Stanford should push Kagame on human rights


Rwandan President Paul Kagame will speak at the Graduate School of Business on Friday afternoon as part of the Center for Global Business and the Economy’s Global Speaker Series. The event’s description praises Kagame’s “leadership in peace building and reconciliation, development, good governance, promotion of human rights and women’s empowerment, and advancement of education.”

It is true that in the wake of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda under Kagame—who served as vice president immediately following the genocide, and was elected president in 2000—has seen a remarkable rate of economic growth, rise in literacy and life expectancy, increase in the provision of public goods such as roads and drinking water and a marked improvement in the representation of women in government. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, one of the darkest moments in modern history, we should certainly not overlook Rwanda’s significant achievements in the aftermath of the unthinkable events of 1994.

There is, however, a darker side to President Kagame, and Stanford should not praise his “promotion of human rights” when in fact countless allegations of appalling human rights violations, both in Rwanda and abroad, hang over the head of Kagame and his administration.

In the years following the genocide, Rwanda was a driving force behind two invasions of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sparked a conflict in the Congo that continues to this day and that has so far killed over five million people, displacing millions more. A UN report released last year announced that, as had long been suspected, Rwanda was providing significant support to the Congo-based rebel group M23, which has posed a major threat to peace and stability in the eastern Congo and contributed greatly to the ongoing destabilization of the country.

On the domestic side, Kagame’s administration has been accused by numerous authorities, including Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights reports, of using political imprisonments, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and more against political opponents of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame’s party. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Rwanda’s Paul Kagame Exploits U.S. Guilt” details many of these issues.

We recognize the privilege of being at a university where such prominent figures are brought in to speak, and we strongly believe that the advancements that have been made in rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide should be celebrated and encouraged. We do not believe, however, that the Stanford administration, the GSB or the student body as a whole should ignore the serious allegations that have been leveled against Kagame’s administration. Kagame’s Rwanda is complex and multidimensional; as we celebrate one dimension, we must be sure not to ignore those other, more sinister elements.

Kagame’s presence on this campus ought to be contingent upon a genuine confrontation with the facts of his leadership, no matter how distasteful. We ask that, rather than painting such a simplistic, one-sided image of Kagame and his “promotion of human rights,” the organizers of this event actively address the Rwandan president’s unambiguous record of human rights violations, his consistent oppression of political opposition and his prominent role in the violence and political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A failure to do so is shameful and irresponsible on the part of such an elite and influential institution as Stanford University.

This op-ed was written by Stanford STAND. STAND is a student-led movement against genocide and mass atrocity. Contact STAND at [email protected]

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