Rwanda’s military has routinely unlawfully detained and tortured detainees with beatings, asphyxiations, mock executions, and electric shocks, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released today.
The organisation found that judges and prosecutors ignored complaints from current and former detainees about the unlawful detention and ill-treatment, creating an environment of total impunity. It called on Rwandan authorities and UN to investigate immediately.
“Research over a number of years demonstrates that military officials in Rwanda can use torture whenever they please,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at HRW.
“Impunity for unlawful detention and the systematic use of torture has led many victims to give up all hope for justice.”
The group’s research found that most victims were detained on suspicion of being members of the FDLR – a predominantly Hutu rebel group based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo – with some of its members suspected of participating in the 1994 genocide.
The Rwandan government did not reply to numerous letters from Human Rights Watch presenting the findings and requesting a response to specific questions.
Many of the detainees, including civilians, were arrested in Rwanda by Rwandan soldiers, sometimes assisted by police, intelligence, or local government officials.
Others were arrested and ill-treated in neighbouring Burundi or the Democratic Republic of Congo, some while being processed through the demobilisation and repatriation programme supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. They were then illegally transferred to Rwanda, where they were abused, the report said.
Many said that torture sessions began immediately after they arrived at a military detention centre.
If the suspect failed to give the soldiers the answers they wanted, the were beaten, sometimes several times a day. Other detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, and tying objects to men’s genitals.
Some detainees’ hands were reportedly handcuffed to their legs for months on end, with soldiers only taking the handcuffs off so the men could use the toilet.
Many former detainees said they had signed false statements because they could not stand the torture or believed they would die, the HRW report said
On June 30, 2015, Rwanda ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which requires governments set up a national mechanism to prevent torture at the domestic level.
However, the government is yet to do so.