Byuma, a historical activist gagged

10 September 2007 by Louis-Martin Rugendo

On August 18, a gacaca appeals court sentenced François-Xavier Byuma, a long-time human rights defender in Rwanda, to 19 years in prison for participation in the 1994 genocide. The community court in Biryogo district in the capital of Kigali found him guilty of using firearms, participating in attacks and assaulting a young Tutsi woman with the intention of killing her—accusations that were refuted by numerous witnesses. Byuma has been detained since his sentencing by a gacaca trial court on May 27.

Byuma comes from the first generation of Rwandan human rights activists who founded NGOs in the heady but turbulent era in the early 1990s when multiparty-ism was introduced. Many of his colleagues died during the civil war and genocide. Subsequently, others fled persecution or were coopted into politics by the new regime. Since the genocide, Byuma has been a leading figure in the Human Rights League in the Great Lakes Region (LDGL) and the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), the two most independent human rights organizations in Rwanda. He discreetly withdrew from public activism in 2004, after government repression forced several human rights defenders from LDGL and LIPRODHOR into exile that year. Yet, he remained active in defending children's rights.

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