Following is a statement from the Advocacy Network on Africa (AdNA) Rwanda Working Group
Today, as we mark the 27th year since the events referred to as the Rwandan Genocide took place, leading to an estimated 800,000 people killed, we are appalled to see a steady increase in the level of atrocities, repression and brazen disregard for human life exhibited by the Government of Rwanda. In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, the world undertook never to turn aside again as similar crimes against humanity transpired.
Yet, recent events reveal that President Paul Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front continue to target those perceived as a threat to the government. Several high-profile government critics have been arrested or threatened. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities continue. Fair trial standards are routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to hold and prosecute prominent government critics.
HIGHLIGHTING PARTICULARLY ALARMING CASES:
Kidnapping, illegal transfer, detention, trial of the hero of the movie Hotel Rwanda – Paul Rusesabagina
On or around August 28th, 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, a world-celebrated hero, recognized for his efforts in saving over 1200 people during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, was kidnapped from the United Arab Emirates and extradited to Kigali, Rwanda where he was handed over to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau. To learn more about the illegal imprisonment of this humanitarian hero click this Link.
Arbitrary arrest and illegal detention of Idamange
On February 15, 2021, Idamange, a mother of 4, a genocide survivor, social media icon and an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government, was arrested by the Rwandan security forces. Her crime: having the courage to speak out against the Kagame regime on her YouTube channel, and her sharp commentary on the closing political space in Rwanda, extrajudicial detentions, torture, and kidnapping of Rwandan citizens. She has claimed that she’s been handcuffed and shackled during her detention and the torture has gone as far not allowing her to self care or releasing the handcuffs during her periods.
Extrajudicial killing of Abdallah Seif Bamporiki in South Africa
On February 21, 2021, Abdallah Seif Bamporiki, chairman of the South African branch of the Rwanda National Congress, was shot and killed in Cape Town. This killing of a Rwandan opposition leader in South Africa was the latest in a series of violent attacks on exiled dissidents. A week prior to his murder, Mr. Bamporiki had led a memorial service for Rwandan opposition activists who have been killed worldwide, including another RNC leader, former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, who had been killed in South Africa in 2013. Another RNC leader, former Rwandan military chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa, narrowly escaped death in 2010 when he was shot in Johannesburg.
Extrajudicial killing of Kizito Mihigo
Beloved Rwandan gospel singer and activist, Kizito Mihigo was killed in a suspicious death in police custody in February 2020. Shortly before his death, Kizito had told Human Rights Watch that he was being threatened and told to provide false testimony against political opponents, and that he wanted to flee the country because he feared for his safety. Kizito Mihigo served four years in prison on trumped-up charges and was eventually released in October 2018, only to be re-arrested in February 2020 to die in police custody within four days of his arrest. One of the main charges against him was being a part of one or more armed groups, among other charges. As the pattern goes with Rwandans accused by the government, Kizito Mihigo was also “disappeared” for ten days before being produced, not in court, but in public where he was paraded in front of journalists without a lawyer in 2014. He was tortured during his 10-day disappearance as well as during his prison sentence.
Forced Disappearance of Bahati Innocent
Bahati Innocent is a beloved Rwandan poet, activist, and social commentator. He has been missing since February 7, 2021 and has become another grim example of a steady stream of forced disappearances of high-profile critics of the Rwandan government. With whereabouts unknown for 2 months now, Bahati Innocent rose to public acclaim as a young 23-year old poet writing about everything from poverty, hunger, unequal access to education and human rights violations. Forced disappearances of people like Bahati Innocent is a first and worrisome risk factor indicating the closed political space where the Kagame regime increases its efforts to silence high profile critics.
The Disappearance of Mitsindo Viateur
Mitsindo Viateur went missing on November 17, 2020. This case is alarming because Mitsindo Viateur has not been seen in public, charged or produced in court since Mid-November. He left his home to respond to a summons by local authorities. When his wife asked the summoning local authority, the local authority, named Genevieve Uwamahoro, stated that Viateur had been taken in handcuffs by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and that she had no further news. However, in spite of Ms. Uwamahoro’s claim of seeing him in handcuffs, the RIB denied having Mitsindo Viateur in custody for a whole week. After some public pressure, the RIB reported that they had him. The RIB claimed on social media and government propaganda newspapers broadcasting in Kinyarwanda that Mitsindo Viateur was being investigated for involvement with armed or terror groups—the same charge that was leveled against Paul Rusesabagina. Viateur’s charge is similar not only to that against Paul Rusesabagina, but also to charges against other high-profile individuals such as previous presidential candidates Victoire Ingabire, who served eight years and Diane Rwigara, who served one year in prison on this same charge of “being involved with armed groups or terror groups”. There is deep concern that Mitsindo Viateur has been tortured and is being hidden from the public until he recovers. Instead of producing him in court or showing him to the public, the government of Rwanda has instead begun a smear campaign accusing him of “being part of armed groups” and “spreading hateful messages”.
