Rights group criticizes Rwanda police for detainee killings

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has urged Rwanda to conduct an "independent and impartial" investigation [press release] into an increasing number of alleged extrajudicial killings, saying in a report [HRW materials] Tuesday that Rwanda National Police officers have killed at least 20 prisoners in the past seven months. HRW said that most of the killings were committed against detainees accused of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. According to the report's summary:

Although detainees were killed in official custody in earlier incidents, the number of such deaths increased significantly beginning in late 2006 following several highly publicized killings of survivors of the 1994 genocide and others involved in the gacaca jurisdictions, a popular justice initiative meant to prosecute those accused of genocide.

Faced with demands for increased protection of such vulnerable persons, officials responded by establishing a policy of collective responsibility making all Rwandans responsible for the security of their fellow citizens. The meaning of the policy was not precisely spelled out, nor was it enacted in law, but officials ordered increased night patrols by citizens. They also warned repeatedly that anyone who harmed or tried to harm survivors would face severe if unspecified punishment.

The congruence between these official pronouncements and the increase in the number of deaths in police custody raises concern that some police officers may have interpreted official exhortations as a license to abuse detainees, particularly but not exclusively those accused of crimes against survivors or persons involved in the gacaca process....

The imposition of collective punishments violates the presumption of innocence and the right of accused persons to a fair trial, rights guaranteed both by international human rights law and by the Rwandan constitution.
The report concludes:
The legitimacy of a judicial system is intimately connected with that of its police system.... If the Rwandan government is to demonstrate the quality of its courts and police, it must take clear and prompt action to ensure that police officers and other Rwandans respect these standards.
The RNP has said it will investigate the killings, but HRW questioned the adequacy of the police investigation. Tuesday's report follows a January call from HRW for Rwandan judges and police to investigate and stop attacks on individuals administering or testifying in the local Gacaca courts [official website; Wikipedia backgrounder]. Reuters has more.

 

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