Rwanda has ruled out an external inquiry into the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo, saying the country has competent and qualified institutions to carry out professional investigations.
This follows multiple calls from human rights watchdogs that Rwanda should allow an impartial inquiry and remove doubts about the circumstances under which Mihigo died.
“What those watchdogs are saying is simply their wishes but we have competent and independent organs that can do that,” Ms Marie Michelle Umuhoza, Spokesperson of Rwanda Investigative Bureau told The East African.
“Besides that, Rwanda is a sovereign country and the investigations are being carried out in private as the law on criminal procedure requires.”
Police on Monday announced that the 38-year-old musician committed suicide while in detention at Remera Police Station, three days after he was arrested as he attempted to flee the country through a porous border to Burundi.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement shortly after his death saying the official account of a suicide was “expected to be met with scepticism” and called for an investigation to examine the possibility that Mihigo could have been “ill-treated or killed during custody.”
“With the death of Kizito Mihigo in custody, an urgent investigation is needed into the official claim that it was a suicide,” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said.
“There must be no whitewash. The investigation should establish all the facts, including the possible involvement of others and whether prison practices and conditions caused or contributed to Kizito Mihigo’s death.”
His call was swiftly followed by another from Harriet Mathews, the Director for Africa at the UK Foreign Office, who said, “we await prompt, independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death by the Rwandan authorities.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) also chimed in. “An impartial and independent inquiry is needed in accordance with the procedure established by law,” said Alison Duxbury, Chairperson of CHRI's International Advisory Commission.
“While noting that the Rwandan government is awaiting the conclusion of a postmortem before confirming its initial reports of suicide, CHRI calls for the conduct of a full and independent inquiry into the circumstances leading to his death. Time is of the essence so that valuable evidence is not lost and that the investigation meets the ends of substantive justice.”
Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa, Mr Deprose Muchena, said, “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo’s death. The Rwandan authorities have stated that he committed suicide. They must immediately launch an independent, impartial and thorough investigation to determine the cause of death – including whether it was natural or accidental, or a case of suicide or homicide.
Mihigo was in 2015 convicted to 10 years in prison for conspiring to assassinate the president and for attempting to collaborate with rebel groups. He was released on a presidential pardon after serving three years.
Mihigo’s relatives have been holding vigils since Monday. The burial is set for Saturday.