(New York) - The government of Rwanda should allow independent foreign experts to carry out an autopsy on the body of André Kagwa Rwisereka, vice president of the opposition Democratic Green Party, Human Rights Watch said today.
Rwisereka was last seen late in the evening of July 12, 2010. His body was found near the southern town of Butare on July 14. His head had been severed, and witnesses described unusual marks on several parts of his body.
"This is the second killing of an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government in less than a month," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "An independent autopsy and inquiry are necessary to determine what happened to Rwisereka."
Events leading up to Rwisereka's death indicate that the murder may have been politically motivated. He had long told close friends and colleagues that he feared being killed as a result of his opposition to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the country's ruling party. In recent weeks, Rwisereka had seemed increasingly concerned about his safety.
In late June, the former Green Party secretary general, Charles Kabanda, visited Rwisereka at the Sombrero Club, the bar run by Rwisereka in Butare, and tried to convince him to leave the Green Party. Rwisereka had told people close to him that Kabanda, who left the Green Party earlier in the year, had told him that the RPF would never allow Rwisereka to leave the "family" - referring to the RPF - and questioned what would happen to members of the Green Party. Rwisereka told people close to him that he interpreted this as a threat.
Rwisereka, like Kabanda and many other Green Party members, was formerly a member of the RPF. In previous months, other members of the Green Party had come under pressure to abandon their party activities by individuals believed to be close to the RPF or the government.
The police initially stated to the media that Rwisereka had been the victim of a robbery, and that people who had seen him on the night he disappeared claimed that he was carrying a large sum of money. However, further investigations by Human Rights Watch and others revealed that he had left some money with a relative on the evening of July 12, but had been carrying little money and no valuables at the time of his death.
The police subsequently changed their explanation, alleging a financial dispute between Rwisereka and Thomas Ntivuguruzwa, the last person to see Rwisereka before his disappearance. Ntivuguruzwa, whom the police are treating as the prime suspect, has been arrested and remains in custody.
"The conflicting police statements and discrepancies between the police version and those provided by sources close to the victim are creating doubt and confusion about the circumstances of Rwisereka's death," Roth said. "A thorough independent investigation would confirm or dispel these different explanations."
The Circumstances Surrounding Rwisereka's Death
Human Rights Watch has established that on July 12, Rwisereka arrived at the Sombrero Club at around 10 p.m. and shared drinks and food with Ntivuguruzwa, a regular customer there. At around 1 a.m., Rwisereka left the bar and drove off in the direction of his house. Ntivuguruzwa retired to the hotel room he had reserved at the Sombrero Club and was not seen to leave the hotel until the following morning at around 9 a.m.
Police spokesman Eric Kayiranga told Human Rights Watch that Rwisereka never arrived home. The following morning, an individual living in the area saw Rwisereka's car, which was approximately three kilometers from the Sombrero Club, and called the police. The police told Human Rights Watch that the windshield was broken but that they did not believe that it was the result of a traffic accident. Rwisereka's identity papers and keys were inside the car. Kayiranga said that the police conducted a cursory search of the area but did not expect to find Rwisereka near the site. Family and friends also searched the area for several hours, over a distance of nearly two kilometers, without finding any sign of Rwisereka.
On July 14, police were alerted to a body that had been found by local farmers and confirmed that it was Rwisekera. His head had been severed almost entirely and his face showed signs of beatings. The police said his left arm was injured and his left leg broken. Others who saw the body reported to Human Rights Watch that it was covered with dozens of marks. In statements to the media, the police spokesman rejected claims by the Green Party that Rwisereka's body showed signs of torture. A large butcher's knife was found at the scene, according to police.
Human Rights Watch's investigation revealed that Rwisereka's body was actually found only one kilometer away from his car, not three kilometers as the police spokesman had said. The police told Human Rights Watch that there was a lot of blood at the scene. However, when Human Rights Watch visited the scene the day after the body was found, there was little blood there. The blood was located in a single spot which roughly matched the size of Rwisereka's head, and the body was on a steep slope, suggesting that Rwisereka may have been killed elsewhere.
