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Rwanda Asked to Explain Disappearance of Parliamentarian


The Inter-Parliamentary Union is calling on Rwanda to investigate the disappearance of one of its members of parliament, Leonardo Hitimana. The Geneva-based group says the Rwandan government has never come up with a satisfactory explanation regarding Hitimana's disappearance five years ago. Lisa Schlein reports from the Union's headquarters in Geneva.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union says it is very concerned about the fate of Rwandan parliamentarian Leonardo Hitimana, who supposedly disappeared in 2003.

The Geneva-based organization offers a forum for more than 140 national parliaments to discuss such issues as human rights and good governance.

Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs chairs the IPU's Human Rights Committee. She says the Rwandan government has always taken the position that Hitimana left on his own and will return one day.

But, she notes, it is now five years later and Hitimana still has not appeared. She says the circumstances surrounding his case remain murky and urges the Rwandan government to mount an appropriate investigation.

"Mr. Hitimana was supposed to make a presentation to the parliament of Rwanda and the night before he was to make that presentation, he disappeared," she noted. "That is why the Rwandan authorities indicate that he, of course, just simply left the country. But, he has not appeared anywhere and our experience over the years is that if someone leaves within two or three years, they show up. They show up in Belgium, they show up in Europe somewhere. They show up in North America. This man has not showed up."

Carstairs says demands for the Rwandan government to conduct a thorough investigation into the missing parliamentarian's disappearance have always been rejected.

"There are many people in Rwanda who believe that he has been assassinated," she added. "And that he was assassinated because the government did not want to hear his testimony in parliament the next day. So we are asking and we have asked consistently the Human Rights Council of Rwanda, we have invited the government of Rwanda to investigate this case. But, five years has now gone by and I have to indicate that we see no thorough investigation of any taking place with respect to Mr. Hitimana."

Rwanda is one of 31 countries cited by the IPU for violating the human rights of parliamentarians. A newly released report expresses grave concern about 11 parliamentarians who disappeared in Eritrea years ago without a trace. It says the government has offered no explanation.

The report notes eight parliamentarians currently are under arrest in Zimbabwe. It accuses the government of harassing and intimidating members of parliament on a regular basis. It says the usual pattern is for parliamentarians to be arrested, held for a period of time and then released without formal charges being leveled against them.

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