By Jean Gatera
During the recently concluded quadripartite meeting on the Luanda MoU – “a road map to normalizing Rwanda-Uganda relations” – Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s Foreign Minister said the country would release 130 Rwandans, but keep in detention 310. These, according to Kutesa, are accused of “capital offenses”.
A capital offense is one that can carry the death penalty. The Ugandan Foreign Minister had, therefore, just announced that there are 310 Rwandans on death row in Uganda, according to observers.
“It is simply not possible for those 310 Rwandans to have committed alleged capital offenses, and maybe the Minister doesn’t know what a capital offense is”, the analyst stressed.
In 2019, The East African newspaper reported that 133 inmates were on death row in Uganda, while The Independent, a Ugandan weekly, reported 149. All authoritative sources point to less than 150 cases in 2019. So when did the 310 Rwandans that Kutesa mentions commit capital offenses?, our source asked.
“If Sam Kutesa says that 310 Rwandans were convicted for capital crimes, then he will have to explain why in 2019 there were only 133 prisoners accused of capital crimes in all of Uganda!” commented a legal analyst.
Approached for comment, he was adamant. The Ugandan minister’s alleged numbers of Rwandans in Ugandan prisons on capital offenses are gross exaggerations. More informed analysts, aware of Kampala’s policy of hostility against Rwanda, and Rwandans in general has another explanation. “The figures are just cooked up!”
Experts in international relations were equally perplexed by Uganda’s claims. For almost three years now Rwanda has been calling for its citizens to be released, or tried. Yet Uganda has always denied holding Rwandans. The sudden change of response from “no Rwandans” to “310 Rwandans are held for capital offenses just does not add up,” observers comment.
“It would seem the Uganda side decided to make matters worse,” observed a conflict resolution specialist in Kigali. “Legally, Uganda is basically saying there are 310 Rwandans that will never be seen again, but at the same time these are people it was claiming weren’t there!”
It has been a constant demand by Rwanda that its citizens be released or charged. But Kampala, according to lawyers of Rwandan nationals illegally detained in Uganda, “for some strange reason just insists on jailing them without giving them a chance to defend themselves!” These are the words of seasoned Kampala-based attorneys like Eron Kiiza, Anthony Odur, And Gawaya Tegulle. Failure to try the suspects, according to the lawyers, can only mean that there are no cases against the Rwandan detainees.
Also for other strange reasons, whenever Ugandan security agents arbitrarily arrest Rwandan nationals, they just hold them incommunicado – which is in complete contravention of international norms. Conventions between nations stipulate that when a foreign national is arrested on a territory, its authorities notify the embassy, or representative of that foreigner. Additionally consular visits are to be accorded the prisoner.
But when Ugandan security agencies arrest Rwandans, they neither notify the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala, nor accord the detainees visits by Rwandan embassy staff. These are issues that Kigali has raised many times with Kampala.
One thing this means is that “there is no way Rwandan authorities can verify the truth of claims such as Kutesa’s about the nature of supposed crimes of Rwandan detainees in Uganda,” a reader remarked.