Rwanda: the US Government Cited Kizito Mihigo’s Death as a Politically-Motivated Killing

By David Himbara

The US State Department’s 2020 Report on Human Rights Practices in Rwanda provides gruesome details of killings, including the murder of Kizito Mihigo in police custody, individuals killed while supposedly resisting arrest, and Rwandans killed for not complying with COVID19 lockdown measures.

Kizito Mihigo

On March 30, 2021, the US State Department issued its 2020 Human Rights Reports. The 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda indicates that significant human rights issues in Rwanda in 2020 included “unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening conditions in some detention facilities; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and website blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; and restrictions on political participation.”

Crucially, the Report cites the case of Kizito Mihigo, who is described as follows:

“Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and a genocide survivor, was found dead in police custody on February 17. Mihigo was arrested on February 13 near the border with Burundi. Authorities charged him with illegally attempting to cross the border, attempting to join terrorist groups, and corruption. Previously, in 2015 a court convicted Mihigo of planning to assassinate the president and conspiracy against the government. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison before being pardoned by the president in 2018. The NPPA found that Mihigo’s death was the result of suicide by hanging, but the autopsy results were not made public and the circumstances of his death remained unclear. Government critics asserted that authorities killed Mihigo and arranged for his death to be declared a suicide; a posthumously published work from Mihigo’s previous time in prison suggested he feared he would be killed. Mihigo told Human Rights Watch shortly before his arrest that he received threats, was asked to provide false testimony against political opponents, and feared for his safety. Many human rights defenders called on the government to conduct an independent investigation, which as of November had not taken place.”

The 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda provides gruesome details of other killings, including those killed while supposedly resisting arrest or escape police custody. Others were killed for not complying with COVID-19 lockdown measures.