a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) is responsible for conducting investigations into such killings. Under the Ministry of Justice, the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) is responsible for prosecuting abuse cases involving police, while the Rwanda National Police (RNP) Inspectorate of Services investigates cases of police misconduct.
There were reports police killed several persons attempting to resist arrest or escape police custody. In April press reported officers killed five individuals in Kirehe District attempting to escape custody. Press also reported police killed a young man in Rwamagana District in August who reportedly resisted arrest when apprehended for not complying with COVID-19 curfews. There were no public reports of investigations into these killings.
The government did not make public the details of its autopsy and investigation into the death of Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and genocide survivor. Mihigo was found dead in police custody in February 2020 while imprisoned on charges of illegally attempting to cross the border, attempting to join terrorist groups, and corruption. Mihigo was well known for authoring a song about the suffering of both Tutsis and Hutus during the genocide, which some officials believed violated genocide denial and divisionism statutes. Many human rights defenders called on the government to conduct an independent investigation, which had not taken place as of November.
The government did not follow through on conducting full, timely, and transparent investigations of killings of political opponents from previous years, such as the 2019 killing of Anselme Mutuyimana, a member of the unregistered United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) opposition party.
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Rwandan poet Innocent Bahati disappeared on February 7, with no reports of his welfare or whereabouts as of December. Bahati was known for providing incisive social commentary through his poetry, including on topics considered sensitive. Independent groups called on the government to investigate his disappearance, but as of November the government had not disclosed any information regarding the case.
The government failed to complete investigations or take measures to ensure accountability for disappearances of political opponents that occurred in previous years, such as those of Venant Abayisenga, Eugene Ndereyimana, and Boniface Twagirimana (see also section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country, Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion, case of Noel Zihabamwe).
There were reports Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) military intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture. Observers reported RDF intelligence personnel took suspected political opponents to unofficial detention centers where they were subject to beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment with the purpose of extracting intelligence information.
Domestic organizations cited a lack of independence and capacity for government officials to investigate security sector abuses effectively, 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 reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services officials. The law prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture and lifetime imprisonment for public officials that commit torture in the course of their official duties. There were no known cases where authorities applied this statute throughout the year.
Authorities reportedly sometimes subjected prisoners to torture. Paul Rusesabagina, a prominent political opposition figure best known for serving as the inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda, claimed authorities bound, blindfolded, and beat him during the first four days of his detention after his arrival in the country in August 2020. The High Court Chamber for International Crimes did not disclose any investigation into these claims when it convicted Rusesabagina of eight counts of terrorism-related crimes on September 20 and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Aimable Karasira, a citizen journalist who was on trial for genocide denial and minimization and illicit enrichment, stated in August guards beat him in prison while he was awaiting trial. The court rejected Karasira’s claims, arguing Karasira did not provide credible evidence, although it did not describe any steps it took to investigate the charges.
Human rights advocates continued to report instances of illegally detained individuals tortured in unofficial detention centers (see also section 1.b.). Advocates including Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed military, police, and intelligence personnel employed torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to obtain information and forced confessions, which in some cases resulted in criminal convictions. 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.
There were many reports of District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) personnel, which report to the Ministry of Local Government, beating citizens while enforcing the law and local administrative orders, particularly government COVID-19 prevention measures (for example, curfews and requirements to wear a face covering in public). In September the minister of local government announced all DASSO personnel should receive human rights training to address these concerns, but as of November there were no reports authorities had conducted such training.
The government took some steps to prosecute or punish security services who committed abuses, but impunity was a problem, particularly in cases where government opponents were the apparent victims of abuses.
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.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in some prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) approached international standards in some respects, but there were also reports of overcrowding and food shortages in some facilities. Citing 2020 data, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief reported the country held 76,099 detainees in facilities with a capacity of 61,320 persons.
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. The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers (see also section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds for convicts and detainees to purchase additional food at prison canteens, but human rights advocates reported lack of food continued to be a problem. Food insecurity among the prison population worsened due to COVID-19 restrictions, which prohibited family members from purchasing and delivering food rations. The government did not keep statistics on deaths in custody beyond deaths of prisoners due to illness (who received medical treatment in custody); the government vaccinated vulnerable prisoners against COVID-19.
Conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial or intelligence service-related detention centers. Reports from previous years indicated individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.
Conditions were often harsh and life threatening at National Rehabilitation Service-operated district transit centers holding street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons engaged in commercial sex, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. Overcrowding was common in police stations and district transit centers, and human rights advocates reported in previous years children were at times subject to physical abuse and beatings in transit centers. Advocates reported local law enforcement officials regularly cleared the streets of homeless and other needy individuals and subjected them to abusive treatment and conditions in transit centers. These actions in some cases coincided with major international events or conferences taking place in the country. Observers raised concerns regarding poor hygiene and sanitation in transit centers, particularly in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces for investigating abuses; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, or in unofficial or intelligence service-related detention facilities. During some periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, prison officials restricted visitor access. Some prisoners in politically sensitive cases also reported the government did not allow them to have confidential consultations with their lawyers.
