A report by Human rights Watch has again called into question the alleged underhanded suppression tactics of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. According to the report, Rwanda has executed about thirty-seven people for petty crime.
The HRW report alleges that Rwandan officials have summarily executed “at least 37 suspected petty offenders” in the last year instead of prosecuting them.
They claimed that auxiliary security units, sometimes with the assistance of civilian authorities, were apprehending and “executing” victims. They also mentioned incidents in which local residents followed orders from authorities to kill suspected thieves—beating victims to death. Authorities also declared in public meetings that they were following “new orders” which called for the killing of thieves and other criminals.
According to the group, these alleged executions were carried out in a bid to “spread fear, enforce order, and deter any resistance to government orders or policies.” in that vein, they concluded that the executions for petty crime were “not isolated events.”
On the list of petty crimes featured in the report are minor things like stealing bananas, a cow, or a motorcycle. There is also smuggling marijuana; using illegal fishing nets, or illegally crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Rwanda.
Witnesses cited in the report said that they saw bodies with bullet wounds and injuries that seemed to have been caused by beatings or stabbings. The killings were said to have taken place in Rwanda’s Western Province between July 2016 and March 2017, and were “a blatant violation of both Rwandan law and international human rights law.”
The grave accusations are coming just a few weeks to Rwanda’s elections where Paul Kagame will be running for reelection. Although President Kagame has been praised severally for improvements in Rwanda both locally and internationally, he has also received criticism for suppressing opposition voices.
For that reason, Kagame’s record on human rights is already quite tainted; many of his critics have been known to disappear or wind up dead. In this case, HRW said that local media have not documented the killings due to the restrictions placed on the press.
Some opposition members who supposedly voiced concerns about the killings were interrogated and accused of spreading rumors. The Rwandan government is denying the allegations made by Human rights Watch. In fact, Rwanda’s minister of justice took to Twitter to call the allegations “fake.”