The City of Kigali and law enforcement organs have come out fighting following reports of torture and other human rights abuses taking place at the city-operated Kigali Transit Centre.
Located in Kicukiro District, the centre, commonly known as “Kwa Kabuga”, is where the city’s “unwanted’” — beggars, street vendors, idlers, pickpockets, petty thieves and the homeless — are temporarily held after being arrested.
The detainees are then transferred to the various prisons or the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Skills Development Centre located on Iwawa Island in Lake Kivu.
Rwanda Today recently reported the case of 26-year-old Jean Claude Safari, who met his death in April after he was allegedly badly beaten by night patrol security operatives and detained at the centre. The case is still in court.
Mr Safari’s death and other cases have prompted various local media outlets to investigate the happenings at the infamous centre, unearthing appalling conditions of torture and other forms of human rights abuses which have resulted in the death of at least two people in the past five months.
Rwanda Today also recently reported about the heavy-handed methods used by police and city law enforcement personnel when arresting street vendors, who are also held at the heavily barricaded centre.
Apart from those with permission from the city authorities or those visiting their relatives held there, access to the centre is limited. There have been unconfirmed claims of abuses, including flogging and denying the detainees food, which the city officials have however denied.
Dieudonne Hakiza, 22, a street mechanic, claims that he was arrested on May 2 at Kisementi, where he waits to do quick fixes on vehicles that break down in the traffic jam, only to be released two weeks later without trial.
“I was interrogated several times,” Mr Hakiza recalled. “They wanted me to admit that I am a street kid but I kept telling them that I studied motor vehicle mechanics, I have a day job and I only go there to make some quick evening cash.”
In the process, claims Mr Hakiza, he was beaten and harassed but, having stuck to his guns, he was eventually let off with a warning. He however adds that there are more appalling cases than his, particularly those of street children, those arrested in drug-related incidences as well as vendors.
“There are those who are brought in for the second or third time,” Mr Hakiza said. “They are treated harshly, especially street hawkers.
“Their items are confiscated.”
Those who have no one to help them get out of jail can spend up to a month in detention, he claimed.
Police spokesperson ACP Theos Badege said the police had nothing to do with the centre since it is fully managed by the city authority.
“As police, we act as law enforcers on behalf of the city authorities but anything to do with the centre is in the city’s hands,” ACP Badege told the press.
Kigali City communications director Bruno Rangira denied the allegations of torture and human rights abuses at the centre, saying that it is a holding ground for mostly street children and the homeless.
“No torture takes place at the Transit Centre,” Mr Rangira told Rwanda Today. “It is just a centre for vagabonds or the city’s homeless who are brought there just to link them with their families.
“What we have there are social workers and health personnel who attend to them. They are regularly visited by their relatives and the National Human Rights Commission and they have also been visited by the diplomats in Kigali.”
The centre’s director, Pontien Sindayiheba, also denied the allegations, saying the centre has on the contrary rehabilitated many street children and drug addicts and re-united them with their families or given them a home.
“There have been a lot of negative reports on this centre, most of which are baseless,” said Mr Sindayiheba.
“The people we have here are mainly unwanted on the streets. They include beggars and street children, as well as drug addicts. As soon as we get them, we rehabilitate them as we look for their families or homes for them.”