By Abdi Ali
Published November 11, 2017
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Rwandan government threatens and coerces family members of victimised people to present false information about what happened to their loved ones.
“An October 13, 2017 report by Rwanda’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) attempting to discredit Human Rights Watch documentation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances is full of falsehoods, compounding the injustice and abuse suffered by the victims’ families,” HRW says.
HRW says NCHR’s report on its account detailing how military, police, and auxiliary security units apprehended suspected petty offenders and summarily executed them is “largely fabricated and misrepresented”.
“The allegations by the National Commission for Human Rights show that Rwandan authorities are unwilling to tolerate criticism or make meaningful attempts to improve the country’s human rights record,” says Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of discussing the findings with Human Rights Watch – before publication – as requested and opening serious investigations, Rwandan officials presented false accounts and threatened those who dared to speak out about the killings.”
HRW says local officials or security forces detained family members of victims who refused to fabricate stories about what happened to their loved ones.
“The local authorities asked me if I was ready to tell officials who would come to our village that [the victim] had died from illness at the hospital, but I refused,” HRW quotes a family member of one of the victims as having said. “I saw how [the victim] was killed, and I could not change the truth. A few days later, I was arrested.”
HRW says a France 24 investigation, aired on October 31,2017 “found numerous discrepancies in the NCHR report and corroborated the circumstances surrounding four of the summary executions documented by Human Rights Watch.”
Saying it has analysed the report as well as the statements made during the October 13, 2017 news conference and the commission’s presentation to parliament on October 19, 2017, HRW say many of the witnesses it interviewed are shocked to learn what had been alleged in the NCHR report.
“A case in point was the extrajudicial killing of Alphonse Majyambere. The NCHR produced a different person at its news conference – with the same name, but from a different sector and almost 30 years older than the person who was killed,” HRW says.
“For the case of Elias Habyarimana, killed by security forces in March, the NCHR presented a woman named Pelagie Nikuze who said Habyarimana is her husband and that he is living in Belgium. Human Rights Watch found that the man who is said to be in Belgium is a different person. The man killed in March was a fisherman who never had a passport.”
“The NCHR acknowledged that Fulgence Rukundo was killed, contending it was for illegally crossing the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet several villagers confirmed to Human Rights Watch in late October that they and dozens of other people from their village had personally witnessed soldiers executing Rukondo for allegedly stealing and killing a cow on December 6, 2016, in Kiraga cell, several kilometers from the border.”
The cases NCHR tried to address, HRW says, are included in All Thieves Must Be Killed: Extrajudicial Executions in Western Rwanda, its 40-page report it issued July 2017.
HRW says the report “documents the extrajudicial executions of at least 37 suspected petty offenders and the enforced disappearances of four others between April 2016 and April 2017.”
The rights body says members of families with victims “were threatened when they tried to recover the bodies of their loved ones, and authorities spoke about the executions in public community meetings, using the killings as a warning to other would-be thieves.”
Reiterating that it ‘stands by its findings and strongly rejects the allegations made by the NCHR’, HRW says ““The government should immediately cease all intimidation and harassment of family members and other witnesses, take reports of killings and other grave violations seriously, and join the ranks of countries that work toward respecting fundamental human rights.”