Independent Monitoring: The government restricted most monitoring of prison conditions by independent nongovernmental observers. The government no longer permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to monitor prison conditions according to the ICRC’s standards. This caused the ICRC to discontinue its prison-monitoring activities in the country. In some cases, the government 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 whom the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) had transferred to the country’s 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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but state security forces 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.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Arrest warrants must be served during daylight hours (between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.), but there were reports of police conducting searches and arrests outside of these hours. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and respect for human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems. 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 have previously 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.
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, the RCS sometimes held suspects at the behest of state prosecutors indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days.
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. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice, provided that the attorneys were registered with the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), were members of another international bar association that had a reciprocal agreement with the RBA, or were from a foreign jurisdiction included in a regional integration agreement to which the country was a party. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.
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 judges exercised this authority.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government continued to use arbitrary arrests (or the threat of arbitrary arrest) as a tool to discourage government critics, independent voices, and political opposition members. In March independent journalist Dieudonne Niyonsenga (also known as Hassan Cyuma) was acquitted of breaking a COVID-19 curfew and other charges. The court found prosecutors produced no credible evidence substantiating the charges. Prosecutors immediately announced their intent to appeal, and in November the court found him guilty of four charges, sentencing him to seven years in prison. Several days later, prosecutors once again appealed the court’s judgment after determining one of the four charges they had brought against Niyonsenga was based on a law that had been repealed in 2019; the court had failed to note this irregularity when it convicted Niyonsenga of all four charges. As of November, Niyonsenga remained in detention awaiting the court’s action. Prior to his arrest in April 2020, Niyonsenga reported allegations that RDF soldiers had committed rapes during COVID-19 lockdown enforcement operations and other topics considered sensitive in the country.
Human rights NGOs previously reported individuals suspected of having ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), or other insurgent groups were detained unlawfully and held incommunicado for long periods in harsh and inhuman conditions.
Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities detained their officials and supporters, including for lengthy periods. Christopher Kayumba, the leader of the Rwandese Platform for Democracy (RPD), was arrested on September 9 on charges of assault and rape, which he denied. The RPD released a letter Kayumba wrote from prison in which he indicated government officials previously warned him to cease his political activities or be “destroyed” criminally.
Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (ID), police and the DASSO regularly detained street children, vendors, suspected petty criminals, 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. 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 a National Rehabilitation Service (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. Advocates raised concerns that detainees at transit centers were not adequately screened for human trafficking indicators.
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. The NGO World Prison Brief reported 2020 data indicating 9.7 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial. The law provides pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed. There were few reports of individuals being subjected to pretrial detention for periods exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged offense. The law does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted 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. In the case of Paul Rusesabagina, an American Bar Association Center for Human Rights report in June alleged that public comments by President Kagame characterizing Rusesabagina as guilty were “a severe violation of the presumption of innocence.”
Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Human rights advocates and government officials noted shortages of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys as well as resource limitations within the criminal justice system resulted in delays for many defendants, particularly those awaiting pro bono government-provided legal aid.
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, provided the attorney is registered with the RBA. Many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The RBA 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.
The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. In the case of Paul Rusesabagina, the court denied a request to grant several additional months for the defense to prepare, arguing adequate time had already been provided. Independent observers contended the volume of case material and Rusesabagina’s initial lack of access to attorneys of his choosing negatively impacted his ability to defend himself at trial. He also reportedly lacked access to privileged and confidential documents, hampering his ability to prepare a defense with his lawyers. In February the minister of justice admitted to media that prison officials intercepted and read documents from Rusesabagina’s lawyers before giving them to Rusesabagina. Citing these and other flaws, the American Bar Association concluded in June that Rusesabagina’s fair trial guarantees were compromised such as to call into question any verdict convicting him.
The law provides for a right to free interpretation, although interpreters were more difficult to access in rural areas. 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 these rights during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision, although lack of access to computers necessary to file such appeals impeded some defendants’ ability to exercise that right.
State security forces continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions allegedly obtained through torture 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 in public. In contrast, hearings in the high-profile trial of Rusesabagina and his 20 codefendants were held in public and streamed online.
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. The IRMCT continued to pursue the six remaining genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments. Of these cases, five were expected to be transferred to the country’s jurisdiction and observed by the IRMCT if apprehended; the remaining case would be tried by the IRMCT.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports local officials and state security forces detained and imprisoned 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. Others faced apparently unrelated criminal charges. Political prisoners were generally afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. The government did not generally give human rights or humanitarian organizations access to specific political prisoners; however, authorities provided access for consular officials to see Paul Rusesabagina.
Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells. International and domestic human rights groups reported the government held a small number of political prisoners in custody, including Christopher Kayumba (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation), Deo Mushayidi, Theoneste Niyitegeka, and nine individuals affiliated with unregistered political opposition party DALFA-Umurinzi who were arrested in October and were on trial during the year. Six FDU-Inkingi party leaders also remained in prison after being arrested in 2017 and convicted in 2020 on various charges that they alleged were a result of their political activities.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
There were numerous reports the government attempted to pursue political opponents abroad.
Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: In February RNC official Seif Bamporiki was killed in Cape Town, South Africa. The RNC is an opposition group reported to have carried out armed attacks against Rwanda, and there were reports of Rwandan involvement in the killings of other RNC officials in South Africa. RNC officials stated the circumstances of Bamporiki’s death were unusual and suggested the Rwandan government was behind his killing. South African authorities initially suggested the case was a possible murder-robbery but had not publicized a final finding as of November.
In May Rwandan journalist, opposition figure, and asylum seeker Cassien Ntamuhanga went missing in Mozambique. In 2015 Ntamuhanga was arrested in Rwanda for conspiring against the government, conspiring against the president, and conspiracy to commit murder. He escaped from prison in 2017 and fled to Mozambique. Authorities there denied knowledge of his detention, but advocates reported Ntamuhanga was taken into custody by persons dressed as Mozambican police with the assistance of an individual who appeared to be speaking with Ntamuhanga in Kinyarwanda. Advocates expressed concern Ntamuhanga was the victim of a politically motivated enforced disappearance. The governments of Rwanda and Mozambique both denied any knowledge of Ntamuhanga’s welfare and whereabouts.
In September attackers killed Rwandan diaspora leader and refugee Revocat Karemangingo in Mozambique. The attackers reportedly used two vehicles to crash into the front and back of Karemangingo’s car and then shot him at least six times. Mozambican authorities were investigating the case as of November. Some members of the diaspora accused the Rwandan government of being involved in the killing of Karemangingo, who reportedly survived an attempt on his life in 2016 and previously served in the Rwandan Armed Forces, which presided over Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
The government did not cooperate with the government of South Africa to act on warrants for the arrest of two Rwandans accused of murdering Rwandan opposition figure and dissident Patrick Karegeya at a hotel in Johannesburg in 2014. South African officials stated the killing was “directly linked to the involvement of the Rwandan government.”
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Advocates reported that Rwandans living overseas experienced digital threats, spyware attacks, family intimidation and harassment, physical intimidation, and assault. Advocates stated the government applied these measures as needed to put pressure on individuals who threated government interests.
In June Noel Zihabamwe, an Australian citizen who first arrived on a humanitarian visa in 2006 from Rwanda, filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances concerning the disappearance of his two brothers in Rwanda in 2019. He alleged a Rwandan official approached him in 2016 and requested he inform on the activities of the Rwandan diaspora in Australia. Zihabamwe said he refused to do so and later spoke to the press in 2019 concerning the experience. One month later, his two brothers disappeared, Zihabamwe said. The government denied knowledge of their whereabouts.
In July Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories reported Rwandan authorities used spyware produced by the NSO Group to target activists, journalists, and politicians. The groups reported more than 3,500 telephone numbers that were potential targets of the software linked to Rwanda appeared on the leaked Pegasus list. In a statement to the Washington Post, the government denied that it used Pegasus software and said it did not possess such a “technical capability in any form.” Amnesty alleged that the targets of Rwandan surveillance included critics of the country living abroad. In September Belgian media reported that a Belgian journalist and his wife, a Rwandan refugee, were targeted by spyware. The report cited an assessment by Belgian authorities that the surveillance was carried out by the Rwandan government.
Efforts to Control Mobility: The government reportedly engaged in efforts to restrict the movement of citizens abroad for politically motivated purposes. In 2019 an Australian citizen of Rwandan descent had his Australian passport confiscated by authorities during travels to the country to visit his dying mother, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. As of October 2020, the individual reportedly remained under monitoring and unable to leave the country. In 2012 the government invalidated the passports of seven Rwandan exiles and opposition members living in South Africa without officially notifying them or giving them an opportunity to appeal the decision. The individuals successfully sued the government before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the court ordered the restoration of their passports in 2019.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for abuses of human rights. The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters, with some exceptions involving state interests. 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 and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, although these courts lacked mechanisms to enforce their judgments in Rwanda.
Property Seizure and Restitution
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 most of the cases.
The government forcibly evicted individuals from dwellings across the country (primarily in Kigali) deemed to be in swamp land or other zones at high risk of flooding or landslides. Some of those who were evicted said the government refused to offer them compensation on the basis dwellings should never have been constructed in those locations. Citizens who joined litigation against the government (for example, persons who were evicted from the Kangondo II neighborhood of Nyarutarama in Kigali in 2018) in some cases reported threats and harassment to persuade them to drop their cases. Some of these cases remained pending as of November.
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. Government informants continued to work within internet and telephone companies, international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions. In July Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories reported the government contracted with the NSO Group to use sophisticated telephone hacking tools to monitor individuals of interest within the country and abroad.
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 or did so outside the legal hours for conducting searches and arrests.
The government blocked some websites, including media outlets, that included content considered contrary to government positions.