US special envoy for the Great Lakes Region Russell Feingold speaks with President Paul Kagame in Kigali. Photo/FILE
By Joint Report The EastAfrican, Posted Saturday, June 7 2014
- Rwandan security organs have in recent months conducted operations in the northwestern part of the country, rounding up dozens of people suspected of working with FDLR.
- US government expressed concern that Rwandan authorities had held individuals incommunicado for periods of up to two months before presenting them in court.
Rwanda is once again in the spotlight over claims of human rights abuses, with the US State Department expressing concern over “the arrest and disappearance of dozens of Rwandan citizens,” which has drawn a sharp reaction from President Paul Kagame.
President Kagame said Rwanda would continue to arrest or “even shoot on the spot” individuals who wish to destabilise the country’s security.
Rwandan security organs have in recent months conducted operations in the northwestern part of the country, rounding up dozens of people suspected of working with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The DR Congo-based rebel outfit is linked to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
The US government expressed concern that Rwandan authorities had held individuals incommunicado for periods of up to two months before presenting them in court.
“We are encouraged that Rwandan authorities have recently taken steps to bring a number of these individuals before a court. Nonetheless, the United States remains concerned that there are additional individuals who may still be held incommunicado and without due process of law. We are also concerned by credible reports that individual journalists were threatened, and that the Government of Rwanda ordered the suspension of a call-in radio programme that provided citizens with a platform to discuss current events,” the Department of State said in a statement.
The State Department’s June 4 call for the Rwanda government “to respect the rights under Rwandan law and international human rights law of the individuals detained and arrested” followed an attack on Human Rights Watch that had made the claims, two days earlier by Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice.
In a commentary, published by Rwanda’s New Times newspaper, the ministry accused HRW of engaging in “a deliberate, sustained and politically motivated propaganda campaign against the government of Rwanda.”
The ministry added that “HRW seems to have become more overtly the campaign mouthpiece of the FDLR, the armed genocidaires who after committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994, were given safe passage to eastern DR Congo and have been accorded, ever since, a lucrative safe haven and shelter from justice.”
And, while addressing residents of Nyabihu district in the northwestern part of the country, President Kagame rebutted the US statement within hours: “Those who talk about disappearances … we will continue to arrest more suspects and if possible shoot in broad daylight those who intend to destabilise our country.
“My government would not tolerate anyone who wished to throw grenades at innocent citizens and babies in the name of politics. Those who have a problem with the government should come to me instead of throwing grenades at innocent civilians and babies. I should be the one responsible, but they also know the consequences of coming for me,” the president said.
On Wednesday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo responded to the accusations of disappearances, saying that the government was dealing with a specific security challenge in the north of the country, where FDLR and their associates have been infiltrating and recruiting fighters.
She said a judicial process was underway to try suspects accused of masterminding grenade attacks in different parts of the country, and that the issue had been discussed with diplomats.
“In all instances, police and security agencies in Rwanda have acted lawfully. Accused individuals are entitled to, and receive, due process. Suggestions otherwise, including claims of disappearances, are false. We call on all parties to refrain from discourse and actions that embolden the FDLR and its allies, and thereby endanger the lives of Rwandans. Rwandan authorities, like in any other country, will act swiftly and decisively to address such threats. The people of Rwanda deserve no less,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.
Carina Tertsakian, the HRW’s senior researcher on Rwanda, said the critical US statement was “similar” to the assessment published by Human Rights Watch on May 16. “We welcome that,” the London-based HRW official said in a telephone interview, referring to the US rebuke.
“It does go a bit further than before,” she observed.