Rwanda Denies Unofficial Detention Centre Claims

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Rwanda has strongly denied the existence of unofficial detention centres, after a scathing report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report makes claims of “unlawful detention and ill-treatment” in Rwanda’s Gikindo Transit Centre, while Rwanda insists the facility in question is a legitimate rehabilitation centre.

Unlawful detention

The HRW report cites “prolonged and unlawful” detention at the centre in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, between 2011 and 2015. It says street vendors, sex workers, beggars, homeless people and suspected petty criminals – deemed as “undesirable” – are locked up to keep them out of public eye.

“Kigali is often praised for its cleanliness and tidiness, but its poorest residents have been paying the price for this positive image,” says Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW, in the report. “The contrast between the immaculate streets of central Kigali and the filthy conditions in Gikondo couldn’t be starker.”

Rwanda refutes HRW claims

Rwanda has strongly denied claims made in the report, insisting the organisation has “deliberately mislead people with false statements that only serve to undermine Rwanda’s efforts to provide a better life for its citizens.”

These are the words of Rwanda’s Justice Minister, Johnston Busingye, speaking to reporters after the claims went public.

“To suggest Rwanda’s poor people or Kigali’s poor people are kept away in order to keep the city is obscene; it’s preposterous,” he said. We keep our city clean because we pay people to clean it, because we keep our lights on, because we plant grass and do walkways for pedestrians.”

Rwanda favours rehabilitation centres, rather than a system of incarceration, and the policy has come into criticism before from Human Rights Watch. HRW and other rights groups opposed the nation’s Gacaca – a court system set up prosecute and trial genocide suspects – after the atrocity in 1994.

“Human Rights Watch has accused my government for many things,” said Busingye. Human Rights Watch opposed the Gacaca, has opposed many things which contributed to the human development index in this country, so it does not surprise me.”