The Human Rights Watch is accusing Rwanda of surveillance on political dissidents abroad, including threatening their relatives back home to force loyalty and support for the government.
In a new report, the US-based rights lobby alleges that Kigali has used various tactics, including threats, kidnaps and assassinations to silence critics or force others to turnover their support for the government.
The document, ‘Join Us or Die’: Rwanda’s Extraterritorial Repression, says critics are targeted wherever they are in the world and face physical violence, enforced disappearances, surveillance, misuse of law enforcement and online trolls targeted at perceived critics.
Rwanda rejected HRW’s assertions, with Government Spokesperson Yolande Makolo, saying the lobby has been consistent in an anti-Rwanda campaign. “Human Rights Watch continues to present a distorted picture of Rwanda that only exists in their imagination,” she said.
“Any balanced assessment of Rwanda’s record in advancing the rights, well-being, and dignity of Rwandans over the past 29 years would recognise remarkable, transformational progress. Rwanda will not be deterred from this work by bad-faith actors advancing a politicised agenda.”
The report is asking Rwanda’s global partners, including the UK, to rethink collaboration with Kigali.
“Rwanda’s partners should open their eyes and see Kigali’s wide-reaching effort for what it is: the consequence of three decades of impunity for the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front,” said Tirana Hassan, HRW executive director.
HRW specifically asks the UK to “rescind the agreement to transfer to Rwanda asylum seekers arriving ‘irregularly’ in the UK, in light of the real risks to their safety in Rwanda and inadequate safeguards to guarantee their international protection.”
Since Rwanda signed the deal with the UK to host the immigrants arriving irregularly on its shores, the deal has been subjected to legal challenges, stopping its implementation at least until the UK Supreme Court decides its validity.
The HRW report came as the hearing began in the UK Supreme Court after activists challenged the legality of the deal, and alleging that Rwanda’s human rights record was poor. HRW said the report was a result of interviews of 150 people across the globe, who discussed Rwanda’s silencing tactics against Rwandans abroad.
It says abuses by Rwandan agents was observed in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as within Rwanda targeting relatives of dissidents.
The lobby also says it had documented more than a dozen killings, kidnappings, enforced disappearances and physical attacks on dissidents since 2017.
Besides Rwandan intelligence agents, Kigali has also used its diplomatic missions abroad, diaspora association and inter-governmental cooperation including use of Interpol red notices and extradition requests to get hold of critics, HRW charges.
One such incident involved Hotel Rwanda “hero” Paul Rusesabagina, who thought his flight was heading to Bujumbura but landed in Kigali in August 2020.
He would then be tried and jailed a year later for 25 years, having been found guilty of murder, membership in a terrorist group and other charges, only to be freed later in March this year after a diplomatic back channel involving Qatar and the US.