Disappearances ‘show Rwanda unfit to host Commonwealth summit’

The pair has not been seen since.

 Human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson.

Human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson.

Enforced disappearances have been reported in Rwanda since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power in 1994 following the country’s civil war and genocide. These abductions have been widely condemned by governments, including Australia and the United States, the UN and human rights organisations.

The Rwandan government denies involvement, but Robinson said their explanations for Jean and Antoine’s disappearance was “wholly unsatisfactory”.

“They’re saying that the brothers left the country voluntarily, but they don’t give any explanation for why the police took them off the bus or any explanation for why it would be that two men – who have children, family or relatives – would not find a way to get in contact,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“Our hope was that they were perhaps still detained unlawfully, but we are fast losing hope that we will find them alive,” she said.

Robinson, who is also a lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, called on Australia and Britain to raise the issue during the summit.

“Rwanda is the host country. Commonwealth countries have shared values; Rwanda subscribes to international law and international human rights treaties and has an obligation to comply with them.”

She also questioned whether CHOGM, which Prince Charles will head this week, should even be held in Kigali.

“There are real questions to be asked about whether Rwanda ought to have been permitted to host the event,” she said. “But if the strategy is one of engagement where governments want to go there, then they ought to use the opportunity of CHOGM for that critical engagement which is to raise this issue.”

Michela Wrong, author of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, an investigation into political assassinations in Rwanda under President Paul Kagame, said Zihabamwe’s story was all too familiar.

“Kagame appears to believe in collective punishment and what you often see in Rwanda is family members and friends being made to pay the price for the activism of a relative,” Wrong said.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the Rwandan government and the British foreign office were all contacted for comment.

Boris Johnson’s British government is attempting to fly some asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of an attempt to discourage them from taking risky boat voyages across the channel, but the plan was last week blocked by the European Court of Human Rights.

Last year, the government, then led by Scott Morrison, told the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review of Rwanda that Australia was concerned about reports of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings.

Australia recommended that Rwanda eliminate all cases of enforced disappearances and ensure that all alleged cases were thoroughly and impartially investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.

It also called on Rwanda to increase transparency in its legal system and commission independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, deaths in custody and unlawful detentions.

It called for the repeal of its 2018 offence of “spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan government” and “insults or defamation against the president”.

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