black agenda report

No Human Rights in Texas
Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report, Feb 24 2021

The people of Texas suffer unnecessarily from bad weather because their state puts oligarchs first and does not recognize the human right to health and safety. Texas, the Lone Star state, was once a part of Mexico but broke away after that nation outlawed slavery. Such reactionary beginnings have carried over into its governance in the 21st century and millions of people now pay a high price as a result. That state’s government perpetuates its history by committing itself to being regulated as little as possible. Texas is disconnected from the two electric grids which provide power to the rest of the country. Its system failed under the strain of a freak snowstorm and people went without power and heat and even without water. Consumers pay unregulated utilities who are allowed to charge a fluctuating wholesale price which soars when demand is high. Those lucky few whose power stayed on now have bills in the thousands of dollars. Despite bragging about having once been an independent republic, and its position as the world’s 10th biggest economy, Texas was laid low by nature and most of its 29m residents are suffering.

The term “human rights” is a serious one but it has been so badly misused in this country that its meaning has been lost. The words have been turned into a weapon that the US government uses to attack nations it sees as enemies. Of course, its friends may wage wars and oppress their people but being labeled a human rights violator depends entirely upon relations with the US. The definition was discussed at a press briefing given by Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, who said:

Not to be wanting of food or clothing, not to be hungry or cold, this is the fundamental human right that is the most real. In the meantime in Texas, millions of people found themselves caught in the terrible situation of not having electricity and heating at home, a few tens of people even lost their lives because of this. This gave the Chinese people a deeper appreciation for what is the real human right, and made us believe more strongly that China is on the right path. We are fully confident about our future.

China is the bogeyman du jour for presidential administrations, members of Congress and their friends in corporate media. The spokeswoman’s remarks about human rights were made in response to dubious charges of abuse against the Uighur population in Xinjiang province. But the inability to help people suffering during a natural disaster is an obvious human rights violation.

The average American has an image of this country that is a mixture of fantasy, indoctrination, and ignorance. They think of their country as being “rich” because that is what they have been told. But the word is meaningless and bears little resemblance to the life experiences of people who struggle. How great is a nation if it doesn’t manage the simple task of weatherizing its energy infrastructure? Yet there has to be serious analysis of the situation lest finger pointing and do-goodism take the place of meaningful discussion. Texas Senator Ted Cruz was caught sneaking away to Cancun, Mexico with his family when they didn’t want to be inconvenienced like everyone else in their state. His public relations nemesis, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, made the most of the moment and spearheaded a charity drive which ultimately raised $3m. She even showed up in Houston herself to embarrass Cruz in person. Personal charity is no substitute for a government that acts on behalf of and in the interests of its people. No individual should have to raise money for Texas. The federal government and that state are responsible for the care of the people. Of course, Texas is extremely conservative with no income taxes, a legislature that only meets every other year, and no requirements for the ironically named Energy Reliability Council of Texas to make sure that it can operate safely in cold weather.

Stupid politicians, tit-for-tat attention-seeking and feel-good fund raising are not the point of the matter. People have a right to have their most basic needs met and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure public safety and provide relief when needed. In an ideal non-capitalist country, utilities would be in public hands. No government would be allowed to disconnect itself from standards of safety. The corporate media will often show images of sparse food store offerings in Cuba or Venezuela to make the case against socialism. The same reports never mention the damage caused by US sanctions. But the reverse never happens. Despite thousands of photographs showing empty shelves, people waiting on long lines for food and water, and property damage caused by governmental neglect, very few will ask if capitalism is to blame for this catastrophe. Of course, it is easy to blame this one state, but it is America writ large, where human rights take a back seat to the needs of the oligarchy. Despite endless claims of superiority, the commitment to protect human rights here is largely rhetorical. Just ask Texans who burned their own furniture in an effort to stay warm.

Rusesabagina’s Show Trial and Shooting Deaths of a Rwandan Dissident and an Italian Ambassador
Ann Garrison, Black Agenda Report, Feb 24 2021

Paul Rusesabagina under arrest after his rendition to Rwanda.

Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan whose heroic story is told in the Hollywood Movie “Hotel Rwanda,” went on trial for terrorism last week in Rwanda. Then, on Sunday Feb 21, a prominent member of Rwanda’s dissident diaspora was murdered in Capetown, South Africa. The next day, Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was murdered while traveling to observe the World Food Program’s work at a school in Rutshuru Territory, on DRC’s Rwandan border. All three events warrant attention in the US, given US implication as the top bilateral donor to the government of Rwandan Pesident Paul Kagame, a longstanding US military partner and proxy in the region.