The police also told Human Rights Watch that Ntivuguruzwa had given a false identity and had not revealed his name on the hotel register. However, Human Rights Watch has seen the hotel register and confirmed that Ntivuguruzwa provided his full name and identity card number.
André Kagwa Rwisereka and the Green Party
Rwisereka was a longstanding member of the RPF, the former rebel movement that carried out attacks in Rwanda from Uganda from 1990, overthrew the government that planned the genocide, and ended the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. In July 1994, the RPF formed a government that still rules Rwanda. Rwisereka had worked closely with high-ranking RPF officials in raising funds for the movement while in exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but did not occupy an official position in the party or in the government formed by the RPF after the genocide. Over time, Rwisereka became disillusioned with the RPF. In 2009, he left the party to create the Democratic Green Party - a new opposition party - with other former RPF members.
The Green Party has suffered numerous difficulties and has been unable to obtain authorization from the police or local authorities to hold its meetings. In October 2009, one of its meetings was violently broken up by police. Repeated obstacles by district officials have since prevented it from registering as a political party or competing in the presidential elections scheduled for August 9. Several of its members, including its president, Frank Habineza, have been threatened and urged to abandon their political activities. Earlier this year, three prominent members, including Kabanda, defected from the party and denounced its policies in what many observers believe was an RPF-backed attempt to destabilize the Green Party.
While Habineza is usually the Green Party's public spokesperson, Rwisereka had also spoken out on several occasions. In an interview with the BBC in October 2009, he said: "It is time for people to act to bring about changes, as the RPF is incapable of having an internal revolution. So it has to accept that others come to its aid. A party that does not renew itself, from the point of view of its ideas, ends up falling. All the parties you have known which have worked with dictatorship, where are they now? "
Other Recent Attacks and Intimidation of Government Critics
Several other critics of the government have been targeted in recent weeks. On June 24, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist with the independent newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot dead outside his home in Kigali, the capital. His murder may have been linked to his newspaper's critical stance and the sensitive investigations he was conducting in the days leading up to his death, including on the attempted murder of former general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa. The police have arrested two suspects, who have allegedly confessed to planning to kill Rugambage, in revenge for a killing they claim he committed during the genocide.
Umuvugizi, along with the other main independent newspaper Umuseso, was suspended for six months by the Media High Council in April 2010, effectively preventing it from covering events in the election period.
The leader of the PS-Imberakuri opposition party, Bernard Ntaganda, was arrested on June 24 and remains in detention. He is facing several charges, including endangering national security and inciting ethnic divisions. Several other members of his party, and the FDU-Inkingi, another opposition party, were arrested on June 25. They were released a few days later, but the case against them is pending.
Like the Green Party, the PS-Imberakuri and the FDU-Inkingi have been prevented from offering candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections. The FDU-Inkingi has been unable to register as a party due to obstacles similar to those encountered by the Green Party. Its leader, Victoire Ingabire, has been formally accused of collaboration with armed groups, genocide ideology and "divisionism." The PS-Imberakuri registered as a party, but was then taken over by dissident members who set up a parallel structure and appointed their own president to replace Ntaganda. Neither this new president nor Ntaganda are candidates in the presidential elections.
On June 19, a former Rwandan general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was the target of an attempted murder in South Africa. Once a close ally of President Paul Kagame and a former chief-of-staff of the Rwandan army, Kayumba fled to South Africa in February. In exile, he became an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government and of Kagame. Senior Rwandan officials, including the president, have in turn criticized him publicly. The Rwandan government has requested his extradition from South Africa, accusing him of being behind a spate of grenade attacks in Kigali earlier this year. The South African police have arrested several suspects in connection with the attempted murder of Kayumba.
This July 21, 2010 news release originally incorrectly stated that Andre Kagwa Rwisereka had left some money with a relative on the evening of July 14. The correct date is July 12, 2010.