Human Rights Watch Researchers Face Long-Standing Entry Ban in Rwanda

Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director of Human Rights Watch

On May 30, 2024, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement detailing the Rwandan government’s ongoing refusal to allow its researchers into the country. The statement, available on the HRW website, highlights the recent denial of entry to Clémentine de Montjoye, a senior researcher at HRW. This denial is not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of exclusion that has persisted for 16 years.

Lewis Mudge, Director for Central Africa at HRW, noted that four HRW researchers have been denied entry over this period. The government accused de Montjoye of misrepresenting the purpose of her visit, despite her having notified authorities of her intention to meet with foreign diplomats and requested meetings with local officials.

The statement recounts several similar incidents. In 2008, Alison Des Forges, a senior advisor at HRW and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship for her work on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was barred from entering Rwanda. Des Forges had worked tirelessly to seek justice for genocide victims and accountability for crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). HRW later learned unofficially that her criticisms of the RPF were the reason for her exclusion.

In 2010, senior researcher Carina Tertsakian was denied a work visa and forced to leave the country. The government cited irregularities in her visa application, though HRW provided evidence to confirm the authenticity of the documents.

Lewis Mudge himself faced similar challenges. After succeeding Tertsakian and working in Rwanda from 2011 to 2015, his visa remained “under processing” for most of his stay. In 2014, the government issued an assessment labeling Mudge and Tertsakian as spokespeople for criminal organizations, following an HRW report on forced disappearances in Rwanda.

In 2018, Mudge was again denied entry after HRW documented extrajudicial executions and illegal military detentions. Subsequently, a Rwandan consultant for HRW was detained for six days and threatened with death.

Most recently, de Montjoye’s entry denial followed an HRW report on Rwanda’s repressive measures beyond its borders, which elicited hostile reactions from the authorities. Her exclusion came just before the general elections, echoing the timing of Tertsakian’s ban.

HRW’s statement underscores the growing list of journalists and researchers barred from Rwanda and calls on international partners to take note. It emphasizes the heightened risks faced by Rwandan human rights defenders and journalists, many of whom endure severe repercussions for their work.