Rwanda Government Denies Visa to Human Rights Researcher
Kigali – The Rwandan government’s decision to deny a work visa to Human Rights Watch’s representative in Kigali demonstrates a pattern of increasing restrictions on free expression in Rwanda ahead of August’s presidential elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch will appeal the decision and continue working on human rights issues in Rwanda.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a real crackdown on critics,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rwandan government is doing everything it can to silence independent voices before the elections.”
On April 23, 2010, officials from the Directorate General of Immigration informed Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Rwanda, that she would not be granted a work visa. They alleged anomalies in her visa application, specifically signatures and dates on the documents she had submitted.
Staff at Human Rights Watch’s headquarters in New York had attested in writing to the authenticity of all the documents and signatures, but the immigration officials described their explanations as “unsatisfactory.” However, the officials had not made any attempt to contact Human Rights Watch’s headquarters or the individuals whose signatures they had questioned.
The immigration officials refused to put their decision in writing. They told Tertsakian that as a British national, she could not exceed her 90-day legal stay in the country, which expires on April 24.
Gagnon was in Kigali the week of April 19 to try to meet Rwandan officials about this matter. Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, sent a private letter to President Paul Kagame setting out in detail concerns at the handling of Tertsakian’s visa application and reiterating that all the documents submitted in the original and second application were authentic. Rwandan immigration officials did not respond to Gagnon’s requests for a meeting.
Human Rights Watch has been working on human rights in Rwanda since before the 1994 genocide. However, in the past two years, the Rwandan government has increasingly obstructed the work of the organization.
In September and December 2008, it twice blocked the entry of the late Alison Des Forges, a renowned Rwanda expert and Human Rights Watch’s senior advisor on the Great Lakes region.
In the last few weeks, Rwandan government rhetoric against human rights organizations has increased, with senior officials singling out Human Rights Watch for particularly fierce public criticism. There has also been an increase in articles hostile to Human Rights Watch in pro-government media.
Rejection of work visa application
Carina Tertsakian, a British national, arrived in Rwanda on January 25, 2010, and was initially granted a work visa. On March 3, immigration officials questioned her on the paperwork relating to her visa application, pointing to a mistaken date and alleging differences in her colleagues’ signatures on the documents. They confiscated her passport. The following day, they summoned her again with a new set of questions again relating to dates and signatures.
On March 8, Tertsakian was formally summoned by the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to appear the following day. The police told her that she was suspected of using forged documents and questioned her on the same points as those raised by the immigration officials. By then, Human Rights Watch had submitted two letters from its headquarters, confirming that all the documents were authentic. The officials did not appear to take these letters into account.
On March 10, immigration officials returned Tertsakian’s passport, but cancelled her work visa. The immigration officials refused to provide a written explanation for this cancellation; they told her she could submit a second visa application.
On March 16, Tertsakian submitted a second application, with a notarized affidavit from Human Rights Watch’s Legal Director attesting to the veracity and authenticity of all the documents. More than a month passed before immigration officials responded to the second application - the usual turnaround time is three days. Rwandan immigration officials communicated their visa denial to Tertsakian on April 23, the day before her legal stay in Rwanda was due to expire.
[Human Rights Watch – ww.hrw.org]