rights at the East African Court of Justice

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza

On April 30th, 2024, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza formally filed a case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) against the Rwandan government, aiming to reclaim her civic rights which have been systematically denied. Ms. Ingabire, who was once a presidential candidate in Rwanda, is challenging the ongoing refusal by the Rwandan authorities to reinstate her rights to participate in the upcoming presidential elections in July 2024.

Ms. Ingabire’s journey through the Rwandan legal system has been fraught with controversy. In January 2010, upon her return from the Netherlands, where she had lived in exile, she intended to contest in that year’s presidential elections. However, her plans were abruptly halted when she was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. Her conviction was widely criticized internationally and described as politically motivated. Her appeal to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights resulted in a 2018 ruling that Rwanda had indeed breached her rights to free expression and a fair defense.

Despite being released in September 2018 under a presidential pardon after eight years of imprisonment, including five years in solitary confinement, Ms. Ingabire’s struggles with the Rwandan judicial system persisted. In March 2024, the High Court of Rwanda denied her request for rehabilitation, effectively barring her from reclaiming her civic rights, such as the right to travel internationally or engage in political activities.

The denial from the High Court is part of a broader pattern of actions by the Rwandan state to exclude Ms. Ingabire from the political landscape, contravening the East African Community Treaty which Rwanda is a part of. This treaty mandates member states to uphold democratic principles, the rule of law, and human rights.

The filing with the EACJ not only seeks to overturn these restrictions but also requests urgent interim measures to allow Ms. Ingabire to register as a candidate in the upcoming elections. Moreover, it includes demands to lift travel bans that have prevented her from attending significant family events abroad and visiting her ailing husband.

Ms. Ingabire’s case is supported by a robust team of legal experts, including Rwandan lawyer Gatera Gashabana and Kenyan lawyers Emily Osiemo and Elisha Ongoya, alongside an international team comprising Kate Gibson, Sheila Paylan, Philippe Larochelle, and Iain Edwards.

This legal battle not only highlights the personal plight of Ms. Ingabire but also underscores broader concerns about adherence to democratic values and human rights within Rwanda, challenging the governance under President Kagame’s administration.