The Verdict on Torture within Rwanda’s Carceral System

Kayumba Innocent

Kigali:April 5, 2024- At the Rubavu High Court in Gisenyi, Western Rwanda, Innocent Kayumba has been sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined five million Rwandan Francs. The court found Kayumba guilty of assault leading to death, placing him at the center of a broader case involving 17 individuals accused of torture in prisons.

The verdict has elicited mixed reactions, with relief and dismay echoing among the observers, reflecting the diverse impacts of the court’s decisions on the community and the victims’ families. Kayumba, seen as a pivotal figure and mastermind behind the crimes, was specifically convicted for his role in the death of Nzeyimana JMV, marking him as the principal offender in a distressing saga of prison leadership abuse.

Additionally, the court ruled on the cases of other high-ranking officials, including Augustin Uwayezu and Ephrem Gahungu, who were acquitted of all charges. This decision brought joy to some family members, highlighting the complex nature of the justice system’s efforts to balance fairness with the gravity of the allegations.

Further sentences were handed down to Jean de Dieu Baziga and Innocent Gapira, both tasked with investigative operations within the prison, receiving 13 years of imprisonment and a three million Rwandan Francs fine each. Their convictions add layers to the narrative of systemic abuse and oversight failures within the Rubavu prison system.

The most severe penalty was given to Byinshi Emmanuel, a prisoner linked to multiple deaths, including that of Makdad Lambert. Emmanuel’s 25-year sentence and six million Rwandan Francs fine, accompanied by seven million Rwandan Francs in compensatory damages to the victim’s family, underscore the court’s stance on the gravity of the offenses.

Surprisingly, Emmanuel Ndagijimana, whose allegations of torture brought significant attention to the case, was found by the court to lack evidence of being beaten in prison, an outcome that left many in disbelief given the corroborated testimonies of physical abuse.

This trial, closely followed by inmates of the Nyakiriba prison, has been a litmus test for the independence of Rwanda’s judiciary. The case, sprawling over a document exceeding 100 pages, encompasses charges of murder and disabling injuries caused between 2019 and 2022, shedding light on the darker aspects of the nation’s prison system.

International human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch based in the United States, have repeatedly criticized Rwanda for torture practices within its prisons, claims the Rwandan government has consistently denied. This case serves as a crucial moment for Rwanda to confront its challenges in upholding human rights and justice, reflecting on both its legal systems and the international community’s call for accountability.