a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, according to media reports, on March 9, Anselme Mutuyimana, a member of the unregistered United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) opposition party, was found dead in a forest in northwestern Rwanda. An FDU-Inkingi press release stated that Mutuyimana’s body showed signs of strangulation. The press release added that on March 9, witnesses saw uniformed officers detain Mutuyimana and force him to enter a red vehicle without license plates. Human Rights Watch (HRW) characterized Mutuyimana’s death as the latest in a long line of murders, disappearances, politically motivated arrests, and unlawful detentions of suspected government opponents. The RIB announced in March that it was investigating Mutuyimana’s death and had arrested one suspect, but as of October 1, that investigation had not been completed.
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. For example, on July 15, FDU-Inkingi member Eugene Ndereyimana went missing while traveling to a political party meeting in eastern Rwanda. FDU-Inkingi leader Victoire Ingabire told press she believed authorities abducted Ndereyimana, and an FDU-Inkingi press release recalled that local officials and military had detained Ndereyimana in September 2018. Ndereyimana’s wife stated local authorities considered her husband an “enemy” and that security forces harassed him because of his political activities. Ndereyimana’s wife reported her husband’s disappearance to the RIB, but as of October 1, his whereabouts remained unknown.
FDU-Inkingi Vice President Boniface Twagirimana remained missing after disappearing from Mpanga prison in October 2018. Officials stated that Twagirimana and another prisoner had escaped by climbing over the prison wall, but the FDU-Inkingi party alleged that authorities had abducted Twagirimana and concocted the prison escape story as a cover-up.
Domestic organizations cited a lack of capacity and independence to investigate security sector abuses, including reported enforced disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.
In 2018 the government enacted an updated penal code that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.
Human rights advocates reported numerous instances of illegally detained individuals tortured in unofficial detention centers. Advocates asserted that military, police, and intelligence personnel employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to obtain information and elicit confessions before transferring the individuals to formal detention facilities. Some defendants alleged in court they had been tortured while in detention, but there were no reports of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture, and there were no reported prosecutions of state security forces personnel for torture.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at prisons and unofficial detention centers ranged from harsh and life-threatening to approaching international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.
Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers. There were reports that prisoners who did not speak Kinyarwanda were punished for failure to follow instructions prison guards delivered in that language.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) approached international standards in some respects, although reports of overcrowding and food shortages were common. According to the RCS, the prison population rose from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to more than 66,000 during the year, which greatly exacerbated overcrowding. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens, but human rights advocates reported that lack of food continued to be a problem. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial.
In January as many as six inmates were shot and killed at Huye Prison during an apparent escape attempt. An RCS spokesperson told press guards opened fire when inmates attempted to climb the prison wall using ropes.
On July 8, prisoners at Mageragere Prison rioted to protest mistreatment by authorities. One inmate interviewed by telephone stated that prison officials beat unlawfully placed inmates in isolation. In response an RCS spokesperson told press there had been no riot at the prison. The spokesperson said some inmates who were unhappy with prison administrators attempted to incite others to commit acts of violence, but RCS guards intervened. RCS officials then placed 28 inmates into isolation so that the RCS could conduct an investigation, the spokesperson said.
Conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial detention centers. Human rights advocates reported that in addition to experiencing torture, individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.
Conditions were often harsh and life threatening at district transit centers housing street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons engaged in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. Overcrowding was common in police stations and district transit centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. Human rights NGOs reported authorities at district transit centers frequently failed to adhere to the requirements of a 2018 ministerial order determining the “mission, organization, and functioning” of transit centers. For example, NGOs found detainees were often held in cramped and unsanitary conditions, and that the amount of food provided was insufficient. NGOs also reported transit centers often did not provide educational programs or counseling as required by the ministerial order, and that state security forces beat detainees at district transit centers. Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children.
Conditions at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center operated by the National Rehabilitation Service (NRS) were better than those of transit centers. Young men detained at the center participated in educational and vocational programs and had access to ample space for exercise. A small number of medical professionals and social workers provided medical care and counseling to detainees. The NRS took steps to improve physical infrastructure and expand programs at the center.
The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.
The government held five prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.
Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.
There were reports that elements of state security forces at times acted independently of civilian control. For example, there were reports RDF J-2 (intelligence staff), NISS, and RNP intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture in unofficial detention centers.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and some NGOs. Nevertheless, it restricted access to specific prisoners and delayed consular notification of the arrest of some foreign nationals. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals who the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) had transferred to Rwandan national jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the IRMCT. Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.
Improvements: Following multiple escape attempts, in January, the RCS tightened security in prisons by installing cameras, raising the height of prison fences, and erecting guard towers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but state security forces regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention. Police at times lacked sufficient basic resources–such as handcuffs, radios, and patrol cars–but observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and respect for human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.
Human rights NGOs reported that individuals suspected of having ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwanda National Congress, or other insurgent groups were detained unlawfully and held incommunicado for long periods in harsh and inhuman conditions. Human rights advocates described a pattern in which state security forces held detainees at unofficial detention centers for months or years before transferring them to formal detention facilities. Many advocates asserted that such individuals were never registered in the formal law enforcement system, advocates asserted.
Human rights advocates also reported that police officers used excessive force and killed suspects while making arrests. In March media reported six suspected criminals were killed while taken into custody. One, a man suspected of breaking into a house in Gasabo District, was shot and killed when he tried to jump from a moving vehicle and flee. At a May press conference, a deputy chief of police denied that RNP officers were targeting suspected criminals but also warned that police would not tolerate attempts to resist arrest.
