At least 106 Rwandan nationals are currently being held in Uganda with no access to lawyers and consular services, the Rwandan government has said.
Over the last two years, over 980 Rwandans have been irregularly deported from Uganda while a total of 190 have been arrested and tortured, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Richard Sezibera.
It is such illegal dentitions and irregular deportations of Rwandan nationals that has prompted the government of Rwanda last week to issue a travel advisory warning Rwandans against travelling to the neighbouring country.
Sezibera makes a point during the news briefing at his office in Kimihurura yesterday. Emmanuel Kwizera.
Addressing a news conference on Tuesday, Sezibera said that the continued state of affairs that the decision was taken after it became nearly impossible to guarantee the wellbeing of Rwandans there.
“Rwandans continue to be arrested, tortured, harassed and incarcerated in Uganda jails for reasons we do not understand and in breach of international obligations,” he said.
He said that discussions over the last two years on the subject have not borne any fruit but maintained optimism that answers will come forth.
Journalists cover the press conference at Foreign Affairs ministry in Kigali yesterday
He said that Rwanda’s interest on the subject does not in any way amount to interference in the internal issues of Uganda.
“We have a list of over 190 Rwandans (arrested, tortured and harassed) over the past two years. Our position has been, we do not want to interfere with Uganda’s internal affairs. We do not even challenge the right of Uganda to arrest people if they think they are criminals. That is not the issue. The issue is that if you arrest somebody, you take them through due process. That is it,” he said.
Part of the due process in line with international obligations includes allowing them consular access and access to their lawyers, which has not been the case for Rwandans arrested in Uganda.
“If we arrest a foreigner because they have committed a crime, they go to our courts of law and the embassy is immediately informed on the reasons for the arrest. This is standard practice among nations. That is what we have asked for,” he said.
He also decried the irregular deportations with Rwandans involved often tortured and harassed.
“We have people who have been incarcerated since 2017, they have not had consular access and they have not had access to a lawyer. Some are arrested, we request for an explanation (none given) and a year later we find them at our border dumped, tortured and we receive them,” he said.
Rwanda, he said, was not questioning the grounds of deportation of citizens as it is the sovereign right of Uganda but noted that it should be by set procedures.
“Deportation also has procedures followed. We are asking them to follow those procedures. You do not just get people, blindfold them in the middle of the night, transport them, torture them on the way and then dump them on the border.
“That is what we are asking for. The least they can do is explain. At least if you do not want to explain, then do it in the right way,” Sezibera, who is also the Government Spokesperson said.
In regards to the advisory, he said that government is within its responsibility to protect citizens, adding that that the advisory might have come in too late.
“We have advised Rwandan citizens not to travel to Uganda until this matter has been sorted out. It is our responsibility as a government to do so. We have been blamed for starting too late, it took two years for us to take this step advising our people,” he added.
He, however, assured Ugandans, like other Africans, that they were welcome and safe in Rwanda and they are free to come in and would be well received.
“Ugandans, East Africans and Africans are welcome to Rwanda. They are free to come in, they will be received well and will continue to be received well,” he said.
He also allayed fears of a significant trade impact the current impasse would have on the local economy until it is resolves saying there are measures already in place to mitigate this.
Sezibera stressed that that Rwandan borders remain open and allows entry of people and goods from Uganda, despite what he called misleading reports that the borders were closed.
To minimize any negative consequences, Sezibera said that in partnership with the local private sector and allied ministries, there were ongoing efforts to ensure a steady supply of imports and commodities in the country to avoid shortages or price hikes.
This will ensure that commodities required in Rwanda are available and at regular prices.
He said that they were working on using alternative trade routes and corridors.
In regards possible decline of exports to Uganda following the advisory, Sezibera told journalists that exports to Uganda are not that high that it could affect economic growth.
The exports are estimated at $19m (approximately Rwf1.6bn).
Rwanda has also accused Uganda of sabotaging exports and trade noting that the issue is likely to feature at the East African Community for discussion.
Rwanda accesses the port of Mombasa in Kenya through Uganda in what is called the Northern Corridor and, according to Sezibera, several trucks headed to or out of Rwanda have been stopped by Ugandan authorities, sometime for weeks, before being released without any explanation.
“We hope that these exports will eventually continue to pick up. If we solve these issues that are hampering free trade, we will be able to trade easily. We cannot have free trade of goods without free movement of people,” he said.
He, however, said that the welfare of Rwandans was more important in the current situation and would take priority as the two countries continue to engage.
Besides sabotaging trade and abducting Rwandans, Rwanda has also accused Uganda of habouring elements that have the intention of distabilising security in Rwanda.