(This letter was made public on April 28, 2010) 

His Excellency President Paul Kagame
Office of the President
Kigali
Rwanda                                                           

20 April 2010

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my concern about the future of Human Rights Watch's work in Rwanda and the status of our Kigali-based Senior Researcher, Carina Tertsakian. I am also requesting your assistance to maintain Human Rights Watch's programme of work in Rwanda and our collaboration with the Rwandan government.

Human Rights Watch has worked on Rwanda for many years, before, during and after the genocide in 1994. Our staff have carried out in-depth research on a range of human rights issues, often in difficult conditions. We continue to remain engaged in Rwanda, as in many countries around the world, to help improve the human rights situation. In addition to monitoring ongoing human rights developments, Human Rights Watch has worked tirelessly to see justice delivered for victims of the 1994 genocide. The late Alison Des Forges, Human Rights Watch's Senior Adviser on the Great Lakes region, provided expert testimony in 11 genocide trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and testified in genocide trials in national courts in several countries. Her account of the genocide, "Leave None to Tell the Story", stands as one of the most detailed works documenting the terrible events of 1994.

Human Rights Watch's reports and statements on Rwanda, while critical of specific incidents of human rights violations, all contain recommendations aimed at improving respect for human rights, strengthening the justice system, and encouraging reforms. We have publicly welcomed government initiatives to improve human rights and positive reforms whenever they have occurred. We have always strived to maintain an open dialogue with the Rwandan government.

Last month, Rwandan immigration officials cancelled the work visa of our Senior Researcher on Rwanda, Carina Tertsakian. She submitted a second application on 16 March but, to date, has received no response. 

Carina Tertsakian, a British national, arrived in Kigali on 25 January 2010. She immediately applied for a work visa, which was granted without issue. On 3 March, immigration officials summoned her and questioned her on the paperwork relating to her visa application, pointing to a mistaken date and alleging differences in her colleagues' signatures on the documents. They confiscated her passport. The following day, they summoned her again with a new set of questions, relating, once again, to dates and signatures. They had also retrieved her predecessor's contract and compared the signatures with those on Ms Tertsakian's contract, alleging that there were discrepancies in the signatures. Ms Tertsakian truthfully answered all the questions posed by the immigration officials.

On 8 March, Ms Tertsakian received a formal summons from the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to appear the following day for questioning. She complied with the summons and went to the CID on 9 March with a lawyer. She was told that she was suspected of using forged documents. She was questioned on the same points as those raised by the immigration officials, relating primarily to perceived differences in her colleagues' signatures. She gave the same answers as she had given to the immigration officials. She also submitted to the immigration officials and to the police two letters from Human Rights Watch headquarters, one of which was signed by a notary, confirming that all her documents were authentic. However, the officials did not appear to take these letters into account. It was also apparent that they had not made any attempt to contact Human Rights Watch's headquarters, or the individuals whose signatures they had queried, to verify the authenticity of these documents.

On 10 March, following an intervention by the British embassy, Ms Tertsakian was given her passport back, but her work visa had been cancelled. The immigration officials refused to give her a written explanation for this cancellation. They told her verbally that it was because of the "anomalies" described above and said she could submit a second visa application.

On 16 March, Ms Tertsakian submitted a second application, with a notarised affidavit from Human Rights Watch's Legal Director in New York attesting to the veracity and authenticity of both the original and resubmitted documents.

On 19 March, the CID called Ms Tertsakian again and asked her to return there on 24 March. When she went there, the CID did not question her. They told her that investigations were continuing, without giving further details. 

To date, there have been no further developments. We have made numerous attempts to contact immigration officials, including the Director General of Immigration, to enquire about the progress of the second application. Those officials we managed to reach would not divulge any information about the status of the application; nor did they indicate when we might expect a response.

I am extremely concerned about the lack of progress on this issue, as more than a month has passed since Ms Tertsakian submitted her second visa application (I understand that the usual turnaround is approximately three days). 

As a British national, Ms Tertsakian can only remain in Rwanda for three months without a visa. Her date of arrival being 25 January, the three months are due to expire on 25 April. 

Human Rights Watch has fully respected Rwandan immigration and administrative processes and has submitted all the documents required for Ms Tertsakian's work visa application. We have answered all the questions posed in relation to the application and, as indicated above, have submitted additional letters confirming that all the documentation is correct and valid. We are concerned at the long delay in processing the second application.

Unless the matter is resolved before 25 April, when Ms Tertsakian's three month period in Rwanda is due to expire, we will be forced to conclude that the Rwandan government is trying to impede her work as the Human Rights Watch representative in Rwanda and our organization's attempts to document and report on the human rights situation.  

National and international human rights organizations have an important role to play in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the pre-election period, not only in Rwanda but in other countries around the world. By enabling human rights organizations to operate without hindrance, Rwanda would demonstrate its commitment to international principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law to which it has adhered, most recently when it joined the Commonwealth. 

I am therefore urging you to ensure that Carina Tertsakian is granted a work visa before 25 April 2010, to enable us to continue our human rights work in Rwanda.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter. 

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

cc
Minister of Justice
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Director General of Immigration