Widow of Uganda torture victim demands justice

The late Silas Hategekimana speaks to the media shortly after his deportation from Uganda. / Courtesy

Annonciata Nyirahabimana, the widow of a Rwandan man who died from the effects of weeks of torture at the hands of Uganda’s military intelligence, has called for justice for her deceased husband.

Nyirahabimana, 45, holds Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence responsible for her husband of 21 years Silas Hategekimana’s death on Saturday, nearly three months after he and 19 other victims of CMI torture arrived home to Rwanda having been subjected to gruesome torture techniques in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

“CMI killed my husband,” Nyirahabimana told The New Times on Thursday. “I cannot rest until he gets justice, even if he’s no longer with us.”

Hategekimana, 43, spent 18 days in CMI detention facilities in Kampala having been arrested, along with several others, in the Kampala suburb of Kibuye.

Hategekimana was part of a group of 20 torture victims – mostly ADEPR faithful – that was irregularly deported to Rwanda through the Kagitumba border post on June 12.

Like hundreds of other Rwandan nationals believed to be held in mostly ungazetted detention centers across Uganda, the men were accused of spying for Rwanda, a claim they rejected.

“They dumped them at the border with hoods over their heads,” Nyirahabimana said.

Chest pain, autopsy report

It did not take long before Hategekimana started complaining of chest pain and was subsequently admitted to Kacyiru Hospital.

Later he was transferred to Rwanda Military Hospital-Kanombe for further examination.

His widow says he particularly experienced excruciating pain in the chest and in his right abdominal side. “He was in great pain, it’s something he had never experienced in all the years I had known him.”

At RMH, a cardiologist examined him and recommended an X-ray scan but unfortunately, he died shortly after.

An autopsy report, whose copy The New Times obtained, concluded that Hategekimana “had a 5th right rib fracture associated with silent old hemothorax and right lung abrasion. There was also the presence of right kidney laceration and a punctiform spleen wound with mild old hemoperitoneum.”

The report, signed by five experts including two pathologists, describes the manner of his death as “unnatural” and states the cause as “severe chest and abdominal blunt trauma.”

Hategekimana is survived by his wife, three children (two daughters and a son), and two nine-month-old grandchildren. The couple got married in April 1998 in Musanze.

He also leaves behind a mother, aged about 80.

“They damaged his internal organs and left him to die slowly,” Nyirahabimana said in reference to the torture inflicted on her husband in Uganda’s CMI detention.

Nyirahabimana described her deceased husband as a committed father, husband, and Christian. “He loved and deeply cared for his family,” she said, lamenting that he was the family’s sole breadwinner and worried about their fate since they do not even have a home.

“When my husband finally returned to Rwanda I was forced to leave Uganda and return home too because Uganda was no longer safe for us and I needed to be with him,” Nyirabahimana said, adding that even their two daughters with little babies have since rejoined the family.

She said they live at a well-wisher’s home in Murambi, Gatenga in Kicukiro District, wondering about their future.

“My husband was accused of spying for Rwanda, which was a big lie because all he did in Kampala was preaching the gospel and operating a commercial motorcycle business, he had never been involved in politics and had no interest in it.”

Before his death, Hategekimana had moved to seek justice, joining seven other victims to file a case against the Ugandan government at the East African Court of Justice for abuse of their rights and loss of property.

He died before justice could be served.

Abduction, torture

The family first arrived in Uganda in 2009, from Rubavu in Rwanda. They first stayed in Masaka region for about two years before moving to Kampala, Nyirahabimana said.

For eight years, they lived in the Ugandan capital without anyone harassing them and even got citizenship. “We settled in rather smoothly because my husband was hardworking and had no problem with anyone,” she said.

But all this changed on May 25, 2019. That’s when armed plainclothes men abducted Hategekimana along with other ADEPR members. They were roughed up, blindfolded, bundled into a waiting vehicle, and driven to CMI Headquarters in Mbuya in Kampala, Hategekimana told journalists shortly after his return to Rwanda in June.

It soon dawned on them that their abductors included CMI operatives and agents of Rwandan terrorist outfit RNC of fugitive Kayumba Nyamwasa, he told journalists back then.

What followed was unbearable cruelty at the hands of Ugandan security agents, working closely with elements “who spoke Kinyarwanda fluently”.

He described as horrific his experience at the hands of CMI and RNC operatives.

“At Mbuya they confiscated everything of value we had on us; phones, money, wallets, and ordered us to take our shoes and belts off,” he recalled.

Then they were pushed inside a “sinister-looking corridor.” 

“In that corridor, the three of us weren’t able to sleep for more than a few hours each day. It was cold and there was no mattress and we had nothing to cover ourselves with, day and night.
 
“When they brought food, smelly kawunga (maize meal), mixed with dirty-looking watery beans, they just threw the shabby plates on the floor and walked out. “We ate that horrible food once a day, most of the time we starved.”

Kinyarwanda-speaking tormentors

One Rwandan who also endured torture in the same place told journalists earlier this year that “there are always screams emanating from the basement; some people are almost crazy with agony.”  

Hategekimana said the CMI interrogators, together with RNC agents, beat him severally with rifle butts and was repeatedly forced to bend and put his head between his legs.

At one point, the Kinyarwanda-speaking tormentors, who kept forcing them to confess that they were spying for Kigali, tried to recruit him into RNC rebel outfit.

“I told them at my age I didn’t have the energy for that and, besides, why would I fight my country which has done nothing wrong?” That would only prompt more beatings, he said.

More than two weeks after his arrest, he was suddenly transferred to the Kireka CMI facility, a halfway house to release.

At Kireka, he said, he saw many Rwandans going through the same traumatic experience. “One of the young men had gone mad due to torture, I don’t think he will survive,” Hategekimana told journalists three months before he succumbed to injuries of his own.

Peace deal

In August, President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Luanda, Angola to resolve the standoff between the two countries but the situation has barely improved weeks later.

In March, Kigali issued an advisory against travel to Uganda citing continued harassment, illegal arrests, torture and irregular deportations of Rwandan nationals in Uganda; Kampala’s active support to dissident and terrorist groups bent on destabilizing Rwanda; and economic sabotage.

And the Rwandan government has said it can only lift the travel advisory after Kampala has released all Rwandan nationals who were arbitrarily arrested and thrown into torture chambers.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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