Global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Rwandan authorities of arbitrary arrests and unlawfully holding the country’s vulnerable people in an “unofficial” detention centre in Kigali, commonly known as KwaKabuga located in Gikondo.
In the report titled ‘Why not call this a prison’ released on Thursday, the New York-based group says detainees most of whom include street vendors, sex workers, beggars, homeless people and suspected petty criminals, detained between 2011 and 2015 at the centre are ill-treated and held in “deplorable” conditions.
“This reflects an unofficial policy of keeping people the authorities consider ‘undesirable’, away from the public eye” the report reads in part.
“Kigali is often praised for its cleanliness and tidiness, but its poorest residents have been paying the price for this positive image.
“The contrast between the immaculate streets of central Kigali and the filthy conditions in Gikondo couldn’t be starker,” said Daniel Bekele, African director at Human Rights Watch.
However, the Kigali government has dismissed the report and accused the global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) of running a consistent campaign against the government through biased negative reports and denying the country the right of reply.
“There are no unofficial detention centres in Rwanda and it is unfortunate because HRW and the Ministry of Justice have a memorandum of understanding by which human rights concerns they have should be specifically responded to by the ministry before they publish reports,” Rwanda's minister for Justice Mr Johnston Busingye told The EastAfrican.
Mr Busingye argued that while HRW insists that government should charge drug addicts and juvenile delinquents with crimes in order to hold them, his government is focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration in order to give them another chance at a useful life.
“Each person is assessed and supported to reunite with family or go for drug rehabilitation and learn a trade,” Mr Busingye, who doubles as the Attorney-General, said, pointing out that over 7000 young people have completed the transition and are in carpentry, masonry, welding, tailoring and bee keeping.
However, the report shows that investigations by HRW found that the city’s poor are harassed, rounded up by the police, and sent to Gikondo with no regard for due process.
“They are held in deplorable conditions for periods ranging from a few days to several months, without charge, in violation of Rwandan and international law and Rwanda’s regional and international obligations” reads the report.
The report is based on extensive research in Rwanda and interviews with 57 former detainees, as well as detainees’ relatives and other sources.
“Everyone here in Kigali can be arrested and taken to KwaKabuga,” a former detainee told Human Rights Watch. “When you spend a day without being arrested, you say God has been good.”
The report further says, detainees are beaten at the centre, where police or other detainees known as “counsellors,” acting on the orders or with the compliance of the police, routinely beat detainees for humiliation, extortion, or punishment for trivial actions such as talking too loudly or not forming an orderly line for the toilets.
Women detained with their infants or babies are particularly vulnerable, as they are frequently beaten when their children defecate on the floor.
“This happened to me twice. You just hand your child to a friend and you lie down. Then the ‘counsellor’ hits you,” the report reads in part.
The report indicates that living conditions in Gikondo are harsh, where up to 400 people could be held in one room, with many forced to sleep on the floor, coupled with poor sanitation.
According to the report, police corruption is common, because of absence of a judicial process governing arrests or detention at the centre, the easiest way to leave is to pay the police.
Several former detainees told Human Rights Watch that there were opportunities for bribing their way out from the moment they were arrested.