International attention on Rwanda tends to focus on strides made since the 1994 genocide - stability, economic development, women's rights. But in recent months, Rwanda has been thrust from the limelight to the spotlight.
The Rwandan military's support to the M23 armed group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has triggered this change. The trail of abuses that the M23 has left in its wake, including forced recruitment of young adults and children and rape of women, has placed Rwanda under further scrutiny.
New research released this week by Amnesty International reveals that Rwanda's military, through its military intelligence department (J2), is also responsible for human rights violations at home. Rwanda: Shrouded in Secrecy: Illegal Detention and Torture by Military Intelligence documents 45 cases of illegal detention and 18 allegations of torture or ill-treatment by Rwandan military intelligence at military camps and secret safe houses between March 2010 and June this year.
During the research, former detainees, mostly civilians, shared jarring testimonies of their treatment at the hands of J2. They reported being subjected to serious beatings, electric shocks and sensory deprivation to force confessions.
For the families of these men, their relatives had just disappeared. Months went by without knowing if they were alive or not. They resurfaced later, many accused of threatening national security. Others were released without charge.
The time it takes for information about these abuses to seep out is alarming. It is also a testament to the success of the Rwandan authorities at compartmentalising Rwanda - running the regular prison service alongside a parallel detention system. This system within a system, with the military at the helm, is shrouded in secrecy.
When Amnesty met with the Rwandan authorities in June 2012 all officials denied torture takes place in Rwanda. They called our findings a "non-issue" or "off the mark". However, evidence against Rwanda is mounting.
In May, the UN Committee against Torture called on Rwanda to investigate reports of secret detention places and to provide information on enforced disappearances. The US State Department's 2012 human rights report documented disappearances and allegations of torture by the Rwandan security services. Closer to home, the East African Court of Justice, now led by Rwandan Justice Johnston Busingye, ruled that unlawful detention in Rwanda violated the East African Treaty.
The Rwandan authorities must take these allegations seriously. They have an obligation under Rwandan and international law to investigate and prosecute those thought to be responsible. Doing so will be an important step towards justice for victims and reduce the risk of such abuses happening again. It will also help to restore the confidence of donor countries that are increasingly concerned by human rights abuses committed by the Rwandan military in DRC and now in Rwanda itself.
Until Rwanda investigates these abuses, donor countries should suspend training and financial support to Rwandan security forces responsible for human rights abuses or else they may be helping to facilitate these abuses too.Suggest a correction