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Rwanda on the spot once again on claims of poor human-rights record

Rwanda’s human-rights record is once again in the spotlight after a new report by the US Department of State accused government security agents of engaging in torture, arbitrary or unlawful killings and detention of citizens without trial.

The Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2012 accuses Rwanda’s military intelligence services and police of torturing civilians using electric shocks, beatings and starving of suspects, among other abuses.

Specifically, the military intelligence department is accused of detaining civilians in safe houses without being charged or tried for several months.

The report, which the authors said offers an assessment of Rwanda’s human-rights record last year, notes that, while the government has occasionally made efforts to investigate these abuses, it did not punish any perpetrators.

“The most important human-rights problems in the country remained the government’s targeting of journalists, political opponents and human-rights advocates for harassment, arrest, and abuse; disregard for the rule of law among security forces and the judiciary; restrictions on civil liberties; and support of rebel groups in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo,” said the US report.

“The government generally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere, but impunity involving civilian officials and State Security Forces was a problem.”

Rwanda has repeatedly denied allegations that the country is backing the M23 rebels operating in eastern Congo.

The accusations saw some key donors, mainly Germany, UK, the Netherlands and the US suspend or withdraw aid to Rwanda late last year.

In December last year, it was reported that US President Barack Obama had called Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and warned him about supporting the rebels.

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The latest report further damages the image of Rwanda, which at the beginning of the year took up its position as a member of the United Nations Security Council.

Rwanda, analysts said, was hoping to use its newly acquired membership to the UNSC to defuse tensions over its alleged role in the conflict in eastern DRC.

Only last year, yet another report by Amnesty International documented 18 allegations of torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment perpetrated by the military intelligence and other agencies to secure information or force confessions at Kami military intelligence camp, Ministry of Defence headquarters, Mukamira military camp and safe houses.

Positive steps

However, local and international human-rights organisations acknowledged that the army’s leadership had taken positive steps during the year to reform military interrogation methods and detention standards, resulting in fewer reports of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment at Kami and other military detention facilities.

According to the report, there were fewer reports of disappearances and politically motivated abductions or kidnappings than in previous years, but local human-rights organisations ceased investigating disappearances during the year after reporting pressure from government officials, including threats and allegations of treason.

Amnesty International, Liprodhor and other observers alleged that the Military Intelligence Directorate, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) as well as the Department of Intelligence orchestrated the disappearances.

Reacting to the report, the leader of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Frank Habineza, said: “The National Human Rights Commission and the office of Ombudsman should carry out independent investigations into the matter and inform the general public about the alleged human-rights abuses.”

On his part, the executive secretary for the League for the Defence of Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region, Epimack Kwokwo, asks Members of Parliament to come up with a law that gives an independent body powers to investigative the alleged crimes and bring the culprits to book

He noted that the police and military could not investigate themselves. While prison and detention centre conditions were harsh, the report notes, the government made numerous improvements during the year.

The US report also criticises the government over failed attempts to stem rampant corruption, citing several cases. In a controversial March report, an ad hoc parliamentary committee charged the then Minister for Finance and Economic Planning John Rwangomba and eight other senior government officials with mismanaging the Rukara hydropower dam project.

Investigations by parliament

The parliamentary investigation followed the publication of an article in the New Times, which claimed that in 2011 Minister of Local Government James Musoni had illegally awarded public tenders to the local company Digitech Solutions (now known as Ngali Holdings).

Mr Rwangomba and the other officials protested the report’s findings as inaccurate and poorly researched, and in August the parliamentary committee of public accounts cleared the nine officials of any wrongdoing.

Source: Inyenyeri News

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