Rwandan government has authorised detention of thousands of beggars, sex workers, street children and petty criminals in a bid to sanitise Kigali, the capital city. Rwanda’s capital Kigali, often praised for its immaculate streets, is being kept clean by a policy of rounding up vagrants, street children, petty criminals and sex workers in a mass transit centre where they are routinely abused, a report by Human Rights Watch claims.
Thousands are thought to have passed through the Gikondo Transit Camp, on the outskirts of the city, since its inception in 2006, the report said, where they are held against their will for periods of a couple of days to several months.
Detainees sleep up to 400 in one room, often on the floor, and police or other residents empowered as “counsellors” extort money or beat them for minor misdemeanours, it added.
The Rwandan government cites its 2006 ban on plastic bags, along with an obligatory, collective street clean-up on the first Saturday of each month, as the reason for its pristine capital.
But Human Rights Watch said there was a sinister side to the lack of litter and beggars at traffic lights that is so common to other cities in Africa and around the world.
It claims that the arbitrary detention by police of undesirables violates both local and international law, and has called on the government to close the centre.
Daniel Bekele, Africa director of HRW, which interviewed 57 detainees for the report, Why Not Call This Place a Prison, said Gikondo reflected “an unofficial policy of keeping people the authorities consider 'undesirable' away from the public eye".
“Kigali is often praised for its cleanliness and tidiness, but its poorest residents have been paying the price for this positive image,” he said.
The report’s researchers claimed that detainees are routinely beaten for “trivial actions” including talking too loudly or failing to form an orderly line for the toilets.
Occupants are rarely allowed visits from family, friends or lawyers and endure “deplorable” conditions, with limited supplies of food and water and access to medical treatment and poor sanitation, HRW said.
The easiest route of escape was bribing the police that ran the camp, it claimed, and said most detainees interviewed resumed their “illicit” activities once they were released.
“The Rwandan government claims Gikondo is a rehabilitation center, but the former detainees we spoke to found no rehabilitation or assistance there.
|Kigali - Rwandan's Capital City|
Busingye Johnston, Rwanda’s Justice Minister, told HRW Gikondo was designed to provide “social emergency assistance”, and was “part of the general Rwandan philosophy of rehabilitation rather than unnecessary incarceration”.
He pointed to statistics that proved rehabilitated detainees had gone on to become “useful members of society” and promised to investigate allegations of police abuse and corruption.