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Almost a week after MoU, hundreds of Rwandans remain in illegal detention in Uganda

By Patience Kirabo

Rene Rutagungira (Circled).

Even after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Rwanda and Uganda Wednesday last week, hundreds of Rwandan nationals illegally detained still languish in Uganda prisons and CMI torture dungeons.

For the past few years, Rwandan nationals have been victimized by Ugandan security agencies, and it was high up on the list of pressing matters for which the MoU was signed. Only one party of the two signatory countries has an active policy of hostility against the neighbor.

Rwandan nationals have been harassed, brutally abducted and physically abused in stories too numerous to count. One of the glaring examples is that of businessman Rene Rutagungira whom CMI agents forcefully took from a bar in Bakuli, a Kampala neighborhood where he was having drinks with friends on 7 August 2017.

It is two years now and Rutagungira still is in detention in the Makindye Military Barracks – another blatant abuse of his rights as a civilian.

Following his abduction, Rutagungira was allegedly charged first with “kidnap”, then afterwards it changed to “spying”, then it became “running an espionage ring”. It means they have nothing to charge him with, says Gawaya Tegulle – a Kampala attorney that represents several families of similarly illegally incarcerated Rwandans.

Until now, two years on Rutagungira still is illegally detained with his family gravely worried for his health after the all the torture he has suffered in the Makindye Military Barracks. His family and lawyers have continued to plead for him but all in vain. The same is the case with two friends – Emmanuel Rwamucyo and Augustine Rutayisire – that were abducted in Mbarara in May last year.

This happened when Rwamucyo, a successful businessman in the Mbarara area, was about to bank a large sum of money, Ushs 140 million in a local bank branch. Their abductor was a local security official Mukama Moses Kandiho, who happens to be a younger brother to Brig. Gen. Abel Kandiho, head of CMI.

In abducting the two Rwandan citizens, Mukama Kandiho enlisted the help of Maj. Mushambo the UPDF Second Division Head of Counterintelligence, based in Mbarara. Mushambo arrived with a couple of soldiers and ordered them to search the car of Rwamucyo, while the two Rwandan friends watched. Kandiho had already informed them they were under arrest.

According to family members of Rwamucyo, the security men took his money after which the two friends were told they were under arrest “for involvement in a robbery plot”. Imagine robbing someone of his money then telling him he was under arrest for robbery plots!, exclaimed a the wife of Rutayisire.

The reality Rwamucyo and Rutayisire learnt was that in the lawless environment prevailing in Uganda – coupled with the fact of Museveni’s hostile policy against Rwanda and its nationals – corrupt security agencies can, and do exploit the situation to rob Rwandans then hurl false accusations at them.

Kandiho and Mushambo first accused their victims of “suspicion of involvement in a robbery plot”, then it changed to “illegal weapons possession”, then – after torturing them in Mbarara and transferring them to CMI headquarters at Mbuya – the accusation changed to “espionage”.

“That is how confused this whole situation is!” exclaimed their lawyers.

Rwanda through diplomatic channels has continuously protested Ugandan authorities’ mistreatment of Rwandans: the arbitrary arrests; the holding of them incommunicado, with no chance at consular visits, and similar abuses of their human rights. Hundreds upon hundreds are languishing in Uganda’s prisons and ungazetted places of detention.

Uganda has to release these people, to fulfill its part of the agreement signed between presidents Kagame and Museveni. No other way will Rwanda do anything such as lifting a strong travel advisory against her nationals crossing to Uganda again; analysts in Kigali are of the unanimous view.

There are many family members of victimized Rwandans, for whom Rwanda as a state has an obligation to act on their behalf. These are families not only of Rutagungira, Rwamucyo or Rutayisire but many more others – such as Eric Rugorotsi and David Twahirwa.

The High Court of Uganda in Kampala ordered the Director-General of Internal Security Organization, ISO to release the two on 17 April 2019.

The mandatory release order – No. 59 of 2019 – says, “Upon reading the notice of motion in respect to Rugorotsi Eric and Twahirwa David dated 1st day of April 2019, upon establishing that the continued detention of the applicants by the security agencies is illegal and a violation of their right to liberty, guaranteed under the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda I hereby direct that the said Rugorotsi Eric and Twahirwa David be released immediately from the custody of the Internal Security Organization”.

ISO with trademark Ugandan security agencies’ impunity ignored the order. The Rwandans stayed in detention.

Just like hundreds of their compatriots.

Even now almost a week after Museveni signing an understanding that obliged his government to immediately release them.

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