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Rwanda: Human rights must be a priority on Blinken Trip

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  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken s planned visit to Rwanda on August 10 12 2022 will come amid heightened concern that the armed group M23 is once again receiving Rwandan support for operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Human Rights Watch said today Blinken will also visit Congo where M23 has expanded its control in North Kivu province in the eastern part of the country targeting civilians with summary executions The visit provides an opportunity to condemn these attacks including war crimes and any documented support from Rwanda that enables abusive conduct The visit should also be used to highlight systematic human rights violations including crackdowns on opponents and civil society both inside and outside Rwanda s borders Secretary Blinken should pressure authorities to release critics and opponents who have been jailed for exercising basic rights Secretary of State Blinken should tell some hard truths during his trips to Rwanda and the Congo said Lewis Mudge Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch Failure to address Rwanda s abysmal human rights record has emboldened Rwandan officials to continue committing abuses even beyond its borders Rwanda s ruling party the Rwandan Patriotic Front RPF has waged a brutal campaign against real and perceived critics of the government for years Recently high profile critics including Internet bloggers have been arrested and threatened Some have recently said that they were tortured in custody Authorities rarely credibly investigate enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths of opponents Arbitrary arrest and ill treatment in unofficial detention centers is common especially at high profile visits or major international events such as the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Blinken is ready to raise the case of Paul Rusesabagina whose arrest and detention in August 2020 falls within well documented patterns of abuse against critics and raised serious concerns about the politicization of the Rwandan judiciary Rusesabagina now a Belgian citizen was living in the US when he traveled from the US to Dubai United Arab Emirates He was subject to enforced disappearance until the Rwanda Bureau of Investigation announced that it was holding Rusesabagina in Kigali Human Rights Watch documented several due process and fair trial violations during Rusesabagina s trial resulting in a lengthy sentence Blinken should also raise the cases of journalists commentators and opposition activists jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression On May 30 a popular detained YouTube commenter Aimable Karasira told a judge that he was tortured in custody and denied medical treatment In a court appearance on July 7 he said that he had been punished for revealing the treatment he received during his detention and that he had been beaten again Attacks and threats against Rwandan refugees living abroad including in Uganda Mozambique and Kenya continue unabated The victims are often political opponents or critics of the Rwandan government or President Paul Kagame Commentators journalists opposition activists and others who speak out on current issues and criticize public policies in Rwanda have been subjected to enforced disappearance and some have died in suspicious circumstances The Rwandan government systematically fails to effectively investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions enforced disappearances deaths in custody arbitrary detention torture and other ill treatment or ensure accountability In many of these cases the evidence points to the participation of state security forces This has created a climate of fear among the population and widespread impunity Among these cases is the suspicious death in police custody of well known activist and singer Kizito Mihigo despite calls from international partners including then US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy Innocent Bahati a popular poet who posted his work focusing on human rights and social issues on YouTube disappeared under suspicious circumstances on February 7 2021 and is still missing Authorities have made vague and unsubstantiated claims that he has left the country Blinken should request specific updates on the investigations and steps taken by the authorities to deliver justice in these cases Human Rights Watch said The United States should urgently point out that there will be consequences for government repression and abuse in Rwanda and beyond its borders The M23 was originally made up of Congolese army soldiers who participated in a mutiny in early 2012 These soldiers had previously been rebels in a Rwandan backed armed group the National Congress for the Defense of the People M23 committed widespread war crimes and took over much of North Kivu province throughout 2012 with the direct support of Rwandan army troops deployed in eastern Congo UN investigators at the time also said Ugandan army commanders had sent troops and weapons to bolster some M23 operations and helped the group with recruitment In 2013 after M23 briefly captured Goma UN backed Congolese government troops forced M23 back into Rwanda and Uganda Congolese authorities issued UN sanctioned arrest warrants for senior M23 commanders in 2013 Rwanda and Uganda never acted on these extradition requests As Congo failed to demobilize the group over the past decade the M23 began recruiting and rebuilding its ranks in 2021 Since May the M23 has demonstrated its ability to overrun UN backed Congolese forces UN sources and a senior Congolese official have suggested to Human Rights Watch that the group is receiving sustained outside assistance On June 14 the US embassy in the Congo said it was extremely concerned about the recent fighting in the east Congo and the alleged presence of Rwandan forces in Congo the territory of The UN Group of Experts on the Congo commissioned by the UN Security Council to monitor the implementation of its sanctions regime confirmed in its June report the presence of men in Rwandan military uniforms in M23 camps On August 4 the media reported that the UN Group of Experts report found strong evidence that Rwandan forces were fighting alongside M23 and providing other support The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied its support for the M23 As in 2012 the M23 is committing war crimes against civilians Human Rights Watch said Witnesses described summary executions of at least 29 people including children in June and July 2022 The US should raise credible reports with Rwanda that it is again supporting abusive M23 behavior in eastern Congo Secretary Blinken should publicly condemn the M23 attacks in the strongest terms and warn of the consequences for Rwanda of any support for M23 in carrying out such abuses Senator Robert Menendez chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on July 20 that he would suspend US security assistance to Rwanda in Congress due to concerns about its human rights record and its role in the conflict in the Congo In a letter to Blinken Men ndez called for a comprehensive review of US policy toward Rwanda M23 thrives on impunity and cycles of violence fueled by disregard for basic human rights said Mudge Secretary Blinken should not overlook the abuses in both Rwanda and the Congo but he should put human rights front and center during his visit
Rwanda: Human rights must be a priority on Blinken Trip

1 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Rwanda on August 10-12, 2022 will come amid heightened concern that the armed group M23 is once again receiving Rwandan support for operations.

