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APO International

Rwanda: Human Rights Watch Researcher Barred

todayMay 16, 2024 7

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Rwandan immigration authorities denied entry to Clémentine de Montjoye, a senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, on May 13, 2024, Human Rights Watch said today. 

De Montjoye traveled to Rwanda for meetings with officials from foreign embassies but was told upon arrival that she was “not welcome in Rwanda” for undisclosed “immigration reasons,” and Kenya Airways was instructed to ensure her removal from the country.

“Rwanda touts itself as an open and welcoming destination, but the treatment reserved for those who may investigate abuse exposes the government’s deep-seated hostility to human rights monitoring and independent scrutiny of any kind,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rwandan authorities can demonstrate that their projected openness is not just a façade and allow de Montjoye to return to Rwanda and carry out her work without obstruction or interference.”

De Montjoye, a Franco-British national, informed the government of her travel plans and sent meeting requests to the Justice Ministry, Human Rights Watch’s interlocutor in the Rwandan government, on April 29 and May 7, who did not respond. Human Rights Watch also contacted the National Commission for Human Rights’ chairperson, who replied that she was out of the country. The chairperson did not respond to a proposal to have a meeting once she returns to Kigali.

Human Rights Watch had informed Rwandan authorities when de Montjoye traveled to Rwanda with the same entry documents in June 2022 and August 2023, and she did not face any problems entering the country.

When de Montjoye arrived on the morning of May 13, immigration authorities took her passport. She was told to board a flight back to Nairobi, Kenya, the same evening, where she was given her passport and a document stating she had been denied entry for “immigration reasons.”

The denial of entry reflects the authorities’ intensifying assault on human rights, months ahead of the country’s 2024 general elections, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on the human rights situation in Rwanda for over 30 years, since before the 1994 genocide. De Montjoye is the fourth Human Rights Watch researcher to be blocked from entering Rwanda, with previous staff facing similar treatment in 2008, 2010, and 2018. In January 2018, after a Human Rights Watch researcher was denied entry to the country, a Rwandan consultant working with Human Rights Watch was detained and arbitrarily held for 6 days, the first 12 hours of which were incommunicado.

De Montjoye’s denied entry follows the publication of a comprehensive October 2023 report documenting Rwanda’s systematic targeting of critics and dissidents beyond its borders.

During a parliamentary session to discuss the report, a Rwandan Patriotic Front member, John Ruku-Rwabyoma, accused Human Rights Watch of “never step[ping] foot in Rwanda” to carry out research. Speaking directly to Human Rights Watch, he suggested: “Just dare come here, you don’t need a visa … you can get visas at the airport … Then you will find the true Rwanda you’re trying to tarnish the image of.”

Rwandan authorities have long sought to block independent scrutiny and criticism, including by denying entry to a number of international journalists, maligning Rwandan rights advocates and journalists, and subjecting them to abusive prosecutions. Several Rwandan journalists, critics, and activists have been killed or have been reported missing in suspicious circumstances.

Rwanda’s rights record has garnered significant international attention in recent months. Its army has played an increasingly active role in the armed conflict in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where it provides logistical and operational support to the abusive M23 armed group.

Despite the country’s dire human rights record, the United Kingdom is continuing with its plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, where, in defiance of the facts, it claims independent monitoring and oversight of people’s conditions will be possible. De Montjoye’s denied entry raises renewed questions about the UK government’s persistence in its intention to send asylum seekers to a country that so openly blocks scrutiny and is itself responsible for turning away human rights investigators, Human Rights Watch said.

Thirty years after the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government has made great strides in rebuilding its infrastructure, developing its economy, and delivering public services. It should recognize the valuable role civil society can play and allow free access to those monitoring the country’s human rights record.

Human Rights Watch remains committed to engage with the Rwandan authorities and requests access for its staff to meet with government officials and carry out the same work it conducts in over 90 countries across the world.

“Rwanda’s decision shows why the international community needs to reboot its approach to Rwanda’s deteriorating human rights record,” Hassan said. “A government that blocks a leading human rights organization’s staff is not likely to stop its repression of human rights without greater international pressure. This is about more than forcing Human Rights Watch out of Rwanda, it is a brazen attempt to muzzle reporting on Rwanda’s compliance with its international human rights obligations.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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