Has torture ever been a secret in Rwanda?

By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW Salem-News.com

Another damming report has been released about Rwanda. Amnesty International published a report on October 8, 2012 condemning the “unlawful detention and torture by military intelligence” and urging Rwanda to investigate such findings.

The report “Shrouded in Secrecy” is based on seven research visits to Rwanda between September 2010 and June 2012. Amnesty International conducted over 70 interviews for this report including with individuals previously detained by the military, family members of people disappeared and lawyers. This report explains in great detail how “Between March 2010 and June 2012, Amnesty International documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture or ill-treatment at Camp Kami, Mukamira military camp, and in safe houses in the capital, Kigali.” Their extensive reporting on multiple military detention sites as well as safe houses explains how they obtained their information and what they based their findings on.
As one reads this report it is hard not to compare the same scenario’s to those described in many publications of how unlawful detention as well as detention camps work in North Korea.

Deo Lukyamuzi, Commissioner for External Relations, FDU-Inkingi, stated to this writer that, “There is no surprise in the report. I do find it naïve that Amnesty International is asking the government to investigate the claims in the report when the government is the one committing the abuses.”

The report clearly identifies cases of torture, ill-treatment of detainees, serious beatings that were given during interrogations and the use of electric shock. While none of these tactics are new to Rwanda or the international community as a whole when seeking to protect state security of any country but the difference lies in how Rwanda held prisoners in “incommunicado detention” in which they were not allowed to contact lawyers or family members. The AI report states that, “Such incommunicado detention, which includes no access to lawyers, doctors, and relatives and no judicial review of the lawfulness of detention, violates Rwanda’s obligations under international law, including guarantees against arbitrary detention and torture.”

Dr. Gerald Gahima, former Attorney General under President Paul Kagame and now founding member of the lead opposition group to the current ruling party in Rwanda had the following to say in regards to this report, “this is really nothing new. The question, why has it not been possible to hold President Kagame and his intelligence and so called ‘security services’ accountable to date? When do governments that have the means to exert pressure upon him apply the standards that are applied to other states and government?”
The AI report details clearly how suspects held were tortured to the point of giving confessions when they could not take the pain any longer. Many reported to the organization that they would give false confession in order to stop from being shocked electrically any further.

General Kayumba Nyamwasa, former Chief of Staff of the army under President Paul Kagame and founding member of the Rwanda National Congress has the following statement about the AI report to this writer, “What Amnesty reported is just a tip of the iceberg. Many families fear to report what has happened to family members, neighbors or friends. Like all despots, President Paul Kagame thinks murder, terror, forced disappearances and exile will perpetuate him in power. He has been reading from the same script like Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein and may end the same way. Most disturbing is the audacity for Paul Kagame to deny the obvious in parliament vilifying those asking him to account instead of answering the right question. Rwandans have suffered so much under Kagame and we need to turn the page. Right organizations have been reporting about the appalling records of human rights in Rwanda. This report should be a wakeup call to international community, so that they can hold accountable the Rwandan government for those human degrading actions.”

AI clearly reports cases of enforces disappearances where family members have no information on the whereabouts of their loved ones who were previously held in these military detention facilities and are unable to obtain information from local police or the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Rwanda as to their whereabouts. The report states, “After their family member was transferred to a civilian prison, they later found out that he had been detained in Camp Kami during this period.”

Rene Mugenzi, a Rwandan human right activist stated, “Right organisations have been reporting about the appalling records of human rights in Rwanda. This report should be a wakeup call to international community, so that they can hold accountable Rwandan government for those human degrading actions.

Furthermore in wake of this report International criminal courts and other national courts in USA and Europe that are dealing with Rwandan suspected for various crimes presented by the Rwandan government should re-look in their cases to investigate if evidence presented and witnesses testimonies presented by the Rwandan government prosecutor were not obtained under torture and other illegal and human degrading means as identified in the Amnesty report.”

Committing Habeas Corpus is no secret in Rwanda’s legal system. Unlawful detention is part of society for anyone who questions the authority or the national narrative of the Rwandan government.