Extended Arrest of Cyuma Hassan
In April 2020, a Rwandan journalist who reported that members of the Rwandan military were raping women under the cover of “enforcing Coronavirus rules” was arrested. He had also reported on the effects of the government military destroying homes of hundreds of city dwellers. The charge against him was “violation of Coronavirus measures”, which normally results in an overnight detention in a stadium. He was instead detained for almost a year, released in mid-March 2021. He has reported on being tortured while detained and on authorities attempting to bribe him into silence.
We call on the United Nations, the European Union, the Commonwealth, International Organization of the Francophonie, the United States, the United Kingdom, the African Union, Belgium, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and the international community at large, to urge the Rwandan government to immediately and unconditionally release Paul Rusesabagina and guarantee him safe return to his home and family.
We further call for the release of all political prisoners.
We call for an end to the climate of impunity under which the Government of Rwanda operates throughout the region.
To the Government of Rwanda:
1. The Rwandan Government must immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Paul Rusesabagina and ensure his physical protection inside and outside Rwanda.
2. The Rwandan Government must honor treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter).
3. Rwanda must respect the civil and political rights of all within its jurisdiction, as consistent with the tenets of true democracy.
4. Stop the use of enforced disappearances and return all targeted individuals safely to their families.
5. Respect freedom of expression and end the targeting of journalists.
6. Stop the killing and torture of political prisoners
7. Respect different political opinions. Allow a range of political views. Stop the intimidation of critics. Recognize the role of opposition and honor freedom of speech.
To African Union Member States:
1. Recognizing that increased political repression is rising throughout the continent, we urge the African Union to take immediate action. The AU Peer Review Mechanism should be a measure of accountability. The AU must exercise its political will to demand accountability and ensure that AU leaders do not see themselves as above the law. The AU must not remain silent in the light of growing repression.
2. Pursue Pan-African Unity by protecting political dissidents in different countries on the continent
3. Respect and protect African lives, including political opposition, journalists, and human rights defenders.
4. Hold Rwanda accountable for violations to human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring States.
To Commonwealth Countries:
1. Commonwealth countries must change the venue for the annual Commonwealth Summit currently planned for Rwanda in June 2021. Rwanda must not be rewarded as it flouts international law, human rights and human dignity. The Commonwealth should not look the other way thus creating a climate of impunity for rogue states.
2. Join in the demand for an independent investigation into the killings of Kizito Mihigo, Bahati and other cases of forcibly disappeared political dissidents.
3. Respect different political opinions. Allow a range of political views. Stop the intimidation of critics. Recognize the role of opposition and honor freedom of speech.
To the International Community:
1. The international community must strongly condemn Rwanda’s violation of international laws.
2. The international community must urgently demand the cessation of illegal extraditions as well as the use of state sanctioned assassinations and kidnappings of human rights defenders, opposition leaders or other critics targeted by the Rwandan Government.
3. Countries such as the United States and Belgium must withhold all military sales, training, equipping and assistance to Rwanda subject to respect for human rights, including the release of all political prisoners such as Rusesabagina, Deo Mushayidi, others highlighted above, and hundreds of other prisoners of conscience.
4. Support the respect of different political opinions as a condition for all interactions with the Rwandan government, protecting the expression of a range of political views, requiring a halt to the intimidation of critics, recognizing the role of opposition voices and honoring freedom of speech.
5. Investigate the human rights abuses being committed in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; eventually sanction the culprits.
6. To end the current crisis of human rights violations in Rwanda, it is imperative that the government of Rwanda starts to recognize, legitimate and considers having a dialogue with its political critiques/opponents as ways of finding peaceful solutions to the current political and social challenges in Rwanda.
To the People of Rwanda:
1. Treat each other justly. Building better relationships in memory of the genocide.
2. Demand from your government a climate of political inclusion.
3. Come together to dialogue with one another and the diaspora so that collectively we can work for sustainable peace for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
To International Campaigners and Human Rights Defenders:
1. Use the tools of boycott, protest, safe and peaceful demonstration and build a large coalition whose message is “Not On My Watch”!
2. Design actions to enhance corporate accountability for human rights protection.
3. Launch letter-writing campaigns to policymakers below:
Rwandan Ambassador to the United States Professor Mathilde Mukantabana: email@example.com
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet: firstname.lastname@example.org
EU Office of Human Rights, Head of Division, Ms. Luisa Ragher: Luisa.email@example.com
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes: firstname.lastname@example.org
LINK TO LETTER WRITING ACTION
The Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA) is a non-partisan network of U.S.-based organizations and individuals who maintain significant focus on Africa or U.S.-Africa relations in their work.