Rwanda’s military has routinely unlawfully detained and tortured detainees with beatings, asphyxiations, mock executions, and electric shocks, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 91-page report, “‘We Will Force You to Confess’: Torture and Unlawful Military Detention in Rwanda,” documents unlawful detention in military camps and widespread and systematic torture by the military. Human Rights Watch 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. Rwandan authorities and United Nations bodies should 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 Human Rights Watch. “Impunity for unlawful detention and the systematic use of torture has led many victims to give up all hope for justice.”
Human Rights Watch has confirmed 104 cases of people who were illegally detained, and in many cases tortured or ill-treated, in Rwandan military detention centers between 2010 and 2016. The total number is most likely much higher, due to the secret nature of the abuses and many former detainees’ fear of reprisals. Human Rights Watch has received several credible reports of cases in 2017, indicating that these violations have continued.
Most victims appear to have been detained on suspicion of being members of, or working with, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, FDLR). Some members of the predominantly Rwandan Hutu armed opposition group, based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The group has committed, and continues to commit, horrific abuses against Congolese civilians in eastern Congo, sometimes in alliance with Congolese armed groups.
Other victims were accused of collaborating with the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition group in exile composed mainly of former members of Rwanda’s ruling party, or with Victoire Ingabire, president of the Forces démocratiques unifiées (FDU)-Inkingi, a banned opposition party. Ingabire is serving a 15-year prison sentence for conspiracy to undermine the government and genocide denial.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 61 former detainees and more than 160 family members and friends of people who were tortured between 2010 and 2016, as well as government and military officials, some of whom requested anonymity. Human Rights Watch also observed the trials of seven groups of people who said they were tortured while held unlawfully at military detention centers, and reviewed court statements regarding 21 illegal detention cases and statements given in court by 22 people.
In the cases documented, detainees were held at unofficial military detention centers, including the Defence Ministry (known as MINADEF), Kami military camp, Mukamira military camp, a military base known as the “Gendarmerie,” detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba, and private homes used as detention centers. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any Rwandan laws or statutes allowing detention at these locations.
The Rwandan government did not reply to numerous letters from Human Rights Watch presenting the findings and requesting a response to specific questions. However, the government has publicly asserted, on multiple occasions, that unofficial detention does not exist in Rwanda. With regard to Kami military camp, which is consistently identified as a location where authorities have interrogated and tortured detainees, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said in March 2016, during a review before the UN Human Rights Committee, that “no interrogation of suspects is carried out” and “no people are imprisoned there.”
Many of the detainees, including civilians and former FDLR combatants, were arrested in Rwanda by Rwandan soldiers, sometimes assisted by police, intelligence, or local government officials. Others were arrested and ill-treated in neighboring Burundi or Congo, some while being processed through the demobilization and repatriation program supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. They were then illegally transferred to Rwanda, where they were abused.
In most cases, victims were interrogated, ill-treated or tortured, and forced to sign confessions, often based on fabricated allegations, while they were victims of an enforced disappearance. They were then eventually taken before prosecutors, who often pressured suspects to confirm their confessions and, to the best of Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, did not investigate alleged abuses during detention. Some detainees were released as suddenly and as arbitrarily as they had been arrested, often in groups, without any charges or judicial procedure.
Many said that torture sessions began immediately when they arrived at the military detention center. Many were handcuffed while soldiers slapped and punched them or beat them with sticks. “[When we arrived] at Kami, I was still blindfolded,” one former detainee said. “They told me to lie on the ground. Two soldiers stood on me, one on my head and one on my feet. They stood on me and beat me. Then they made me curl up into a ball, tied me up, and pulled my legs and arms. They did this for hours and kept telling me to confess.”
If the suspect failed to give the soldiers the answers they wanted, the beatings continued, often several times a day. Other detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, and tying objects to men’s genitals. Some detainees’ hands were 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 told Human Rights Watch, prosecutors, or judges that they signed false statements because they could not stand the torture or believed they would die.
