By Rutore Samugabo
Rwandans are strongly advised not to travel to Uganda due to ongoing arrests, harassment and torture, the Rwandan authorities have announced.
In a series of tweets, Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera listed more reasons for this advisory as including: incarceration without consular access, and deportations. The minister added that not going to Uganda is for Rwandans’ own security. Ugandans in Rwanda or travelling through Rwanda are safe and will continue to be welcome.
This decision indicates that, as far as the Rwandan administration is concerned, the safety and wellbeing of its nationals come before anything else.
With numerous of its nationals being illegally picked up, abducted, harassed, sequestered in un-gazetted and illegal detention centres and tortured – mostly at the hands of the notorious Ugandan Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) – and Uganda’s continued refusal to explain why and resolve this issue, Rwanda has decided enough is enough. No more of its citizens should cross into a country where they are likely to fall into the hands of Ugandan security operatives who spare neither old men in their sixties nor mothers carrying babies as small as 5-months old, just because they are Rwandan. Some Rwandans are asking why “in fact it has taken this long for Kigali to come out against its citizens’ travel to Uganda.”
Ever since Kampala adopted a policy of hostility against Rwanda and started sponsoring, facilitating and actively supporting the terror group Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and their genocidal allies the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), both of which have openly declared war against the government and people of Rwanda, very many innocent Rwandan citizens have suffered untold abuse at the hands of Kampala’s intelligence agencies.
Rwandan nationals travelling to Uganda for any number of reasons: family or social visits, parents visiting their children attending Ugandan schools, business trips, and so on have found themselves suddenly detained without any form of legal process, others abducted, and yet others accosted in the most brutal ways. They have been manhandled by men barking at them to “get in the car!”, and other kinds of illegal ‘arrest’ methods that have become the hallmark of CMI. Rwandans resident in Uganda, with little children waiting for them back home, have been brutally abducted. The behavior of CMI, ISO and other Ugandan so-called ‘security’ agencies denotes the utter impunity they enjoy in a society that is increasingly defined by lawlessness.
No Rwandan victim in Uganda is ever told why they are being detained. They just find themselves in pickups, the panda gari type made notorious during the Obote 2 security sweeps in Kampala, or vehicles with tinted glasses. The victims are blindfolded, and driven to places of torture, which is completely outside any legal framework. All are held incommunicado. Ugandan authorities have studiously ignored all inquiries from the Rwanda High Commission in Kampala made on behalf of worried families, no matter the many notes verbale the High Commission has sent. There are said to be over 40 Rwandans in CMI “safe houses” or other facilities belonging to it, such as Kireka. A Rwandan, Donne Kayibanda, who has just been released from CMI captivity says when he left, they had brought in about a dozen more Rwandans, tied up in torturous ways.
Some Rwandans have been so severely tortured they lost the ability to walk and have ended up in wheelchairs. It has gotten to an extent where, for Ugandan authorities, the harassment and torture of Rwandan citizens has now become a sport.
While we cannot name all the Rwandan victims of Uganda’s security operatives because the list is now extremely long, we can give a few examples.
On 8 October 2018, Patrice Niyigena, a 38-year old Rwandan businessman was getting out of Kampala’s Owino market – where he had been whiling away the time before boarding his bus to Nairobi – when three men in their twenties accosted him. They ordered him to get into their vehicle, a black car with tinted windows.
Niyigena was merely travelling through Uganda on his way to the Kenyan capital to buy refrigerator parts. He has recounted how he spent three days in some dark cell with no lights, in the custody of men whom he came to learn were CMI operatives. He recounted how they brutally assaulted him, kicking him in the ribs and elsewhere, asking him whether he was “a soldier in the Rwandan army”. Every time he said he was only an ordinary businessman they beat him some more. At one point, Niyigena said, they injected him with some “unknown substance”, which he is convinced was a slow-working poison. After three days of this sustained torture, they just dumped him outside and left him there. Before they did, they had robbed him of all the money he was carrying in cash, amounting to US$ 2600.
That, according to testimony from many of their Rwandan victims, is another common feature of these Ugandan security operatives: a penchant for robbery and petty theft from those they abduct; always searching in their pockets and bags for cash and any valuables which they take and never return.
Something even worse happened to Fidele Gatsinzi, a middle-aged father who was detained outside a supermarket in Ntinda, Kampala, and taken away to a CMI torture house on 9 December 2017. Gatsinzi has recounted how he wished for death as he was being tortured.
