October 25, 2019

Congolese Refugees Tell Court Rwanda Government Is Not Revealing Real Reason For Their Prosecution

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In court, Clemence Mukeshimana, the only woman among the 5 Congolese refugees being prosecuted. They were the leaders of the Kiziba refugee camp in Karongi district, western Rwanda (Photo by BBC)

A group of five Congolese refugees appeared Thursday October 24 for the start of their trial on various charges related to a deadly protest they purportedly led in February last year.

Four of the accused, all men, have been in custody since the February 22-23, 2018, protests. While, the 5th, a woman Clemence Mukeshimana is out on bail.

However, there is another separate trial of 26 males who took part in the protest. This trial began substantive hearings on February 27 this year. There are also minors whose case is being conducted separately.

The 5 who appeared Thursday at a court in Karongi district include Maombi Mbangutse Louis, who was the Kiziba camp leader. The woman suspect Mukeshimana was the deputy.

They are facing charges including spreading rumours intent on undermining government internationally, insurrection, holding illegal demonstration and attacking security forces.

While they all deny the charges, it is the defense of Clemence Mukeshimana that was particularly intriguing. She says the Prosecution is not telling court the reason why they are being prosecuted.

According to her, appearing smartly dressed since she is not in detention, the government had before the protests been accusing them of working with exiled Rwandan opposition groups.

She did not mention any particular names, but their case has issues going beyond Rwanda’s borders and linked to Rwandan rebel groups in Congo. So far, there are 3 of them in eastern DRC.

It is said the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) of South Africa based former Rwandan army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa had infiltrated the Kiziba camp to mobilise for recruits. The message used on the refugees is that they are being scapegoats for Rwanda’s continued presence in DRC.

RNC operatives were also telling the refugees that the Rwandan government doesn’t want them to go home so that the world stays focused on the Congolese conflict, and by extension, maintain world attention on Rwandan FDLR militia, whose members took part in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

On February 22-23, 2018, angry protests broke out in the Kiziba refugee camp, home to more than 17,000 Congolese. Carrying placards and chanting, they matched to the local UN refugee agency UNHCR office in Karongi town and local government offices.

Despite intervention by local officials urging them to calm down as their grievances were handled, they became more rowdy. Security forces were called up. The protestors were demanding more food rations and better living conditions.

The 26 Congolese refugees in court in Karongi district, who are facing a separate trial

In the chaos that ensued, and continued inside the camp, 11 refugees were killed. The victims were buried near the camp by the refugees themselves. Some of the anti-riot police officers also sustained serious injuries.

Dozens of suspects were arrested and are facing prosecution on serious charges.

Among those arrested are former members of the various rebellions which ravaged eastern DR Congo. Two of them are former soldiers of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). Some are teenagers whose case will be handled separately.

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