By Melodie Mukansonera and Alex Muhumuza
Seventy nine Rwandans that were illegally detained in Uganda for years have been released to Rwandan authorities late in the evening of Monday 8th June. These individuals arrived via Kagitumba Border Post, all looking weak, tired, dehydrated, with many nursing injuries as a result of torture and all kinds of physical abuse.
They are among hundreds of Rwandans to have fallen victim to arbitrary arrests, illegal detention and torture by Ugandan security organs, including denying them consular access as provided for by international norms.
The Rwandans, 77 men and 2 women, looked relieved to be back on home soil, have been in several prisons in Kisoro, Kahihi, Mparo, Ndorwa, Kiburara, Ibuga, Masindi, Maiha, Masaka Main Prison, Mutukula, Murchison Bay, Mityana, Mbarara, and Kakiika Prison, or police holding cells. The prisoners were welcomed by Rwandan border authorities from where they will be taken to examine their medical condition, as well as quarantine as Covid-19 precautions.
Their release comes after Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa announced during the fourth Ad Hoc Commission on the Implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding that took place via videoconference Thursday last week that 130 Rwandans would be released ans 310 would remain under illegal detention in Uganda.
Rwandan officials have stated before in such situations that much as the release of Rwandans is always a welcome gesture, “a lot of questions always remain in the conduct of Uganda.” The first, and most relevant issue according to Rwandan authorities is: why does Uganda arbitrarily abduct innocent Rwandan nationals? And why detain them incommunicado, cut off from the access of their embassy?”
The issues that Rwanda has tirelessly raised through diplomatic channels regarding the conduct of Ugandan authorities is: when her citizens are illegally detained why are they never accorded due court process if Uganda has evidence implicating them.
The behavior of Ugandan authorities in this regard has been called out not only as illegal, but also as against international conventions, “in violation of the letter and spirit of the articles of the East African Community.”
Even more disturbing about Kampala’s continued piecemeal release of Rwandans, observers say, is the fact that not very long ago Uganda was completely denying that there were Rwandans in illegal detention there. Kutesa’s announcement last Thursday, however, was tantamount to full admission by Kampala that “all along they have not been telling the truth,” observers said.
“In March last year, Uganda’s foreign minister issued a statement denying that Uganda was holding Rwandans. That was after Rwanda had sent over 44 diplomatic cables (notes verbale) to Uganda demanding the release of her nationals incarcerated at different times and places, incommunicado. The diplomatic communications further requested that if the prisoners could not be accorded consular visits, then the least Uganda could do would be process them in the courts, formally.
According to Rwandan officials, Ugandan authorities ignored Rwanda’s communications – another violation of international norms. Instead, Ugandan security organs kept dumping Rwandans at the border. That has been well documented in news reports, and it is when Uganda’s lack of truthfulness was continuously exposed. “If they kept insisting they did not have Rwandans illegally in detention, where were the ones they dumped coming from?,” asked a commentator.
Early last year, Rwanda’s former foreign minister, Richard Sezibera, disclosed that there were close to 1000 Rwandans in detention in Uganda that Rwanda’s embassy could not access, and that were never tried in the courts. Despite Kutesa’s denials, records show that since 2017, up to January this year Uganda had dumbed over 850 Rwandans at the border meaning that Dr Sezibera’s figures are being proven as facts.
“Uganda just made its unilateral decision whom to release,” an official who spoke on condition of anonymity said when asked what criteria was used to determine whom to release.
Kigali had demanded the extradition of members of the RUD-Urunana terrorist group responsible for the attack in Kinigi District last year that killed 14 and injured many more. However, these have not been handed over by Uganda. “They have decided to hold on to their terrorists, “Captain” Nshimiye aka Gavana, who led the attack, and his lieutenant, Mugwaneza Eric,” our source said.
During one of the Ad-Hoc meetings Kigali showed it had material evidence that Uganda’s State Minister for Regional Cooperation, Philemon Mateke, was in contact with the Kinigi assailants prior to, and during the attack. It said the call history of one of the phones recovered from the crime scene belonged to Mateke. Sources indicate the RUD-Urunana terrorists still are under the protection of Ugandan security organs, and Mateke.