Around a dozen members of Stanford STAND, a human rights group, demonstrated outside a Graduate School of Business event featuring Rwandan President Paul Kagame last Friday, in an effort to prompt conversation of and raise awareness about allegedly repressive actions by Kagame’s administration.
According to Jared Naimark ‘14, the STAND students demonstrated at the event because the Stanford chapter of the national STAND organization focuses explicitly on human rights in Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda has repeatedly intervened in Congo in recent years.
The group also works with Friends of the Congo, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to raise awareness about challenges faced by people in the Congo and to support Congolese institutions.
Demonstrators emphasized, however, that their efforts were not intended to interrupt the procession of the event.
“We [were] not planning to disrupt the event in any way,” Naimark said. “We’re curious to hear what he had to say. The goal is to get information in people’s hands.”
The demonstrators handed out informational factsheets and flyers that detailed human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the Kagame administration, as well as printed copies of an editorial article that they had published in The Daily that day, according to Melanie Langa ‘16, a member of STAND and one of the demonstrators.
“STAND was interested in changing the dialogue around this event because we felt it wasn’t representative of the whole story,” Langa said. “There are whole stories and perspectives that you can take to this event. Since he’s been president, Rwanda has made many strides and has improved and [Kagame’s] done a good job in a lot of cases and scenarios but it’s also important to recognize that his government has been destabilizing Eastern Congo and because of that we are interested in making sure that side of the story people knew about.”
Scott St. Marie MBA ‘15, one of the student coordinators of Kagame’s address, stated that he thought the STAND students’ presence at the event was beneficial.
“I’m glad that they were there to help broaden our dialogue about Kagame and Rwanda,” St. Marie said. “Rwanda has a tumultuous and complex history, and I’m glad we were able to talk about multiple perspectives.”
In fact, St. Marie later approached the students and ensured that one of the STAND representatives could engage in the audience participation portion of the event. Audience questioning, according to St. Marie, included queries about term limits and whether Kagame has plans to run for a third term.
“We passed out all the flyers we brought and people were very receptive,” Langa said. “I think it was very successful. We got people to think of other issues that we didn’t think would be addressed without some kind of push and we’re contributing to what might be missing from that conversation.”
Nitish Kulkarni contributed to this report