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Arbitrary Arrests Threaten Legal Rights In Rwanda


Shugaban Rwanda Paul Kagame (File)

Some individuals were held for over a month without charge and were unable to communicate with lawyers or their families.

A disturbing pattern of arrests continues in Rwanda, where dozens of people have been detained by authorities for alleged state security offenses. Many were held without formal charges.

The Rwandan government has been cited frequently for persecuting its opponents. Its reach has sometimes crossed borders. In March, South Africa expelled three Rwandan envoys it believes were linked to the killing of Rwanda’s former chief of intelligence and an attack against Rwanda’s former chief of defense staff. Both men had fallen out with the regime.

Faced with an organized movement of anti-regime former government officials and a rebel movement operating in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwandan government officials have defended their actions. They say they must take action against people they believe want to use violence against their people or the government.

The United States is deeply concerned by the dozens of arrests that have taken place in the past two months. Some individuals were held for over a month without charge and were unable to communicate with lawyers or their families.

The United States supports all lawful efforts to identify individuals who seek to use violence against the Rwandan people and government. But in a democratic society, individuals may not be arrested or detained without recourse to due process of law to certain minimum guarantees. That includes the right to challenge in a court the charges and witnesses against them.

In a democratic society, all are equal before the law, prosecutors and the defendant. It is for a judge to determine guilt, not the government, no matter how well-intentioned it believes its motives.

The United States calls on the Rwandan government to account for individuals arrested over the past two months in relation to these cases and currently in custody. It also must respect the rights under Rwandan law and international human rights law of the individuals detained and arrested. We also call on authorities there to fully respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press so that they may investigate, report and facilitate discussion on issues of public concern.
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