Fred W. Holt, a Norwegian human rights defender and a member of Friends of Victoire was awarded, together with Anneke Verbraeken and Patrick Mbeko, the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Prize for Democracy and Peace, 2016 on 12 March 2016 in Brussels, Belgium:
Dear friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am deeply honoured by being awarded the prize «Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza for Democracy and Peace». Thanks to the jury for choosing me. Thanks to the International Women’s Network for Democracy and Peace for inviting me. I appreciate very much to be together with all of you tonight.
Victoire Ingabire is fighting for Democracy and Peace in Rwanda and in the Great Lakes Region. From the day she arrived in Kigali, on the 16th of January 2010, she became an outstanding symbol of basic values and human rights. In her speech at Gisozi Genocide Memorial, she expressed her wish that all victims should be remembered, also Hutus who became victims of crimes against humanity. She had the right to do so. However, the Kigali-regime immediately showed that it is an oppressive dictatorship. In Rwanda, there exists no freedom of speech, as Victoire Ingabire experienced. There exists no political space, except for the dictator himself, general Paul Kagame. And there is no press freedom, as Anjan Sundaram recently documented in his book «BAD NEWS Last journalists in a Dictatorship».
Lack of freedom in a country means lack of democracy and peace. So it is in Rwanda today, and so it was here in Europe during the second world war. Europeans learned what freedom is, from living without it for many years. When the war ended, on the 8th of May 1945, millions of people were celebrating freedom and peace. This was so important that since then, every year on the 8th of May, we remember that day of freedom.
In Europe, the Nazi Germans were defeated by an alliance of military forces. In other words, it was through a military victory that peace and democracy came back to war-torn Europe. What about present Rwanda? I have not heard a single person being in favour of a military solution. The only way to win democracy and lasting peace in Rwanda, is by the use of peaceful means. Nevertheless, there has to be a fight for freedom. We have seen this kind of peaceful fights before. Look to South Africa and Nelson Mandela. Look to Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Today, Victoire Ingabire is fighting and suffering, fighting and suffering, to obtain peace and democracy for her people. So far, she has brought the name of Victory to her home country. Victoire is there, but she is imprisoned. The values that she stands for; freedom, democracy and peace, are also there, locked up together with her in the 1930 prison in Kigali.
This means that demanding the release of Victoire Ingabire, is exactly the same as demanding the release of the values that she represents. Victoire Ingabire and the universal values of freedom are linked together. If you free one, you free the other. This is what makes Victoire Ingabire such an outstanding symbol of freedom. This is what makes her so strong. This is what makes Kagame so afraid of her. This is why Rwanda recently decided to withdraw from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Six years have passed since Victoire Ingabire left her family and job in the Netherlands. She is brave. She is patient. We admire her, but that is not enough. We should be more active in our support of her. This is how we best can support the Rwandan people.
Rwanda is a small country, with a complex history, far away from Europe. I think that most westerners, or umuzungus as you might say, know very little about Rwanda. If they know something, they might say as Kagame, «I don’t care». For example, in Norway you hardly meet a person who has ever heard about Victoire Ingabire. Besides, most people who has a little knowledge of Rwanda, consider Kagame as a hero who invaded Rwanda in 1994 to end the genocide. We know that this is just a lie, pure propaganda for Kagame’s dictatorship.
There is available a lot of written or broadcasted information about the human rights situation in Rwanda. Much activity can be seen on internet, for instance on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. For interested people, it is relatively easy to stay updated. But who are the interested people? Who are reading and watching all this? As far as I can understand, mostly Rwandans in exile. That is fine, but even more Rwandans should become active as fighters for democracy in their homeland. And a lot more ordinary westerners should be made aware of the present situation so that they can start getting involved.
I think that European governments know very well the present situation in Rwanda. But they keep silent and indifferent as long as the broad public don’t care. Therefore, all friends of Victoire Ingabire and of the Rwandan people should concentrate on working together in formal and informal networks on local, national and international levels. You, The International Women’s Network, has already started this work. So has Friends of Victoire, and others. I am impressed from what you are doing.
Victoire Ingabire is the greatest symbol of freedom that I know of today, in the whole world. She should be proposed as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Time has come to start lobbying for her nomination. The story of the brave mother Victoire and her fight for our common values, is easy to understand, and also easy to tell others. Even people like me, coming from north of the arctic circle, can understand her situation. Therefore, story telling about Victoire Ingabire should be used as the main KEY to open up the hearts of ordinary citizens. Let’s do it! Let’s stand up for her! She deserves it. The Rwandan people deserves it.
Thank you so much!