Urgent Call for the Release of Koffi Niyonkuru Amid Fears of Extrajudicial Actions by Rwandan Security Forces

Koffi Niyonkuru

International human rights organizations, the Observatoire des Droits de l’Homme au Rwanda (ODHR), the Centre de Lutte contre l’Impunité et l’Injustice au Rwanda (CLIIR), and the Réseau International pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l’Homme au Rwanda (RIPRODHOR), have expressed deep concern over the alleged enforced disappearance of Koffi Niyonkuru, a geopolitical analyst and teacher, also known as Béton. Reports emerged that he went missing on March 29, 2024, in Kigali, Rwanda. Mr. Niyonkuru was a teacher at the Groupe scolaire APACE in the Kabusunzu area of Kigali.

The circumstances of his disappearance are particularly alarming as it coincided with the heated debates he led on YouTube, focusing on regional security issues in the Great Lakes and the direct involvement of neighboring countries including Rwanda. His analysis, which critiqued the regional power dynamics and conflicts, especially on his channel “Rwanda Burundi tv,” is believed to be the reason behind his disappearance.

On March 30, 2024, Mr. Niyonkuru was supposed to meet a friend in Musanze but never arrived. The last known communication occurred on the night of March 29, with a text message indicating a sudden trip to Uganda. This message raises suspicions whether it was indeed Mr. Niyonkuru who sent it, or if it was sent by those who may have detained him to mislead his search efforts. Since then, there has been no further information about his whereabouts, leading to fears for his safety, particularly as his disappearance occurred on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1994 genocide.

In his last broadcast on March 29, Mr. Niyonkuru discussed the concept of “the obscure despot,” describing such a figure as someone who believes they alone are correct, imposing their will through terror, stripping their people of freedom and communal spirit. His forthright views and critical analyses, suggesting the defeat of aggressive forces like the M23 and Russia, as a response to their cruel impact on civilian populations in the DRC and Ukraine, have marked him as a target in the eyes of powerful regional figures.

Given Mr. Niyonkuru’s vocal criticism of the lack of democratic change and the entrenchment of leaders like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, his disappearance raises critical concerns about freedom of expression and the safety of dissidents in the region.

The ODHR, CLIIR, and RIPRODHOR are calling on diplomatic missions, international organizations, and human rights NGOs to urgently rally their moral and political support to prevent any potential extrajudicial assassination and to secure Mr. Niyonkuru’s immediate and unconditional release, as no official charges have been leveled against him.

The plea was officially put forth in Paris on April 17, 2024, by representatives Rutihunza Théobald for RIPRODHOR, Munyandilikirwa Laurent for the ODHR, and Matata Joseph for the CLIIR. Their joint statement not only highlights the critical nature of Mr. Niyonkuru’s case but also casts a stark light on the ongoing challenges facing human rights defenders in regions fraught with conflict and authoritarian governance.