Rusesabagina’s trial

Paul Rusesabagina is probably the most famous Rwandan in the country’s diaspora, due to his portrayal by Don Cheadle in the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda,” which tells the story of how, as manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines, he sheltered more than 1000 Rwandan Tutsis from harm at the hands of genocidal militias during the final days of the 1990-1994 Rwandan Civil War. Rusesabagina is himself an ethnic Hutu married to an ethnic Tutsi who has advocated for ethnic reconciliation and democracy in Rwanda and against the totalitarian regime led by Kagame. Last year Rusesabagina boarded a plane in Dubai, which he believed was bound for Burundi, a country neighboring Rwanda and sharing Rwanda’s ethnic composition. He soon found himself instead in handcuffs in Rwanda, where he was charged with terrorism, along with 20 co-defendants identified as members of a rebel militia. This week he appeared in court with his Rwandan lawyer Gatera Gashabana, who has also represented opposition leader Victoire Ingabire in Rwandan courts. Gashabana said:

I would like to insist on the fact that Rusesabagina is in Rwanda illegally. He did not come as a result of an extradition. He didn’t even come of his own free will. He found himself in Rwanda against his will.

The NYT, Guardian, CNN, VoA, NPR and BBC have all published sympathetic reports of Rusesabagina’s case. A bipartisan coalition of30 US Senators and Representatives wrote a letter urging President Kagame to release himand accusing Kagame of violating US deportation and extradition law by snatching him. Kitty Kurth of the Hotel Rwanda/Rusesabagina Foundation said:

We drafted the letter, and the offices crafted and added and massaged until it was language that everyone could agree on.

Does this mean that Rwandan President Paul Kagame is tumbling from Western grace in any real way? For nearly two decades after the outset of the 1990-1994 Rwandan Civil War, General, then President Kagame was a darling of Western media and officialdom, credited with stopping genocide, then guiding the country’s rise from its ashes. All that began to change in 2010, when Victoire Ingabire, Bernard Ntaganda and Frank Habineza all attempted to run for president against Kagame but weren’t even able to register their opposition parties. By the end of that year Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda were both in prison and Frank Habineza had fled to Europe after the vice president of his party was found dead with his head cut off. Rwandan journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage and even Jwani Mwaikusa, a renowned International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defense attorney and Tanzanian law professor, were shot dead. Rwandan operatives attempted to assassinate former Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa in Johannesburg, “right in the middle of the World Cup” in the words of former Rwandan Intelligence Chief Patrick Karegeya, who was also living in exile in Johannesburg. Four years later, on New Year’s Day, Karegeya himself was found dead by strangulation in a Johannesburg hotel. In their most recent sympathetic reports of Rusesabagina, the NYT, CNN, Guardian and VoA all reported President Kagame’s history of assassinations, attempted assassinations, and threats to Rwandans in diaspora. The NYT wrote:

Now, Rwanda is also known as an authoritarian state where Mr Kagame exerts total control, his troops are accused of plunder and massacres in neighboring Congo, and political rivals are imprisoned, subjected to sham trials or die in mysterious circumstances at home and abroad.

“Accused” is putting it mildly, given that “the plunder and massacres in neighboring Congo” have been evidenced in reports produced by the UN Group of Experts on DRC for more than 20 years, and by the UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The NYT implied that it would not have been unreasonable for Paul Rusesabagina to have given up on political solutions in Rwanda. Who wouldn’t? It even acknowledged:

A quarter century on, the genocide still casts a long shadow inside Rwanda, where the truth about how it unfolded is bitterly contested.

Part of the “bitterly contested” truth includes abundant evidence that Kagame’s forces massacred Hutu people during and after the final hundred days of the Rwandan Civil War that came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide. At no point in its article on Rusesabagina did the NYT identify the genocide as “the genocide against the Tutsi,” the description that Kagame has managed to legally codify not only in Rwanda but also in Belgium. They did report:

In 2014 Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer, was accused of treason over a song that drew attention to the death of all Rwandans, including moderate Hutus, since 1994, challenging an official narrative of a ‘Tutsi genocide.’

In 2020, after four years in prison, Mihigo attempted to escape from Rwanda into Burundi, but Rwandan police apprehended him at the border, then reported that he had hung himself in a cell. Kagame’s most powerful and long-standing defenders, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Tony Blair and the Clintons have all remained silent, speaking out neither for Paul Rusesabagina nor for Kagame’s case against him.

The shooting death of Seif Bamporiki

On Sunday morning, Feb 21, unofficial reports that Rwandan agents had killed Seif Bamporiki, a Rwandan dissident living in exile in South Africa, began appearing on social media. The NYT and South African outlets confirmed the story the next day. Kagame supporters scoffed that Bamporiki was killed in Capetown, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood, and South African police thus far say that they are operating on the assumption that he was killed during a robbery. They don’t, however, discount the possibility of political motivation, saying only that they haven’t seen any evidence of that yet. Bamporiki’s Rwandan allies say the murder had all the markings of an assassination ordered by President Kagame. And the fact that former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was found strangled in Johannesburg and former Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa survived three assassination attempts on South African soil was enough to inspire the NYT headline “Rwanda Opposition Figure Is Killed in South Africa.”

