Call for an independent investigation into the death of Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo



Open letter to all Commonwealth Heads of Government

NEW YORK, United States, March 8, 2021, – / African Media Agency (AMA) / – Civil society organizations around the world are calling on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the death in the custody of Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and peace activist. As your governments celebrate Commonwealth Day today and prepare to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June, we are writing to ask you to engage with your Rwandan government counterparts in support of this call.

On February 14, 2020, the Rwanda Bureau of Investigation (RIB) confirmed that Mihigo had been arrested near the border, accused of attempting to cross into Burundi illegally, joining “terrorist” and corruption groups, as well as violating the terms of his release. in prison in 2018. A few days later, on February 17, 2020, the Rwandan National Police announced that Mihigo had been found dead in his police cell in Kigali at 5 am that morning, in an alleged suicide.

However, there are reasons to doubt this version of events. In Rwanda, dissidents and critical voices are often subjected to threats, judicial harassment and arbitrary arrest. In recent years, several members of the opposition and journalists have disappeared or have been found dead under suspicious circumstances. After releasing a song in 2014 expressing compassion for the victims of genocide and other violence, understood as a reference to the crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front when it took control of the country in 1994, Mihigo was threatened, detained under the regime of incommunicado for 9 days and later processed for conspiracy against the government, among other charges. On February 27, 2015, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. After his presidential pardon and release in 2018, and until the days before his death, Mihigo informed his contacts that he was being threatened with false testimony against political opponents of the government and wanted to flee the country because he feared for his safety.

The news of Mihigo’s death caused a stir in Rwanda and beyond. Before falling out of favor with the government in 2014, Mihigo had played a prominent role in Rwandan public life, including helping to compose the new national anthem in 2001 and performing regularly at official functions. A survivor of the genocide himself, Mihigo’s work to promote reconciliation received equally widespread recognition; In 2011, for example, First Lady Jeannette Kagame presented her with a Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers Award in honor of her work.

According to General Comment No. 3 on Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “when a person dies in the custody of the State, there is a presumption of State responsibility and the burden of proof falls on the State to prove otherwise by means of a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body ”. Likewise, the revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (the Minnesota Protocol), establishes that there is a general presumption of state responsibility for a death in custody, unless it is proven so. on the contrary, and emphasizes that this is particularly true in cases where “the deceased was, before his death, a political opponent of the government or a defender of human rights; he was known to suffer from mental health problems; or he committed suicide in unexplained circumstances. “

On the day Mihigo’s death was announced, and before an independent investigation could be carried out, RIB spokeswoman Marie-Michelle Umuhoza told local media that Mihigo had “strangled” herself with her sheets, he had displayed “unusual behavior” while in custody, and had refused to speak to investigators, his lawyer and his family. On February 26, citing an autopsy report, the National Public Ministry concluded that Mihigo’s death “was due to suicide by hanging” and said it would not pursue criminal charges.

Mihigo is one of several detainees who have died under suspicious circumstances while in detention in Rwanda in recent years. Independent, impartial and effective investigations capable of leading to credible prosecutions are essential to deter future violations and promote accountability, justice and the rule of law, and the failure to conduct such investigations is a violation of state obligations. by virtue of the right to life.

To ensure justice for Mihigo’s death, the Rwandan authorities must allow an independent body to carry out an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation.

In the 2013 Commonwealth Charter, member states reaffirmed their fundamental values ​​and principles, including upholding human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law, and the role of civil society. Holding the CHOGM summit in Rwanda without addressing the Rwandan authorities’ lack of progress towards accountability for human rights concerns in general, and the death of Mihigo in particular, casts serious doubts on the human rights commitments of the Commonwealth.

For the sake of human rights in Rwanda and the integrity of the Commonwealth, we urge you to support the call to the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the death of Mihigo in custody.


  1. Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (ACAT-France)
  2. African Human Rights Network (AHRN)
  3. African Child Care Network (ACCN)
  4. African defenders
  5. AfricTivistes
  6. International Amnesty
  7. Article 19 East Africa
  8. Artirial Network
  9. Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  10. Australian Center for International Justice
  11. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
  12. Brainforest
  13. Bytes for all
  15. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  16. Defend the defenders
  17. Kenya Defenders Coalition
  18. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
  19. FIDH within the framework of the Observatory for the protection of Human Rights Defenders
  20. Freemuse
  21. Hammerl Arts Transfer of Rights (HART)
  22. Network of Human Rights Defenders-Sierra Leone
  23. Human rights observer
  24. HDO Humanitarian Development Organization
  25. Maldives Democracy Network (MDN)
  26. Network of Civil Society Organizations for the Observation and Monitoring of Elections in Guinea (ROSE)
  27. Nile Initiative for Development NID
  28. Odhikar
  29. Ole Reitov, expert on artistic freedom
  30. PEN America
  31. International PEN
  32. PEN Uganda
  33. Quill Foundation
  34. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  35. Réseau de Défenseurs des Droits Humains de l’Afrique Centrale
  36. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network
  37. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  38. The Center for Peace and Defense
  39. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation (Malta)
  40. The voice project
  41. Vanguard Africa
  42. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Background to the previous arrest of Kizito Mihigo

On February 27, 2015, Kizito Mihigo was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy against the established government or the President of the Republic, formation of a criminal gang and conspiracy to assassinate after a trial that was based on confessions allegedly obtained through torture.

He had been arrested on April 6, 2014 and held incommunicado for nine days, during which time he said senior government officials repeatedly questioned him about a religious song, Igisobanuro cy’Urupfu (The Meaning of Death), which he had written in March in which he prayed for all the dead, including victims of genocide and victims of other types of violence. He said he was also questioned about his alleged links to the opposition group in exile, the Rwandan National Congress, and that he was beaten by police officers and forced to confess to the crimes he was later charged with in court. In a recording that Mihigo made on October 6, 2016 while he was in prison, which was made public after his death, he explains his conclusion that his accusation was politically motivated in an effort to suppress the song.

In the recording, Mihigo described meetings with several high-level government officials, who said they told him that the president did not like his song and that he should “apologize” or risk death. In the recording, Mihigo also described his incommunicado detention from April 6 to 15, 2014, during which he said he was beaten and interrogated by Dan Munyuza, then Deputy Inspector General of Police and current Inspector General of Police, who told him pleading guilty. guilty and “apologize” or face life imprisonment and death in prison. These complaints suggest that Mihigo was a victim of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as other serious violations of his rights to a fair trial, liberty, physical integrity and security.

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