Washington, DC, US (PANA) – The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Rwanda from 10-12 August, will come amid heightened concerns that the M23 armed group is, again, receiving Rwandan support for abusive operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Mr. Blinken will also visit DR Congo where the M23 has expanded its control in the North Kivu province, in the eastern part of the country, targeting civilians with summary killings, the human rights advocate said in a statement.
It points out that the visit "provides an opportunity to condemn these attacks, including war crimes, and any documented support by Rwanda enabling the abusive conduct".
It said the visit should also be used to highlight systematic human rights violations, including crackdowns on opponents and civil society, both within and across Rwanda’s borders.
Secretary Blinken, it said, should press the authorities to release critics and opponents who have been jailed for exercising basic rights.
“Secretary of State Blinken should speak some hard truths during his trips to Rwanda and DR Congo,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Failing to address Rwanda’s abysmal human rights record has emboldened its officials to continue to commit abuse, even beyond its borders,” he said.
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 they were tortured in detention.
Human Rights Watch said the authorities rarely credibly investigate enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths of opponents.
Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in unofficial detention facilities is common, especially around high-profile visits or large international events such as the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The US Secretary of State is set 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 grave concerns over the politicization of Rwanda’s judiciary.
Rusesabagina, now a Belgian citizen, was living in the US when he travelled from the US to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
He was forcibly disappeared until the Rwanda Investigation Bureau announced it had him in custody in Kigali.
Human Rights Watch said it documented several due process and fair trial violations throughout Rusesabagina’s trial, which resulted in a lengthy sentence.
It said Mr. Blinken should also raise the cases of journalists, commentators, and opposition activists jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression.
Human Rights Watch noted that attacks and threats against Rwandan refugees living abroad, including in Uganda, Mozambique, and Kenya, continue unabated.
"The victims have tended to be political opponents or critics of the Rwandan government or of President Paul Kagame.
"Commentators, journalists, opposition activists, and others speaking out on current affairs and criticising public policies in Rwanda have been forcibly disappeared, and some have died under suspicious circumstances."
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on 20 July that he would place a hold on US security assistance to Rwanda in Congress over concerns about its human rights record and its role in the conflict in Congo.
In a letter to Mr. Blinken, Menendez asked for a comprehensive review of US policy toward Rwanda.
-0- PANA MA 9Aug2022