From forced labour to snake bites: The story of victim of Uganda torture

22-year-old Prince Twambazimana was illegally detained and tortured by Ugandan security. The New Times.

Like other unfortunate Rwandans detained in Uganda, Prince Twambazimana, 22, never thought events would turn out to be how they are today when he traveled there mid last year.

Twambazimana, who told reporters in Kigali on Tuesday that he hails from Busogo, Musanze District, said his nightmare started on the afternoon of June 9, 2018.

He had entered Uganda through the Cyanika border.

“When I was arrested they said I had no travel documents yet I had been cleared at the border. They confiscated my travel documents first before they asked for money. I asked them, “why do I have to give you money yet I have been cleared by immigration to travel?”

The police officers who arrested him, he recalls, asked for UgShs10,000 (about Rwf3,000) to allow him to proceed. When he refused he was forced to sit down till dark.

At midnight he saw other Rwandans being brought in.

“In the morning they took us to a court in Kisoro and charged us with having no travel documents yet they had confiscated them.”

In court, all were found guilty and each handed a two-year sentence.

Whoever was able to pay UgShs2 million, they were informed, would go.

“I served 16 months in prison, they deducted eight months on my prison term.”

Like Jean Baptiste Muhire, 32, who spoke to reporters on Monday, Twambazimana returned home last weekend.

Snake bites

The 16 months in detention were horrible, Twambazimana said. His prison experience in Uganda, is no different from the many other accounts already heard from previous deportees.

Torture and forced labour are the constant themes if the prisoner is Rwandan. He recounted how Rwandans were specifically targeted for torture.

For some months, he said, he could not walk properly due to injuries sustained from the consistent beatings he received.

He has a wound on his right ear which he says is a result of torture.

“They took us to work in plantations clearing dense forest zones where some people got bitten by snakes and died. Others we were told were being taken back home to Rwanda after the snake bites but no one was sure if these people ever got home.”

“There is a man called Samuel from Musanze District who died from a snake bite. I don’t know his parents. There are two other people whose names I don’t know but they also died.”

All this happened in Kiburara Prison Farm, the largest farm in Ibanda District, in Western Uganda. Many other deportees have shared horrific accounts of life at this prison and others, in Uganda, where Rwandans are held.

Mid June, another deportee estimated that there were between 150 to 200 Rwandans detained at the same prison.

“I think I left behind close to 180 to 200 Rwandans. At night I saw a bus arrive, almost every day, packed with Rwandan nationals. Their case would be the same as mine; travel documents.”

“What hurt me most was being treated as slaves because we are Rwandans and always being told that however much they beat us, no one would defend us.”

In March this year, Rwanda issued a travel advisory against Rwandan nationals travelling to Uganda.

This followed many cases of abductions of Rwandans in different parts of Uganda that saw hundreds thrown into detention facilities and denied due process.

Relations between the two countries have taken a dip in the past two years.

Uganda is, among others, linked to other anti-Kigali armed groups, including FDLR, the offshoot of forces and militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and FLN, which last year made incursions on Rwandan territory through Burundi, killing at least nine civilians and wounding several others.

In December last year, a UN Group of Experts’ report named Uganda as one of the main sources of recruits for a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern DR Congo that calls itself P5. The latter comprises five groups opposed to Kigali, including RNC of wanted Rwandan dissident Kayumba Nyamwasa, and FDLR.

An agreement recently signed in Angola’s capital, Luanda, between President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, with the two leaders committing to work to relations has yielded nothing so far.