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2 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Human Rights Watch said today.

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3 Blinken will also visit Congo, where M23 has expanded its control in North Kivu province in the eastern part of the country, targeting civilians with summary executions.

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4 The visit provides an opportunity to condemn these attacks, including war crimes, and any documented support from Rwanda that enables abusive conduct.

5 The visit should also be used to highlight systematic human rights violations, including crackdowns on opponents and civil society, both inside and outside Rwanda’s borders.

6 Secretary Blinken should pressure authorities to release critics and opponents who have been jailed for exercising basic rights.

7 “Secretary of State Blinken should tell some hard truths during his trips to Rwanda and the Congo,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

8 “Failure to address Rwanda’s abysmal human rights record has emboldened Rwandan officials to continue committing abuses, even beyond its borders.”

9 Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has waged a brutal campaign against real and perceived critics of the government for years.

10 Recently, high-profile critics, including Internet bloggers, have been arrested and threatened.

11 Some have recently said that they were tortured in custody.

12 Authorities rarely credibly investigate enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths of opponents.

13 Arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment in unofficial detention centers is common, especially at high-profile visits or major international events such as the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

14 Blinken is ready to raise the case of Paul Rusesabagina, whose arrest and detention in August 2020 falls within well-documented patterns of abuse against critics and raised serious concerns about the politicization of the Rwandan judiciary.

15 Rusesabagina, now a Belgian citizen, was living in the US when he traveled from the US to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

16 He was subject to enforced disappearance until the Rwanda Bureau of Investigation announced that it was holding Rusesabagina in Kigali.

17 Human Rights Watch documented several due process and fair trial violations during Rusesabagina’s trial, resulting in a lengthy sentence.

18 Blinken should also raise the cases of journalists, commentators and opposition activists jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression.

19 On May 30, a popular detained YouTube commenter, Aimable Karasira, told a judge that he was tortured in custody and denied medical treatment.

20 In a court appearance on July 7, he said that he had been punished for revealing the treatment he received during his detention and that he had been beaten again.

21 Attacks and threats against Rwandan refugees living abroad, including in Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya, continue unabated.

22 The victims are often political opponents or critics of the Rwandan government or President Paul Kagame.

23 Commentators, journalists, opposition activists and others who speak out on current issues and criticize public policies in Rwanda have been subjected to enforced disappearance and some have died in suspicious circumstances.

24 The Rwandan government systematically fails to effectively investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, or ensure accountability.

25 In many of these cases, the evidence points to the participation of state security forces.

26 This has created a climate of fear among the population and widespread impunity.

27 Among these cases is the suspicious death in police custody of well-known activist and singer Kizito Mihigo, despite calls from international partners, including then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy. Innocent Bahati, a popular poet who posted his work focusing on human rights and social issues on YouTube, disappeared under suspicious circumstances on February 7, 2021 and is still missing.

28 Authorities have made vague and unsubstantiated claims that he has left the country.

29 Blinken should request specific updates on the investigations and steps taken by the authorities to deliver justice in these cases, Human Rights Watch said.

30 The United States should urgently point out that there will be consequences for government repression and abuse in Rwanda and beyond its borders.

31 The M23 was originally made up of Congolese army soldiers who participated in a mutiny in early 2012.

32 These soldiers had previously been rebels in a Rwandan-backed armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People.

33 M23 committed widespread war crimes and took over much of North Kivu province throughout 2012, with the direct support of Rwandan army troops deployed in eastern Congo.

34 UN investigators at the time also said Ugandan army commanders had sent troops and weapons to bolster some M23 operations and helped the group with recruitment.

35 In 2013, after M23 briefly captured Goma, UN-backed Congolese government troops forced M23 back into Rwanda and Uganda.

36 Congolese authorities issued UN-sanctioned arrest warrants for senior M23 commanders in 2013.

37 Rwanda and Uganda never acted on these extradition requests.

38 As Congo failed to demobilize the group over the past decade, the M23 began recruiting and rebuilding its ranks in 2021.

39 Since May, the M23 has demonstrated its ability to overrun UN-backed Congolese forces.

40 UN sources and a senior Congolese official have suggested to Human Rights Watch that the group is receiving sustained outside assistance.

41 On June 14, the US embassy in the Congo said it was “extremely concerned about the recent fighting in the east [Congo] and the alleged presence of Rwandan forces in [Congo]the territory of ‘.

42 The UN Group of Experts on the Congo, commissioned by the UN Security Council to monitor the implementation of its sanctions regime, confirmed in its June report the presence of men in Rwandan military uniforms in M23 camps.

43 On August 4, the media reported that the UN Group of Experts report found “strong evidence” that Rwandan forces were fighting alongside M23 and providing other support.

44 The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied its support for the M23.

45 As in 2012, the M23 is committing war crimes against civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

46 Witnesses described summary executions of at least 29 people, including children, in June and July 2022.

47 The US should raise credible reports with Rwanda that it is again supporting abusive M23 behavior in eastern Congo.

48 Secretary Blinken should publicly condemn the M23 attacks in the strongest terms and warn of the consequences for Rwanda of any support for M23 in carrying out such abuses.

49 Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on July 20 that he would suspend US security assistance to Rwanda in Congress due to concerns about its human rights record and its role in the conflict in the Congo.

50 In a letter to Blinken, Menéndez called for a comprehensive review of US policy toward Rwanda.

51 “M23 thrives on impunity and cycles of violence fueled by disregard for basic human rights,” said Mudge.

52 “Secretary Blinken should not overlook the abuses in both Rwanda and the Congo, but he should put human rights front and center during his visit.”

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