Domestic observers and local media reported the RNP continued the practice of systematically rounding up and arbitrarily detaining street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. As in previous years, authorities held detainees without charge at district transit centers for weeks or months at a time before either transferring them to an NRS rehabilitation center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas. Detainees held at district transit centers or NRS rehabilitation centers could contest their detentions before the centers’ authorities but did not have the right to appear before a judge.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. State security forces held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitution.
Prisoners were sometimes subjected to torture. In February during a court hearing, members of the FDU-Inkingi party detained since 2017 reported that officials on many occasions held them in isolation and physically tortured them.
The law permits investigative detention if authorities believe public safety is threatened or the accused might flee, and judges interpreted these provisions broadly. A judge must review such a detention every 30 days. By law it may not extend beyond one year; however, state security forces held numerous suspects indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days. Police also circumvented arrest procedures by summoning suspects for daily interrogation, requiring them to spend up to 16 hours each day at police headquarters without formally pressing charges.
After prosecutors formally file a charge, detention may be indefinite unless bail is granted. Bail exists only for crimes for which the maximum sentence if convicted is five years’ imprisonment or less, but authorities may release a suspect pending trial if satisfied the person would not flee or become a threat to public safety and order. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, or in unofficial or intelligence-related detention facilities. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.
Convicted persons sometimes remained in prison after completing their sentences while waiting for an appeal date or due to problems with prison records. The law provides that pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed, but this was not always followed. The law does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted. The law allows judges to impose detention of equivalent duration and fines on state security forces and other government officials who unlawfully detained individuals, but there were no reports that judges exercised this authority.
Arbitrary Arrest: Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities frequently detained their supporters and party officials but released most after detention of one week or less. Several, including FDU-Inkingi leaders, were detained much longer than one week. For example, the 10 members of the FDU-Inkingi party who were arrested in 2017 and charged with membership in a terrorist organization remained in custody as of October 1. HRW reported these arrests were government efforts to crush dissent and silence the opposition. Attorneys for the defense argued the arrests were politically motivated and asked the court to dismiss the case because prosecutors employed improper and illegal procedures in authorizing a communications intercept after the fact.
Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (ID), police and the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) regularly detained street children, vendors, and beggars without IDs and sometimes charged them with illegal street vending or vagrancy. Authorities released adults who could produce an ID and transported street children to their home districts, to shelters, or for processing into vocational and educational programs. To address persistent reports of abuse of street vendors by DASSO employees, authorities continued to provide training to DASSO personnel. In June, for example, 429 DASSO community security officer trainees participated in a three-week course designed to promote professionalism and discipline.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for months without arraignment, in large part due to administrative delays caused by case backlogs. Some detainees held in unofficial detention facilities before being transferred to official detention facilities were sometimes forced to sign documents stating they were arrested on the date of their transfer thereby erasing the time already served from their sentences. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.
Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Despite the National Public Prosecution Authority’s (NPPA’s) assertion that its prosecutors handled all cases without significant undue delay, defense lawyers reported there were an insufficient number of prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms to hold trials within a reasonable time.
By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers, but the expense and scarcity of lawyers limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers were reluctant to work on politically sensitive cases, fearing harassment and threats by government officials, including monitoring of their communications.
Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The Rwandan Bar Association and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need. Legal aid organizations noted that the requirement that defendants present a certificate of indigence signed by their district authorities made it difficult to qualify for pro bono representation.
The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, but domestic human rights organizations noted that officials did not always enforce this right, particularly in cases of deaf and hard-of-hearing defendants requiring sign language interpreters. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision.
State security forces continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial. The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.
The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes.
In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT. It continued to pursue eight genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were numerous reports that local officials and state security forces detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells. Numerous individuals identified by international and domestic human rights groups as political prisoners remained in prison, including Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.
Former presidential aspirant and vocal Kagame critic Diane Rwigara was acquitted and released in December 2018. In January the government announced it would not appeal her acquittal.
Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country
There were reports the government attempted to pursue political opponents abroad. In September the government of South Africa issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murder for the 1994 killing of Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya at a hotel in Johannesburg. According to media reports, South Africa’s special investigative unit stated in written testimony that both Karegeya’s killing and the attempted homicide in Pretoria, South Africa, of Rwanda’s former army chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa “were directly linked to the involvement of the Rwandan government.” The government has not yet cooperated with the arrest warrants.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for violations of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice after exhausting domestic appeals.
Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases. In one instance residents refused to vacate their land and took the government to court to contest the expropriation. The case was pending as of October 1.
The family of Assinapol Rwigara continued to contest in court authorities’ decision to auction off 2.2 billion Rwandan francs ($2.5 million) worth of Rwigara family assets in 2018 for alleged nonpayment of taxes. The Rwigara family characterized the auctions as harassment and reiterated claims that Rwigara’s death in 2015 was a politically motivated killing by state security forces who set up a fake automobile accident. As of October 1, the case remained pending.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government continued to monitor homes, movements, telephone calls, email, and personal and institutional communications. Private text messages were sometimes used as evidence in criminal cases. Government informants continued to work within international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions.
The law requires police to obtain authorization from a state prosecutor prior to entering and searching citizens’ homes. According to human rights organizations, state security forces at times entered homes without obtaining the required authorization.
The penal code provides legal protection against unauthorized use of personal data by private entities, although officials did not enforce these provisions during the year.