The violations are a clear breach of Rwandan and international law, which absolutely prohibit enforced disappearances, arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention, and the use of torture and other ill-treatment. Under international law, torture and enforced disappearances are crimes subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning any country may prosecute them irrespective of where the crimes took place or the nationality of abuser or victim.
On June 30, 2015, Rwanda ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, allowing visits to detention sites by the protocol’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. The protocol requires governments to set up a national mechanism to prevent torture at the domestic level. The Rwandan government has yet to create it, despite a deadline of one year after ratification. However, a process to establish the mechanism has started. There are indications that Rwanda’s National Commission for Human Rights will manage it. In 2003 the commission investigated some cases of people held in military detention, but has shown a reluctance to do so in recent years.
Human Rights Watch wrote to the commission in January and August, 2017, to share information on torture cases and to request a response to specific questions, but got no response. The commission should demonstrate the independence and courage to investigate these sensitive cases if the national preventive mechanism is to be anything more than a cover for these crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
The subcommittee plans a state visit to Rwanda in mid-October. The Committee Against Torture, the body established by the Convention against Torture to monitor compliance by state parties, will review Rwanda’s compliance later in 2017. The subcommittee should visit areas of unlawful detention and torture, and the committee should ensure that Rwanda takes torture allegations seriously and carries out credible investigations, Human Rights Watch said.
Failing a serious effort by the Rwandan government to confront systematic torture, donors should evaluate financial and other support, including training and capacity-building, to institutions directly involved in these violations.
“The Rwandan government has every right to protect its citizens from armed groups like the FDLR, but allowing the military to commit heinous crimes only creates mistrust in the government,” Sawyer said. “To demonstrate its respect for the rule of law, and to put an end to these horrible practices, the government should immediately investigate and prosecute those responsible for unlawful detention and torture.”
Published on HRW on October 10, 2017
Narges Mohammadi Calls on MPs to End the “Illegal” Torture of Solitary Confinement in Iran’s Prisons
Imprisoned prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has called on members of Iran’s Parliament to investigate and end the “illegal” practice of solitary confinement of prisoners.
“As a defender of human rights who has been tortured by this practice, I consider it my duty to take every opportunity to express my protest against solitary confinement, the suffering victims of which I continue to see in Evin Prison,” wrote Narges Mohammadi in a letter from the prison where she is serving a 16-year sentence for peacefully advocating for human rights.
“I am sure you are aware that under the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and based on the opinion of the Supreme Administrative Court, keeping suspects in solitary confinement is not only illegal, but also a clear violation of the constitutional and basic human rights and dignity of prisoners, instituted by the security and judicial agencies without rules or limits,” she wrote.
Article 39 of Iran’s Constitution forbids “all affronts to the dignity and repute of persons arrested, detained, imprisoned, or banished.”
The letter, published by the Defenders of Human Rights Center on October 8, 2017, addressed members of Parliament’s Article 90 Committee, which is authorized by the Constitution to investigate citizens’ complaints against the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state.
In her letter, Mohammadi—a 45-year-old mother of twins who is currently being held in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward—mentioned 15 other cellmates who she said have spent a total of 140 months in solitary confinement throughout different periods of their incarceration.
Mohammadi also listed examples of abuse and suffering that she said have occurred while prisoners have been held in solitary confinement:
– Death under interrogation (Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Baniyaghoub, Sattar Beheshti…).
– Sexual and other assaults.
– Diseases and ailments, especially psychological disorders.
– Extraction of false confessions under psychological pressure, which are used to justify heavy prison sentences.
Mohammadi called on the MPs to:
“A) Form a committee to study the legal and security aspects of this phenomenon and the continuation of this illegal and inhuman practice by the judicial and security agencies without any oversight.
