(New York) - Hundreds of persons, many of them children, are being held in deplorable conditions in an unofficial detention center in the Gikondo neighborhood of the Rwandan capital Kigali, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper issued today.
The 13-page paper, “Swept Away: Street Children Illegally Detained in Kigali, Rwanda” documents life at the center based on the testimony of children and young adults formerly detained there.
“Kigali city officials who are running the detention center recognize that it must be closed,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “From the perspective of the children held there, the sooner, the better.”
Thousands of Rwandan children eke out a bare living on the streets of Kigali and other urban areas, many having no adult care as a consequence of the 1994 genocide, war or the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Since 1997 city authorities have regularly rounded up street children as well as beggars, street vendors and sex workers. In 2005 they began detaining many of these people in a former warehouse in Gikondo, a short distance from the luxury hotels frequented by international visitors.
Authorities hold the detainees as “vagrants” under colonial-era regulations but rarely formally charge them, bring them to court, or afford them the due process rights guaranteed under the Rwandan constitution and international conventions by which Rwanda is bound. According to authorities, the site is officially meant to be a “transit center” with persons detained for no more than three days.
In fact, some detainees have spent weeks or months in detention before being released without any judicial procedure. Detainees receive inadequate food, water, and medical care; they sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses.
“Detaining children just because they are poor, dirty, and have no one to care for them violates their rights,” said Des Forges. “Under international and Rwandan law, the state must protect these children, not just sweep them out of sight.”
“Swept Away: Street Children Illegally Detained in Kigali, Rwanda” is available at: