KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Rwanda’s military routinely tortures detainees with beatings, asphyxiations, mock executions and electric shocks, Human Rights Watch alleged Tuesday, ramping up accusations of serious abuses that have dogged the government over the years.
A new report by the rights group describes unlawful detentions in military camps and widespread torture, including tying objects to inmates’ genitals.
There is “an environment of total impunity” in the small East African nation, with judges and prosecutors ignoring complaints from current and former detainees about ill treatment, the report says.
“Research over a number of years demonstrates that military officials in Rwanda can use torture whenever they please,” Human Rights Watch’s Ida Sawyer said in a statement. Many victims have given up “all hope for justice.”
Rwandan officials routinely deny such allegations. The country’s justice minister and military spokesman did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday.
Last month Human Rights Watch said that authorities have arrested, forcibly disappeared and threatened political opponents since the August presidential election. President Paul Kagame, who has been de facto leader or president since the end of the country’s 1994 genocide, won the election with over 98 percent of votes.
Diane Rwigara, an independent candidate and women’s rights activist who was disqualified from running against Kagame, has since been charged with inciting insurrection and forgery. She has said the charges come after her criticism of Kagame’s rights record. Rwigara’s sister and mother also face criminal charges.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, the 35-year-old Rwigara acknowledged the risks of running against one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. “People disappear, others get killed in unexplained circumstances and nobody speaks about this because of fear,” she said.
The new Human Rights Watch report says it confirmed 104 cases of people who were illegally detained, and in many cases tortured or ill-treated, in Rwandan military detention centers between 2010 and 2016. The total number is likely much higher because of the secret nature of the abuses and because many victims are afraid to speak out, it says.
Most victims appear to have been detained on suspicion of being members of, or working with, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, an armed opposition group based in eastern Congo whose members participated in the 1994 genocide.
Other victims were accused of collaborating with the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition group in exile, or with Victoire Ingabire, the jailed leader of an outlawed opposition party, the new report says.
Rwanda has won praise for its advances in economic development and women’s rights over the past 20 years, but critics call Kagame a dictator who tolerates little criticism.