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Incarcerated Rwandans in Ugandan detention a daily reminder of Ugandan regime’s contempt of laws and international norms

By Patience Kirabo

Ugandan ruler Yoweri Museveni and CMI chief Abel Kandiho.

Peter Siborurema, Bernard Kwizera, David Twahirwa, Jean De Dieu Niyonteze, Rene Rutagungira and many more – these are some of the innocent Rwandans that still languish in different Uganda prisons and places of detention. The victims are unlawfully and unjustly detained in Uganda, only because of their Rwandan nationality. Some have been imprisoned for two years.

Businessman Rutagungira was brutally abducted from a bar in the Ugandan capital where he was having a drink with friends, and illegally detained in a military prison. The abductors charged him with alleged “espionage”. It is something Rutagungira denies he has ever been involved in, even when they inflicted the most inhuman torture to make him confess.

Like Rutagungira, hundreds of Rwandan nationals have been arbitrary arrested, illegally detained and tortured in the hands of the Uganda Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). They never are presented in court so they can defend themselves. Many of the victims are with no news or updates on their cases to their family members.

Defying international norms, Ugandan authorities do not allow them consular services, despite repeated written requests by the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala. Even when the people abducted have left little children at home – such as businessman Darius Kayobera and his wife Claudine who were kidnapped by CMI agents outside their business quarters in Rubaga in January this year – the practice is to hold them incommunicado.

Kayobera pleaded with them to at least let his wife go back home as their children, ages 9, 6 and 3, only were with the house help. The abductors refused. The couple still is in CMI detention in Mbuya Military Barracks, never having been given a chance to defend themselves in court against CMI’s accusations of “espionage”.

In Rutagungira’s case, even when his accusers paraded him before the Makindye Military Court, they only revealed themselves to be completely without evidence. Despite this he still languishes in military detention – something that also is a violation of his rights as a civilian. He last was seen in a worrisome state, his health had deteriorated and he was very weak.

His lawyer also revealed that among Rutagungira’s torturers was (former) security minister Henry Tumukunde who had personally driven to Makindye to personally slap and abuse the Rwandan. The victim has only been to (military) court once in May this year, and even then only after the persistence of his lawyers who cited his deteriorating health among other things.

Equally worrisome was the state of Rwandan national Augustine Rutayisire who has been imprisoned in Uganda over a year now, first on charges of “suspicion of involvement in a robbery plot”, then on “illegal weapons possession” – all for which he and his friend Emmanuel Rwamucyo have gotten no fair trial.

In May this year Betty Mutamba the wife of Rutayisire told this news website that someone tried to kill her husband in Kampala’s Luzira Prison by putting ground bottle fragments in his food. “It only was by the grace of God that my husband survived, when they took him to hospital and ‘washed his insides’”, she said.

Rwamucyo and Rutayisire were the victims of a robbery by Mukama Moses Kandiho, younger brother to CMI Chief Brig. Gen. Abel Kandiho. The younger Kandiho, a GISO (Government Internal Security Officer) of Mbarara last year stopped the two Rwandan businessmen as they were about to deposit over 140 million Ugandan shillings in a bank.

He then summoned Maj. Mushambo the UPDF Second Division Counterintelligence officer who arrived with some soldiers. They affected to search the Rwandans’ car, took their money, then put guns in the vehicle. The next thing Rwamucyo and Rutayisire knew, they were under arrest.

The two men had been caught in the nexus of the hostility of the Museveni regime towards Rwanda, and the criminality of Ugandan security services.

In the case of most Rwandans abducted by CMI operatives – who typically work with Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC agents – the operatives show no warrants of arrest, but carry guns to intimidate. Their favorite method is to surround their mark then carry him or her away, struggling and protesting. Once inside their vehicle they throw a black hood over the heads of the victim and slap handcuffs on their wrists.

After that they drive away, the victims completely disoriented and unaware where they are being taken. They end up either in CMI’s torture dungeons in Mbuya Military Barracks, or the dozens of ungazetted places of detention, the so-called safe houses, that CMI operates all over the country.

Very many of the Rwandans suffering illegal detention in the neighboring country however are those arrested on concocted charges of “illegal entry” or “illegal stay”, and sent to various prisons. Survivors of the prisons most notably of Kabale and Kisoro talk of inhuman treatment including working on plantations in quasi slave labor conditions, enforced with repeated beatings.

Lawyers have repeatedly argued that Rwandans – as citizens of a member country of the East African Community and who therefore should be protected by Common Market freedoms of movement of people – should not be detained on any alleged illegal entry charges. Proof of their nationality in the form of ID or other travel documents should be enough to let them alone, per protocol on the free movement of people.

On the other hand thousands of Ugandans resident in Rwanda enjoy the protections of Common Market laws, to come and go as they please, and are completely welcome. That is the way it should be, and Uganda should similarly desist from harassing or torturing Rwandan civilians, lawyers and other observers comment.

“To see the behavior of Museveni regime operatives and how they harass Rwandans in violation of regional and international law is beyond belief,” said a Kigali-based attorney that spoke off the record.

Victims of illegal incarceration that they release after periods of time in inhuman Ugandan jails have described being dumped, with nothing, at the border posts. Such was the case earlier this month at the Cyanika and Kagitumba borders when it was reported that two dumped victims had succumbed to all the mistreatment they had undergone, and died.

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