Rwanda reforms controversial detention centre

Rwanda has adopted new rules that grant detainees, held in the infamous Kwa Kabuga Centre, several basic rights such as medical treatment, visits by family and access to sanitation and hygiene. The changes come amid allegations of human-rights violations at the centre.

Inmates at the centre, which is now officially called Kigali Rehabilitation Transit Centre (KRTC), will also be entitled to participate in recreational activities and protection from assault or corporal punishment.

A recent report by global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch accused Rwandan authorities of arbitrary arrests and unlawfully holding the country’s vulnerable people in an “unofficial” detention centre at Gikondo in Kigali.

In the report, titled Why not call this a prison? the New York-based group said detainees — most of them street vendors, sex workers, beggars, homeless people and suspected petty criminals — held between 2011 and 2015 at the centre were ill-treated and housed in “deplorable” conditions.

This, the report said, reflects an unofficial policy of keeping people the authorities consider “undesirable” away from the public eye.

Kigali dismissed the allegations as baseless.

According to city officials, the centre receives people who undermine tranquillity and public safety, and those they describe as “engaging in activities that could endanger the lives of others.” They include prostitutes, beggars, drug users, and pickpockets and street hawkers.

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City officials said the new guidelines are meant to update those that have been in place since 2006 when the centre started.

“We sought to streamline the management of this centre we specified the length of time an individual can spend there and the basis for which this period can be extended,” Kigali City Mayor Fidel Ndayisaba told The EastAfrican, adding that the decision had nothing to do with pressure or criticism from the Human Rights Watch.

The new guidelines stipulate that a person brought in cannot spend more than 72 hours at the centre and options involve taking the person to court referring the person to a rehabilitation centre or a hospital in case there is a need for medical assistance or sending the person back to their family.

Investigations by the Human Rights Watch claimed the city’s poor are harassed, rounded up by the police, and sent to Gikondo with no regard for due process.

“They are held in deplorable conditions for periods ranging from a few days to several months, without charge, in violation of Rwandan and international law,” says the report.

Political space

Meanwhile, Rwanda has defended its much-criticised political space, saying critics were trying to pushing the country into confrontational politics, which it is not ready for.

“As a nation that seeks to rebuild, we chose consensus, with politicians considering themselves more of partners than foes,” said Anastase Shyaka, the chief executive officer of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB).

READ: Rwanda MPs voice concern over rights abuses

Prof Shyaka, together with the Justice Minister and Attorney-General Johnston Busingye, addressed a media conference concerning the recently concluded Rwanda human-rights assessment, at the 23rd session of the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva on November 4.

The government was criticised over restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, despite it claiming to have carried out reforms paving the way for political space, media freedom and civil society promotion.

However, according to the RGB, Rwanda outshines a number of countries in having many registered political parties from different regions of the country — as many as 11 — which operate freely.