Carina Tertsakian, researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch (File Photo)
Carina Tertsakian, researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch (File Photo)

A representative of New York-based Human Rights Watch has been forced to leave Rwanda after the government declined a request to renew her visa.

Human Rights Watch researcher Carina Tertsakian left Rwanda on Saturday, after attempts to reverse the government's decision to deny her a visa failed.

Tertsakian, a British national, is the organization's senior researcher in Rwanda and had been in the country since January.

Human Rights Watch submitted various letters on Tertsakian's behalf, and the organization's executive director appealed directly to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, but the efforts were deemed unsatisfactory by immigration officials. The Rwandan Directorate General of Immigration cited the validity of certain signatures and dates as the basis for the rejection.

Human Rights Watch appealed the decision to Rwandan immigration officials Monday.

But the group said Tertsakian's rejection is part of a larger campaign by the Rwandan government to silence independent voices and opposition before the country's August presidential election.

According to Human Rights Watch Africa Division Executive Director Georgette Gagnon, the government has become critical of the organization, frequently obstructing its work and attacking it in state-run media.

During the past few months, Human Rights Watch has highlighted increasing incidents of harassment and intimidation of opposition parties and critics of the government. Gagnon says that the recent incidents are part of a larger pattern of repression that casts doubt on the upcoming election.

"We have been documenting human-rights violations in Rwanda for a long time. And over the past few years we have seen an increase in political repression, the closing of political space and the silencing of any critic or independent voice," said Gagnon. "It is quite clear to us that freedom of expression, assembly and a number of other conditions necessary for free and fair elections are not present in Rwanda. It is quite clear who is going to win the election already.

The August poll will be just the second presidential elections held in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed in violence orchestrated by the Hutu-led government, which was overthrown by the Rwandan Patriot Front, led by President Kagame.

President Kagame, who won the first elections in 2003, has been essentially in power since 1994 and has been increasingly accused of manipulating the legacy of the genocide to solidify control of the government among the Tutsi minority.

But at a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of the genocide earlier this month, Mr. Kagame denied the allegations saying Rwanda did not need any lessons on human rights from the international community.