HRW Concerned About Safety of President Kagame’s Former Bodyguard

November 5, 2013 10:17 am0 comments by:

KagameNairobi– Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the safety of the former bodyguard of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and refugee who has been forcefully returned by the Ugandan authorities to Kigali.

Joel Mutabazi a Rwandan refugee who had served as a bodyguard for Rwandan President Paul Kagame was forcibly returned by Ugandan police to Rwanda after going missing on October 25, 2013.

Human Rights Watch-HRW in a statement released today states that his whereabouts were unknown for six days but is now in police custody in Rwanda, in an undisclosed location.

Mutabazi had survived a bungled abduction in Uganda in August as well as an assassination attempt in July 2012, in both cases by unknown perpetrators.

Ugandan authorities have said they are investigating the incident and have suspended the Ugandan police officer who arrested Mutabazi and erroneously handed him over to the Rwandan authorities, according to a government statement.

“The Ugandan police have utterly failed to protect this refugee, who was clearly at serious risk,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s unconscionable that they handed him over summarily to the police force of the country whose persecution he fled.”

Rwandan and Ugandan authorities claim that Mutabazi is accused of terrorism and other offences in Rwanda, and was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Rwanda.

But the Ugandan government statement admits that handing Mutabazi to Rwanda without any court proceedings is contrary to its “established legal procedure” and the “Police Code of Conduct.”

The Ugandan authorities should immediately put in place effective measures to protect Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those whose security is at risk, Human Rights Watch said. The Ugandan authorities should urgently complete the investigation they have announced into Mutabazi’s handover to Rwanda and publish its findings without delay.

Mutabazi should be transferred back to Uganda and subject to a formal extradition procedure in a Ugandan court, including consideration of the human rights implications of the transfer and his refugee status, Human Rights Watch said.

“Uganda had granted Mutabazi refugee status in 2011, which means his risk of persecution in Rwanda had been established and recognized,” Bekele said. “If Uganda is serious about remedying the error of handing him over to Rwanda without any legal process, they should ask the Rwandan authorities to return him and allow the Ugandan courts to decide the extradition request.”

Mutabazi was first arrested in Rwanda in 2010. According to sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the government accused him of being close to General Kayumba Nyamwasa, a prominent Rwandan government opponent exiled in South Africa. Mutabazi was detained incommunicado for several months in a military camp in Rwanda and there is credible evidence he was tortured.

In 2011 Mutabazi fled Rwanda and sought asylum in Uganda, where he was granted refugee status in October 2011. On July 12, 2012, a man armed with a gun came to his house in Kasangati, a suburb of Kampala, and fired at Mutabazi, but missed him. After this incident, the Ugandan government and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arranged for Mutabazi to be placed under police protection in a guesthouse in a different area.

On August 20, 2013, a group of armed men, some in Ugandan police uniforms, others in civilian clothes, abducted Mutabazi from the guesthouse, forced him into a car, and drove off with him. Some of the men in the car were speaking Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, Mutabazi has said. Mutabazi was released the same day, after senior Ugandan government and police officials intervened.

The Ugandan authorities and the UNHCR then arranged to move Mutabazi to a different location, where he was under 24-hour police protection. It was from this second location that he disappeared on October 25.

Human Rights Watch says it wrote to the Ugandan inspector general of police, General Kale Kayihura, on October 30 for an explanation of Mutabazi’s disappearance, and tried to call him, but did not receive a reply.

The statement from HRW indicates that on October 31, the Rwandan police announced that Mutabazi was in their custody.

The statement from the Rwandan authorities followed that made by Ugandan minister for relief, disaster preparedness, and refugees, Hilary Onek, which claimed that Mutabazi had escaped from his hotel, police had apprehended him, and “in an error of judgment and misinterpretation of the International Arrest Warrant, [a police officer] regretfully handed him over to the Government of Rwanda officials.”

At the time of Mutabazi’s abduction in August, the Ugandan police issued a statement saying they were responding to an extradition request from the Rwandan police, via Interpol, alleging that Mutabazi was wanted in connection with armed robbery in Rwanda.

The statement said, however, that, “The Uganda Police Force would not hand over the suspect to any country, without going through legal procedures of deportation or extradition, as the law requires.” No such procedures were followed in either August or October.

In an October 31 statement, the Rwandan police said that Mutabazi is wanted for “terrorism and other crimes” and suspected of involvement in grenade attacks led by the Rwanda National Congress, General Nyamwasa’s exiled opposition group, in collaboration with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a predominantly Rwandan armed group operating in eastern Congo that consists in part of people who took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Human Rights Watch is now expressing concern that Mutabazi could face an unfair trial in Rwanda, as has been the case with other alleged criminal suspects whom the government accused of having links with the opposition.

“We are worried about Mutabazi’s well-being in Rwanda,” Bekele said. “The Rwandan authorities should guarantee his safety, publicly disclose his whereabouts, allow him access to a lawyer and visits by relatives, and, if he is to be charged, promptly bring him before a court.”

HRW also calls upon UNHCR to accelerate the determination of refugee claims by Rwandan asylum seekers in Uganda and expedite the third-country resettlement of Rwandan refugees who might be at risk in Uganda.

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