Rwanda NCHR now comes under fire as it presents its report

Friday November 21 2014

Forensic Police officers take the body of an

Forensic Police officers take the body of an unidentified person to the lab for an autopsy. MPs have raised concerns over gaps in human rights practice in Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Rodrigue Rwirahira, RT Special Correspondent

Members of Parliament have exposed their concern over wide-ranging gaps in the report on human rights practices in Rwanda, accusing the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) of deliberately not capturing the unresolved murders and poor living conditions in prisons.

The MPs’ concern about the 2013-14 report revolves around its failure to highlight endless violence within families, illegal detentions, destitute conditions of inmates and the prevailing cases of assets grabbing.

Although the lawmakers’ initial concerns largely rotated around the shallowness of the report, NCHR’s impartiality is likely to be the subject of intense scrutiny during further review of the report.

MPs who spoke to Rwanda Today on condition of anonymity said the NCHR appears to have deliberately presented a toned-down report compared to the issues on the ground.

The Standing Committee in charge of Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide is reviewing the report.

Among the loopholes noted by MPs is the NCHR’s failure to capture poor conditions within prisons — such as inmates using jerrycans as toilets during late night hours — which have dragged on since last year. Prison guards were reportedly unwilling to accompany inmates to far-flung latrines.

Francois Byabarumwanzi, the committee’s chairperson, said at least two murder cases involving residents of southwestern Rwanda had not been cleared, neither had the culprits been brought to justice.

“A certain Beata Hategekimana was killed and his body dumped in Rusizi River, and Marc Muhawenimana was killed in Nyungwe Forest; what is the progress of these cases?” Byabarumwanzi asked.

These are some of the issues raised by MPs, who faulted the report for failure to expose reasons for unlawful arrests. Such arrests, they argued, have partly been the reason for overcrowding in prisons and other correctional centres.

In addition, legislators expressed their concern over filthy conditions in correctional centres, which they said tarnishes the country’s human rights image further.

“In some introductory parts of the report, you indicate that there have been some progress, but looking into the details, so many issues are still quite unsolved and can jeopardise the image of rights in the country,” said Innocent Kayitare, a member of the committee.

The MPs also highlighted lack of co-ordination between local government authorities and NCHR, which is partly the reason for delays in addressing the human rights challenges raised in earlier reports.

“Despite the fact that we’ve been pushing for a fast-tracking of all these cases, there have been delays, mainly at the district levels,” said NCHR chairperson Madeleine Nirere.

NCHR commissioner Laurent Nkongori explained: “Although we have learnt that the person behind the heinous death of Beata Hategekimana was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, the suspect behind the death of Marc Muhawenimana has been on the run, hence the delay and is yet to be brought before justice.”

The report states that at least 1,269 cases of human rights abuse were reported to the rights commission in addition to 399 that were pending in last year’s report.

The report tasked institutions — mainly courts and Office of the Prosecutor-General — to follow up at least the unresolved 110 cases, stating that so far 62 per cent of the reported cases were resolved.

According to the report, 29.4 per cent of the human rights abuses are related to rights on property, 20.5 per cent denial of rights to justice, sexual violence 12.2 per cent and rights to repossess grabbed assets 7.6 per cent.

Rwanda’s human rights practices have always been the subject of controversy, both on the international scene and locally.

Mid this year, the government sought the support of Kenyan-born UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai for advice on how come up with a clean report ahead of next year’s Human Right Council Summit in Geneva.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) summit, which is held every four years, compels countries to produce clean reports on how they have implemented assigned resolutions by the latest report.

The 2011 UPR report had given Rwanda 67 recommendations to be observed. Most of these rotated around issues of rights to assembly, free and fast formation of organisations; implementation of laws that allow access to information and justice to unresolved murders.

However, the Rwanda government dismissed findings in the UPR report, citing lack of provable evidences and failure to contextualise facts vis-a-vis universal conventions.

“Systems here are very open and allow citizens full participation. Peaceful assembly is not restrained, even if they are subjected to police inspections,” said Laurent Nkongori in response to the report.

In response, Mr Kiai commended achievements made in the past decade but also encouraged the government, which, according to him, still had a rough road ahead, to meet all UPR resolutions.

“If in Rwanda you can register a company in less than six hours, it’s a point of pride, but registering an NGO takes a minimum of 30 days,” he said. “It is even harder for (political) parties since some took four years to be officially registered.”

The government has consistently accused Amnesty International fabrication of human rights reports allegedly aimed tarnishing the image of the country and its remarkable progress.