Rights groups in Rwanda have questioned the legality of law enforcement agencies publicly parading suspects, arguing that this violates fundamental human rights and has far reaching effects on the victims and their families.
In a letter to the minister of justice and attorney general, a local umbrella association of human rights organisations, CLADHO demands that law enforcement abolishes the longstanding practice of sharing suspects’ images in the media against their will.
The rights organisations say parading of suspects by Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) specifically violate rights with regard to presumption of innocence and right to fair trial under both domestic laws and international conventions.
“CLADHO is concerned about parading by the Police of suspects of crimes and minor infractions that don’t amount to criminal acts, and sharing of their pictures, audio and video footages in the media and across social media platforms,” its executive secretary Emmanuel Safari wrote in a letter to Justice Minister Emmanuel Ugirashebuja.
“We find that it has immediate and far reaching implications as it amounts to degrading treatment and public humiliation of the victims with effects on those they are related to, especially children and their extended families.”
Despite the longstanding practice drawing sharp criticism from members of the public, law enforcement agencies maintained it, and it has particularly become widespread over the past two years of enforcing Covid-19 measures.
The Rwanda National Police on January 5 paraded to the media 29 people it said were arrested in separate operations against impaired driving conducted between December 31 and January 3 in the capital Kigali.
This week, police shared pictures of four people alleged to be members of a group trafficking and selling narcotics, and engaging in burglaries.
Pictures of seven other people were shared in a separate case in Huye and Nyamagabe Districts after they were arrested for alleged forging identity cards and Covid-19 test results in a bid to take part in driving licence tests.
Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) last paraded suspects on December 16.
In all the instances, suspects’ identification details, pictures in handcuffs, or statements are shared across social media and on the agency online platforms, and relayed by the media.
Except for high profile cases whose court trials are followed up by the media, outcomes in other paraded suspects’ cases are never communicated even as many go ahead to be found not guilty by the courts.
Both Rwanda Investigation Bureau and Police spokespeople did not comment on the matter, instead referring The EastAfrican to the Ministry of Justice to which the local right organisations’ letter was addressed.
CLADHO argues the parading of suspects violates provisions of the constitution on inviolability of a human being, rights to physical and mental integrity, as well as the right to due process of law.
Besides, the rights watchdogs say, law enforcement agencies violate key provisions of the penal code, especially those prohibiting taking and disclosing one’s photo, audio or visual recording without their authorisation.
Other legal provisions cited by CLADHO as being infringed on are related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, both of which Rwanda ratified.
“We ask that suspects be treated in respect to the legal provisions on presumption of innocence until proven guilty. If there is any change in the law to justify the practice, that needs to be communicated to Rwandans,” CLADHO said in its letter also addressed to both houses of Parliament, the office of the Prime Minister and the National Human Rights Commission, among other agencies.
The agencies had not reacted on the matter by press time.