(New York) - Rwandan judicial and police authorities should account promptly for the whereabouts of Assinapol Rwigara, a prominent businessman, and should assure due process rights to arrested generals Frank Rusagara and Sam Kanyemera, Human Rights Watch said today.
Police say they sought Rwigara in relation to an accident that took the lives of three workers at a construction site that he owned, and they say that they arrested the two generals for interfering with Rwigara’s arrest.
“Rwanda has adopted laws to protect the rights of accused persons,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “Now is time for Rwandan authorities to make them work to defend the rights of these three people.”
Rwigara, an early supporter of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the dominant party in Rwanda, has been missing since July 27 when he was forcibly taken from a graveside funeral by police officers. Scores of people present at the funeral witnessed Rwigara driven away from the gravesite immediately after police officers surrounded him. Police acknowledged that they sought to arrest him but say that Rwigara managed to escape and is still being sought.
Rusagara, an officer in the Rwandan Defense Force, was arrested on August 1, according to The New Times, a newspaper close to the government. Although police authorities reportedly said they had not yet determined the exact charges against him, they did say his arrest resulted from Rusagara’s efforts to impede Rwigara’s arrest.
Rwandan law provides that detained persons must be brought before a magistrate within 72 hours of their detention.
“If Rwigara and Rusagara are still in police hands, they must be brought before a magistrate, as Rwandan law provides,” said Des Forges. “If police say they don’t have these men, they must explain what has happened to them.”
On August 11, police detained General Sam Kanyemera, known as “Kaka,” who headed the general staff of the Rwandan army until his retirement in 1998 and who is currently a member of the Rwandan parliament. Speaking in a radio interview on August 13, the president of the parliament said he and parliamentary officers agreed to lift Kanyemera’s parliamentary immunity. The parliamentary president said Kanyemera was going to be charged with the crime of having helped someone escape arrest.
A police spokesman announced that Kanyemera will be brought to trial August 17 on charges of “attempt to sabotage police operations.”
Police began pursuing Rwigara following a July 12 accident that killed three workers and injured three others at a construction site owned by one of his businesses. In connection with this case, judicial authorities have seized family property, including an automobile, and frozen bank accounts, including those of enterprises of which Rwigara was only one of several owners. According to a family member, Rwigara paid compensation to families of the workers soon after the accident.
“Speculation on the reasons for these detentions is rife in Kigali, running from the deaths of the workmen, to commercial rivalries, to coup plotting,” said Des Forges. “Regardless of the context, accused persons have rights under Rwandan law and Rwandan judicial authorities have the duty to see that they are respected.”