Apart from the recent economic Growth, Rwanda’s Kagame has also been the champion of Violation of Human Rights.
Former detainees claimed they were subjected to electric shocks, severe beatings and sensory deprivation while being held at a military camp and a secret network of safe houses in the capital, Kigali, according to Amnesty.
The report is the latest blow to the Rwandan president Paul Kagame‘s battered reputation following allegations of persecuting opponents, gagging media and arming rebels in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. International donors have partially suspended aid but Britain in particular is under mounting pressure to go further.
Amnesty’s report, Rwanda: Shrouded in Secrecy, Illegal Detention and Torture by Military Intelligence, asserts a pattern of unlawful detention, enforced disappearances and allegations of torture carried out by operatives from a military intelligence unit known as J2.
Most of the detainees were rounded up by the military from March 2010 onwards after a series of deadly grenade attacks in Kigali and in the runup to the August 2010 presidential election, which Kagame won with 93% after two of his main challengers were jailed.
Three former detainees from the military Camp Kami told Amnesty they were subjected to electric shocks during interrogations by J2 operatives. “I was taken to another office,” one recalled. “Everyone was there when they put this electric thing on my back and forced me to accept that I worked with the people throwing the grenades . When I got to the point of dying, I told them to bring me a piece of paper [to sign], but they continued to torture me.”
Another told Amnesty’s researchers: “There are other rooms where they put you and you lose your memory. They ask you a question and when you find yourself again they ask you a question. When you return to normal, they sting you. The electric thing they use is like a pen and they put it under your arms. It is like charcoal. When they sting you, all your body is electrolysed and the entire body is paralysed.”
Amnesty said it had received three independent reports that some detainees at Camp Kami had bags placed over their heads during interrogations to restrict their breathing. Former prisoners said they had items placed in their mouth to heighten pain and stop them screaming while they were beaten during interrogations.
Detention periods ranged from 10 days to nine months without access to lawyers, doctors or family members, Amnesty said. Many of these detainees were later charged with threatening national security. Two individuals – Robert Ndengeye Urayeneza and Sheikh Iddy Abbasi – are still missing since their disappearance in March 2010, the NGO added.
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s acting deputy Africa director, said: “The Rwandan military’s human rights record abroad is increasingly scrutinised, but their unlawful detention and torture of civilians in Rwanda is shrouded in secrecy. Donors funding military training must suspend financial support to security forces involved in human rights violations.”
Amnesty said it had conducted more than 70 interviews and documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture or ill-treatment at Camp Kami, Mukamira military camp and in safe houses in Kigali.
Rwandan officials dismissed the findings. Alphonse Hitiyaremye, the country’s deputy prosecutor general, told Amnesty: “There is no torture in our country and we can’t investigate on a false allegation.”
Tito Rutaremara, a senator who has worked with Kagame for 25 years, told the Guardian: “Let Amnesty come and show us these ‘safe houses’. If they know all this, let them come and say it is here. Bring these witnesses.”
Louise Mushikiwabo, the foreign affairs minister, posted on Twitter: “Rwanda will act on all credible claims of torture but won’t engage in a shouting match w/ another NGO seeking headlines at Rwanda’s expense.”