Jean Paul Turayishimye, Spokesperson for the Rwanda National Congress stated, “The Justice system in Rwanda is broken. Rwanda has refused to sign the international convention because it will be obligated to the rule of law. Justice Minister, Mr. Karugarama and Prosecutor General, Mr. Martin Ngoga should be ashamed of themselves. They spent their valuable time in law schools to work against what they are supposed to be defending. Recommendations by the Amnesty International are simply saying that. Judges are putting the burden of proof on the defendant instead of the prosecution. You wonder whom these judges work for.”

Charles Kambanda a legal expert and educator from Rwanda stated to this writer that, “In my considered opinion, torture of civilians in Rwanda should not be making news. It is an ordinary evil and actually a culture for Rwanda’s security organs under Kagame. Kagame is the top commander; He even wondered why his political opponents in prisons do not remain handcuffed throughout. He said this himself. A US Federal Court found the same thing about Kagame’s Junta, Kagame’s army is feared for one major thing; the extent to which they do torture people.”

In the highly publicized case before the Rwandan Courts currently is that of Victorie Ingabire, political prisoner held and charged with terrorism and the infamous yet ambiguous genocide ideology law. Her case has also been touched with the unlawful practices cited in the Amnesty International report regarding witness in her case that were held at Camp Kami for seven months prior to being brought to court. They were denied their legal protections under the requirement of the International law by being unlawfully detained as well as being questioned without the presence of a lawyer. Victorie Ingabire’s case has been riddled with judicial gymnastics and she even ceased to attend court or allow her attorneys to attend court on her behalf due to the inability to receive a fair trial in Rwanda. Her sentencing has been delayed for over six months now and with each scheduled court date the judicial system is able to find a new reason to postpone her sentencing.

There are overwhelming numbers of cases in Rwanda that provide evidence to the international community that receiving a fair trial in Rwanda in nearly impossible. Victorie Ingabires case is crucial to shedding light on how corrupt the judicial system is in Rwanda.

Former Editor of Umuseso, Charles Kabonero, now living in exile due to his reporting on the government while living in Rwanda, has this to say about the Amnesty International report: “The real issue remains what happens, why and if it can change because in the end the regime in Kigali should be accountable to Rwandans first. I mean, whether the donors think about Rwanda or not, it doesn’t replace the fact that if Rwandans are being tortured by the Kagame regime, can’t express themselves, there is no rule of law and all, it’s the Rwandans suffering, not the donors. Unfortunately, the level of dictatorship and set up of the system in Kigali makes it difficult for Rwandans to express their plight in many of such cases which means that the likes of Amnesty remain the only critical outlet and it’s a situation that has been created by the regime which has effectively closed all avenues of free speech. Besides people fearing such consequences as arbitrary arrests, torture, Rwisereka-like incidents, you have another section of Rwandans especially those working in Government who can’t speak out on anything critically for fear of losing their jobs because the ruling clique has the powers to do so.”

Amnesty International visited Rwanda in June of 2012 to obtain a response from the Government of Rwanda in light of this report and the allegation therein before they published its findings but were unable to secure meetings with high military officials. The AI reports states that, “Brigadier General Joseph Nzambwita, told Amnesty International that the organization’s finding were ‘categorically false.’”

The recommendations to the Rwandan Government in the report will certain go unheeded by this political organization as have all other recommendations by international groups who call for reforms on the Rwandan Government due to the governments’ overuse of calling these critical reports by human rights organization as well as United Nations reports as “biased and misleading.” Yet, the reccomendations that the AI report gives to foreign governments, especially development partners in the justice sector and military cooperation, specifically the call to “Suspend any financial support to institutions or security forces involved in human rights violations” is where this will hurt the Government of Rwanda as it has already been seen since July of 2012 when many international partners to Rwanda have been cutting or suspending millions of dollars in aid due to Rwanda’s support of a rebel group in the DR Congo which is destabilizing the eastern region of the country.

How much longer can Rwanda continue to deny what is obvious to the International Community?

Edited by VI