The shooting death of Italian Ambassador

On Feb 22, Luca Attanasio, Italy’s ambassador to the DRC since 2017, was shot dead along with an Italian soldier and a Congolese driver while traveling on a road just outside Goma, along DRC’s Rwandan border. They were on their way to visit a World Food Program distribution site at a school in Rutshuru Territory. The Congolese Interior Ministry immediately released a statement, without evidence and before an investigation could have been done, blaming it on the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), but the FDLR immediately released a statement in which they denied responsibility, as reported by the AP:

‘The FDLR declares that there is nothing to implicate it in the attack that resulted in the death of the Italian ambassador and asks that Congolese authorities and MONUSCO to do all they can to shed light on those responsible for this ignoble assassination,’ rebel spokesman Cure Ngoma said in a statement. The rebel group noted the attack took place in the ‘three antennas’ area near Goma and the border of Rwanda and close to Congolese and Rwandan military positions. It blamed the killings on those forces.

For the FDLR, murdering a European ambassador and his entourage would have been as stupid as dropping chemical weapons on its own people would have been for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. What more could one do to inspire the rage and retribution of the West? The allegation against Assad has been thoroughly discredited, and this allegation against the FDLR should be studied with equal skepticism and scrutiny. ICTR defense attorney Christopher Black, who won the groundbreaking acquittal and release of General Augustin Ndindiliyimana in 2014, responded:

Yes, the rush to blame the FDLR makes me think this hit was done by Kagame or Kabila to justify calling for international help to crush the FDLR. The FDLR would never do something that stupid.

For many years Rwanda has counted on the world believing that the FDLR are subhuman Hutu killers who committed genocide against the Tutsi and can’t be expected to behave rationally, much as those who fabricated Assad’s chemical weapons attacks have counted on the world to believe the same about him. Rwanda has occupied this territory since 2009 when the CNDP, a Rwandan trained, armed, and commanded militia, was “integrated into the Congolese army” in a de facto concession of territory. In 2012-2013, these troops broke away from the Congolese army and rampaged through the North Kivu Provinces, massacring civilians as they went, complaining that they had not been given all they’d been promised on Mar 23 2009, and therefore calling themselves the M23 militia. The great and beloved Congolese Colonel Mamadou Mustafa Ndalareportedly led Congolese forces to victory in the M23 war, driving the militia back into Rwanda and Uganda, but then, strangely, the international community required the victors to negotiate with the losers in a showy, much ballyhooed process in Uganda. So far as I have ever been able to tell, I’m still the only reporter who studied the ensuing document and reported that the “Declaration’ would contract DRC to concede to M23.” I’m still open-mouthed remembering, and I’m not saying it took a genius to figure this out, even from a great distance. All I did was follow the “negotiations” and read a PDF of the document they produced, the “Final Communique of the Kampala Dialogue,” which promised all members of M23 release, amnesty and “the implementation of the conclusions of the review of the implementation of the M23 agreement of Mar 23 2009.” There was no consequence whatsoever for President Paul Kagame, even though the final report of the UN experts investigation submitted in Jan 2014 demonstrated that M23 was trained and equipped by Rwanda, and directly commanded by the Rwandan Defense Minister, and that elements of M23 were also reporting to top Ugandan officials. In my 12/11/2013 report, I quoted Paul Rusesabagina, whom I’d spoken to for Pacifica’s KPFA Radio:

Uganda has been accused many times by the international community, including the United Nations and the Congolese government, as one of the perpetrators, with Rwanda, supporting M23. Today, Uganda positions itself as, now, a mediator. How can one, in history, be a perpetrator and a mediator at the same time? Can one be a perpetrator and a judge? It can’t be. So, you can see, this is why all that is taking place in Uganda, in Kampala today is just a kind of facade.

Congo’s hero, Colonel Mamadou Ndala, died in an ambush during the first week of Jan 2014, which was blamed on the phantom, many say fake, Islamist militia, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

Is it finally time for a change?

Can we expect anything different in response to the latest rash of violence in Johannesburg and DRC territory occupied by Rwanda? Or in response to the hijacking of Paul Rusesabagina? With every war, kidnapping, and murder on foreign soil, Kagame’s critics ask if he’s finally gone too far, while the US is still Rwanda’s top bilateral donor, with the UK not far behind. Multiple strategic and military alliances deploy Rwandan troops in service to US, or putatively UN, interests in Africa. Renowned British journalist Ian Birrell wrote this week:

The show trial of the hero of Hotel Rwanda must be a wake-up call to the West.

Indeed it should, but the West has had so many “wake-up calls” for the 27 years since Kagame seized power in Rwanda that it’s hard to imagine that this will be the last.

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