“B) Investigate the human aspects of this method of torture and its terrible impact and harm on people. Invite the victims who have experienced solitary confinement, listen to their stories and present a report to the public in an open session of Parliament. Then use all your legal authority to put a stop and end to this inhumane method of torture.”
Winner of the 2011 Per Anger Prize for her defense of human rights in Iran, Mohammadi was first arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and “propaganda against the state.”
Upon appeal, her sentence was reduced to six years behind bars and she was released from Zanjan Prison in 2013 on medical grounds.
Mohammadi was arrested again on May 5, 2015, two months after meeting with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief at the time, at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran to discuss the situation of human rights in Iran.
In September 2016, Branch 26 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld a 16-year prison sentence for “membership in the [now banned] Defenders of Human Rights Center,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the state.”
Mohammadi will be eligible for release after serving 10 years in prison.
After Hassan Rouhani’s second-term victory in Iran’s May 2017 presidential election, Mohammadi called on him to build the foundations for civil society in Iran.
“As a citizen who voted for you, I should and will be insistent on seeking my demands,” she wrote. “I am an imprisoned civil rights activist, but I am not asking you to free me. I want to see [the dream for] a civil society come true. That is my demand.”
Published on the Center for Human Rights in Iran on October 14, 2017.
The Saudi Arabian authorities executed a man today, bringing the total number of people put to death so far in 2017 to 100, with 60 people executed in the past three months alone, said Amnesty International.
“Since July 2017, the Saudi Arabian government has been on an execution spree with an average of five people put to death per week. This sets the country firmly on track to remain one of the most prolific executioners on the planet,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research for Amnesty International in the Middle-East.
“If the Saudi authorities are truly intent on making reforms, they must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty completely.”
Forty percent of the executions carried out so far this year were related to drug-related offences, which do not fall into the category of "most serious crimes". The use of the death penalty for such offences violates international human rights law.
Many people in Saudi Arabia sentenced to death and executed are charged guilty following seriously flawed court proceedings that routinely fall far short of international fair trial standards. They are often convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture and other ill-treatment, denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret, and are not kept informed of the progress of the legal proceedings in their case.
For example, on 13 September Said al-Sai’ari was executed in the city of Najran, in the southwest of Saudi Arabia. He was found guilty of the murder of another Saudi Arabian man, by the same court that concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict him.
“Said al-Sai’ari was put to death in spite of the lack of evidence against him. This just shows how facile it is for the Saudi Arabian authorities to resort to this inhumane, and more crucially, irreversible punishment,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Death penalty as a tool to crush dissent
“The Saudi authorities have been using the death penalty as a tool to crush dissent and rein in minorities with callous disregard for human life. They should immediately quash these sentences and ensure that all trials meet international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty” said Lynn Maalouf.
At least 33 members of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim community currently face the death penalty. All were accused of activities deemed a risk to national security. Among them are Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon who were arrested for alleged offences committed when they were under 18 and who said that they were tortured in order to make them “confess”. Last month the family of another young man Abdulkareem al-Hawaj were informed by court officials that the Supreme Court had upheld his death sentence for offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests. Al-Hawaj was only 16 when he took part in the protests; he has exhausted all his appeals and can be executed as soon as the King ratifies his sentence. They are all at imminent risk of execution.
On 11 July, Yusuf al-Mushaikhass along with three other Shi’a men were executed in the country’s Eastern Province of Qatif for terror-related offences in connection with their participation in anti-government protests between 2011 and 2012. He was convicted following a grossly unfair trial which hinged largely on a “confession” obtained through torture.
The families of the 14 Shi’a men accused of protest-related crimes and whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on 24 July live in the fear of receiving at any time the horrific news of the execution of their relatives.
BackgroundSaudi Arabia uses the death penalty for a wide range of offences that are not accepted as the “most serious crimes” under international human rights law, which are limited to crimes involving intentional killings.
Saudi Arabia is one of the top executioners in the world, with more than 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2016.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
Published on Amnesty International on October 2, 2017