By denying Father Thomas Nahimana—and his fellow Rwandans—to return to his country of birth and citizenship, the government of Rwanda led by President Paul Kagame may have violated Article 3 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The article states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
On November 23, 2016, the government notified airplanes bound to Rwanda from Nairobi, Kenya, that Father Thomas Nahimana, Venant Nkurunziza, Claire Nadine Kasinge, and Kejo Skyler were not welcome to Rwanda. Consequently, they were barred from boarding a connecting flight to Rwanda.
Nahimana, a citizen of both Rwanda and France, was returning to Rwanda from exile with the aim of registering his political party, Ishema, and ultimately running for president in the 2017 elections. After unsuccessful efforts to return to Rwanda, Ndahimana had no choice but to go back to France.
President Paul Kagame’s government has a history of barring Rwandan politicians from going back home. In 2013, the former prime minister and current chairman of Rwandan Dream Initiative, Faustin Twagiramungu, was denied his right to return home to launch his political party’s activities. It is true that many refugees have returned to Rwanda, but the government should not pick and choose who among Rwandan refugees are allowed to go home and who are not.
The right to return home is an inalienable right, a God-given right, and an internationally recognized right.
The evil the UDHR seeks to prevent is a political culture of violence. The preamble of the UDHR explicitly stipulates: “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” Historically, Rwandans have suffered despicable atrocities as a result of violation of fundamental human rights. What Rwanda needs is the rule of law and peace, not oppression and rebellions.
Denying a citizen the right to return to his/her country has no justification whatsoever. What happened to Nahimana should concern every Rwandan and be a cause to speak out. Today it is Thomas Nahimana; yesterday it was Faustin Twagiramungu; and tomorrow it could be you or your comrade. We should learn from a famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller who was imprisoned by the Nazis during the Holocaust:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I did not speak out;
I was not a communist.
When they came for the social democrats, I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
The lasting enjoyment of our human rights depends on the respect of the human rights of others.