He had travelled to Uganda to visit his son, a student at the Uganda Christian University, Mukono, when the CMI operatives – with their RNC auxiliaries, including Norway-based Kayumba Moses (Kayumba Nyamwasa’s nephew) – abducted him. The torture Gatsinzi suffered in those 12 days when he was held incommunicado is such that he could not walk when they dumped him at the Uganda-Rwanda border. He has ended up in a wheelchair.
There are many other cases of Rwandans arrested and locked up on concocted charges of “illegal weapons possession”. In such cases these Rwandans – all resident in Uganda – have first been contacted by RNC, working in tandem with CMI. The aim clearly is to recruit them into their anti-Rwanda activities, either as fighters or financial contributors. The Rwandans who rebuff these approaches – and they are very many according to our sources – are threatened, and told they will be “fixed”. That is how one may find themselves being detained, even in a restaurant or bar, and a gun thrust on them, followed by a spurious “illegal weapons possession” charge.
There also are many stories of Rwandan women or girls who have been illegally detained, beaten, and many raped. The interested reader wanting to find out more can carry out a Google search for themselves. One may just type in, “arrested + abducted + tortured + rwandans + cmi + iso”, to get an inkling of the magnitude of abuses Rwandans are suffering in President Museveni’s Uganda.
In a tweet on 11 January, Rwandan Minister of State in Charge of the East African Community, Olivier Nduhungirehe wrote: “when will arrests and torture of Rwandan citizens in Uganda stop? This permanent harassment of Rwandans is not only against basic human rights, but it is also against good neighborliness and free movement of people, as agreed by EAC partner states under Common Market Protocols.”
In more recent weeks in areas of Uganda bordering Rwanda, most notoriously around Kisoro, the harassment of Rwandans by Ugandan security agencies has taken on the look of a determined witch-hunt. In the last month alone, Ugandan authorities have dumped dozens upon dozens of Rwandans at Cyanika border, most often following periods of brutal imprisonment without trial. The favorite accusation against these Rwandans is “illegal entry” or “illegal stay”. Rwandan deportees have been reporting how Uganda Police in regions in the southwest, such as Kisoro and Kabale have been extorting bribes after locking them up in the cells. Usually, according to some of the deportees we have talked with, 800,000 Ugandan shillings gets one out of jail. But some “hungry” Uganda policemen have been known to take as little as 15,000 shillings. Failure to pay can mean up to two years in prison, in the feared Kisoro, and Kiburara (Kabale) prisons. In Kiburara alone, according to recent Rwandan deportees from there, there are 300 Banyarwanda languishing after arrest on “illegal entry or stay”.
Arresting or jailing Rwandan citizens by Uganda on “illegal entry”, or “illegal stay” is a clear violation of basic EAC Common Market laws – specifically those providing for the free movement of persons and labor – which all EAC countries (except new Member South Sudan) have signed and ratified. According to those provisions, no national of a member state can be charged with illegal entry or illegal stay by another member state. Proof of nationality is all that is required. Every Rwandan that has been detained in Uganda either had a national ID, passport, or travel passes, the “jettons”. This means Kampala has been willfully and repeatedly breaking the law with such detentions. The Rwandans’ stories are filled with descriptions of the systematic torture suffered while in police cells, or in prisons. The deportees also have been reporting hundreds more Rwandans suffering in Uganda’s prisons, on the same accusations of purported illegal entry or illegal stay.
Kampala’s propaganda machine has for a long time pushed a narrative that the Rwandans they detain are “spies for Kigali”. Leave alone how ludicrous it is to accuse a 38 year old mother with a 5-month baby of being “a spy”, they have never prosecuted a single Rwandan in court, or produced evidence or proof of the alleged spying. A few Rwandan civilians have ended up before military courts martial – more violation of their civilian rights – on clearly trumped up accusations. Like Ugandan intelligence services framing them with such risible charges as “illegal weapons possession”. Readers will recall how Museveni’s presidential guard, the Special Force Command (SFC), attempted the same stunt against MP and popular musician Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) in Arua after they beat him into a coma. Readers will also recall how even Museveni’s docile general court martial found the charge so laughable it was dropped without much ado.
Rwanda, for its part, has not once mistreated any Ugandan national. Ugandans arrested in Rwanda on suspicion of crime are, like any Rwandan or national of another country, scrupulously treated in accordance with legal requirements. They are read the charges before a court of law and given a proper chance to defend themselves, in addition to their consular mission being notified.
Given the determined refusal of the Ugandan authorities to act within the law in their treatment of Rwandans, it was long past time that the Rwandan government assumed its responsibility to protect its citizens.