Rwandan security forces summarily executed at least 37 suspected petty offenders in Rwanda’s Western Province between July 2016 and March 2017. Soldiers arbitrarily arrested and shot most of the victims, in what appears to be an officially sanctioned strategy to execute suspected thieves, smugglers, and other petty offenders, instead of prosecuting them. These killings, carried out by and with the backing of state agents, are a blatant violation of both Rwandan law and international human rights law.
Human Rights Watch also documented four enforced disappearances of suspected petty offenders between April and December 2016. The victims’ families believe the security forces killed their loved ones, but their bodies have not been found. In two other incidents documented by Human Rights Watch, in August 2016 and April 2017, authorities encouraged local residents to kill suspected thieves, and they did in fact beat the victims to death.
This report documents serious violations committed by the security forces in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts in Rwanda’s Western Province, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and threats against family members and other witnesses to the violations. The report is based on 119 interviews conducted between January and July 2017 with 119 family members, witnesses, government officials, and others knowledgeable about the arrests and executions. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of at least six other extrajudicial executions that it is continuing to verify, including some cases allegedly committed as recently as June 2017, and some cases in Rusizi district (Western Province) and Musanze district (Northern Province).
Report by the Human Rights Watch