Open Letter to British Prime Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The late Rwandan gospel singer and reconciliation activist Kizito Mihigo

Dear the Right Honourable Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister and Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister. I write you this open letter in your capacity as the prime minister of the most influential Commonwealth member, the UK, and as my prime minister, respectively.

As you may be aware, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has requested the Rwandan government to allow an urgent independent inquiry into the death of Kizito Mihigo. A popular Rwandan gospel singer and peace activist, Mihigo was found dead in police custody on Monday, February 17, 2020. Alison Duxbury, Chairperson of CHRI’s International Advisory Commission asked for “an impartial and independent inquiry in accordance with procedure established by law,” pointing to Rwanda’s obligations under Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Let us recall that in 2014, Mihigo was arrested for releasing a prohibited gospel song in which he prayed for victims of the genocide and victims of other violence. In 2015, Mihigo was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to murder Rwandan President, General Kagame, and other senior government figures. Mihigo was pardoned by General Kagame in 2018 along with opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza who was jailed in 2010. And then, on February 15, 2020, the government announced that Mihigo was arrested for attempting to escape Rwanda. Two days later, the government announced that Mihigo had killed himself in police custody.

Sadly, the death of Mihigo under government custody is not an isolated incident. Consider the case of Kalisa Mupende who was director general in Rwandan president’s office until he was imprisoned in 2009. Mupende died mysteriously in military custody on September 21, 2019. Dr Emmanuel Gasakure who was General Paul Kagame’s personal physician died on February 25, 2015, in custody at the very police station in which Mihigo lost his life. Appallingly, neither Mupende’s death nor Gasakure’s death was investigated.

In conclusion, we call upon the UK and Canada to provide leadership in this crisis. The urgency of the Mihigo affair cannot be overstated. Rwanda’s head of state General Kagame is set to host the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June, 2020. Kagame will therefore become the de facto leader of the Commonwealth for the next two years. Hence, the urgent need for the UK and Canada to support the call by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative for an urgent independent inquiry into the death of Kizito Mihigo. Indifference to the requested investigation will surely place the Commonwealth in the next two under a leadership alien to that organization’s democratic and human rights principles. The 2.4 billion people of the Commonwealth deserve better.

Most Sincerely,

David Himbara