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Report: Rwanda Unlawfully Imprisons, Punishes People at Gikondo

FILE- Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
FILE- Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

U.S.-based rights organization Human Rights Watch says Rwandan authorities are unlawfully holding some of the country's most vulnerable citizens in an unofficial detention center in the capital, Kigali.

The organization released a report Thursday detailing accounts from people who had been interned at Gikondo Transit Center -- known locally as Kwa Kabuga -- between 2011 and 2015.

Human Rights Watch says its staff interviewed 57 former detainees as well as their relatives and other sources. It says it found that Rwandan authorities are unlawfully detaining such people as sex workers, street vendors, beggars, homeless people, and suspected petty criminals as a means of keeping "undesirable" elements off the streets. Until 2014, it says many street children were also detained there.

In the transit center, it says people can be held without charge in deplorable conditions, subject to arbitrary beatings and other punishments, for a few days to several months. It says detainees are regularly beaten in order to humiliate or extort money as well as to punish.

Thursday's report says up to 400 people can be held in one room with insufficient supplies of food, water, and hygiene facilities. It says mothers can be punished for the actions of their small children detained with them, and visits by family or lawyers are virtually impossible.

The report says police corruption is also common, with bribery being the surest way to gain release from Gikondo. But despite the Rwandan government's purported focus on rehabilitation at Gikondo, it says many people end up being detained again for the same activities.

The report calls on Rwanda to close Gikondo immediately and release all detainees unless they are to be charged with legitimate criminal offenses. It also calls for investigation of the charges of corruption and abusive behavior by authorities, ensuring that any officials found responsible are suspended and prosecuted. It also calls on the government to provide aid and support to marginalized communities.

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