Rwanda: where no torture exists - official

“There are other rooms where they put you and you lose your memory. They ask you a question and when you find yourself again they ask you a question. When you return to normal, they sting you […]  The electric thing they use is like a pen and they put it under your arms. It is like charcoal. When they sting you, all your body is electrolysed and the entire body is paralysed.”

So said a man explaining to an Amnesty researcher earlier this year what he said happened to him when he was interrogated by members of Rwanda’s security forces. It’s very similar to the testimony of other former detainees, just the locations tended to vary. The “venue” for the electro-shock torture was a Ministry of Defence building in Kimihurura military camp in the capital Kigali, a modern multi-storey building described by a new Amnesty report as being “surrounded by swathes of neatly manicured gardens”. (To me there’s something particularly sinister about that mental image of well-tended flower beds right next to a site of unimaginable suffering).

For more on the apparently systematic torture of Rwanda’s notorious “J2” military intelligence unit, see the full Amnesty report (with coverage from the Guardian, Telegraph and BBC). Add to this the fact that the country has been clamping down on opponents and muzzling journalists (overview here) and you have a picture of a country descending into repression.

It’s the opposite of what we’ve been used to hearing. For quite a few years after the horror of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda tended to get a good press. Long-serving president Paul Kagame was routinely lauded by leading international politicians - Tony Blair famously called him a “visionary leader”, Bill Clinton celebrated his work and recent news-magnet Andrew Mitchell made frequent trips to the country as international aid secretary.

The lustre has long since worn off. The real surprise is that it’s taken so long to do so. Commentators like Dino Mahtani ascribe some of this to “guilt” within the international community over its doing so little to stop the genocide. Maybe. Either way, the evidence is stacking up: Kagame’s Rwanda is heading in the wrong direction over human rights.

The Rwandan authorities seem to be determined to deny their way out of this. The government website Rwanda Responds (a kind of regular rebuttals site) has dismissed negative reports in today’s Times saying” We are disappointed by this coverage, but we will not dwell on it.  Rwanda has endured much worse.  We will, as the British like to say, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’”. Hmm - maybe they should dwell on it.

Going one better, Rwanda’s Deputy Prosecutor General Alphonse Hitiyaremye has told Amnesty that “there is no torture in our country and we can’t investigate on a false allegation.” Hitiyaremye seems to be trying to pull off some kind of Rumsfeldian phenomenological trick here. Torture in Rwanda is known-not-to-exist-and-one-can’t-investigate-that-which-does-not-exist. Bingo! No need to investigate. Maybe Mr Hitiyaremye should look a little harder.

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