On the night of October 7, Rwandan opposition leader Boniface Twagirimana ‘disappeared’ from his prison cell in Mpanga in southern Rwanda. One month later, his family and friends still have no information on his whereabouts.
Twagirimana, a 43-year-old father of two, is deputy leader of the FDU-Inkingi, an unregistered opposition party in Rwanda. Police arrested him and six other FDU-Inkingi members on September 6, 2017, as well as other party members in the following days. Later that month, eight FDU-Inkingi members, including Twagirimana, were charged with crimes linked to state security, including forming an irregular armed group and offenses against the president.
On October 3, 2018, Twagirimana was transferred alone from Mageragere prison in the capital Kigali, to Mpanga prison, in southern Rwanda.
Rwandan authorities have said publicly that Twagirimana escaped from prison. But his family members have cast doubt on this. “Boniface was hoping that he would win his case in court, and he had been waiting for his release,” a family member told Human Rights Watch over the phone. “Why would he then escape? Something terrible must have happened to him.”
Twagirimana’s friends and colleagues have also challenged the government’s explanation, alleging that, according to other detainees, Twagirimana was abducted and driven away in a state prison vehicle. The FDU-Inkingi party leadership says the apparent absence of any signs of tampering with Twagirimana’s cell door is another reason to question the Rwandan authorities’ explanation. Either way Twagirimana was last seen in custody and the Rwandan authorities are responsible for his fate and his presumed enforced disappearance. Their assertion without substance is not good enough.
Enforced disappearances are not new in Rwanda. Human Rights Watch has documented the government’s persistent efforts to silence critics and perceived political opponents in recent years through arbitrary arrests, threats, and enforced disappearances.
Rwandan authorities should urgently investigate and reveal the truth about Twagirimana’s whereabouts. If this is a case of enforced disappearance, he should be released immediately and those responsible should be held to account.
As Rwanda exerts its influence regionally and internationally, with its president leading the African Union and its former foreign minister about to lead the International Organization of the Francophonie, Rwanda should demonstrate strict respect for human rights inside its own borders.