The first group of Rwandans to be released by Uganda arrived in the country on Monday evening following the meeting of the Ad Hoc Commission last week during which Uganda agreed to release dozens of Rwandans who are jailed in the East African country.
Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said on Thursday last week that Uganda would release 130 Rwandans this week while another 310 will remain in Uganda to face charges in courts of law.
Rwanda maintains that there are hundreds more of Rwandans who are still detained in Uganda without trial and are denied their legal right including visits while they are subjected to torture by security organs.
The first group of 80 arrived at Kagitumba One Stop Border Post at around 5pm on Monday aboard the Ministry of Internal Affairs bus where they were handed over by Uganda Immigration authorities to their Rwandan counterparts. They were followed by another 38 who also arrived at the same border post.
Looking exhausted and weak, members of the group said they had been detained in Uganda for lengthy periods during which they were subjected to torture, mistreatment and violation of rights such as being denied consular visits.
Reports say some were separated from their children while others lost their valuables.
Contrary to what the Ugandan Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the released had been pardoned by President Yoweri Museveni, majority of the returning Rwandans said they had served and completed their sentences.
Innocent Hakizimana, one of the released Rwandans, said that he was jailed at the beginning of 2018 and sentenced to two years which he had completed upon his release.
Similarly, Jean Bosco Mbarushimana, 26, who hails from Musanze district said that he was arrested in 2019 and was sentenced to 26 months which he served to the end but was surprised to be told that they had been pardoned.
“We completed our sentences. We were surprised to be told that we were pardoned. How can you pardon someone who has served their time to the end?” wondered Mbarushimana.
Upon arrival, they were handed face masks and taken through the immigration process. They will be tested and quarantined for the compulsory 14 days in line with measures to prevent the spread of New Coronavirus.
Addressing a press conference after the meeting, Dr Biruta said that Rwanda emphasized key concerns to Uganda, mainly rotating around Rwandans who continue to be arrested, tortured and detained incommunicado in Uganda.
“As you might be aware, we have raised these issues with Uganda on different occasions, including the continued arrest and torture of Rwandans who are held in unknown detentions, sometimes releasing them after a long time,”
“There are issues relating to continued aggressive media propaganda targeting the Government of Rwanda and the country’s leadership and many other issues which we have previously discussed in different meetings. The last summit gave a direction on how these issues can be addressed,” Dr Biruta said.
Last week following the meeting of the 4th Ad Hoc Commission, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Vincent Biruta said that despite some progress made in the implementation of February 21 Heads of State summit resolutions, challenges remain in place despite Uganda committing to release 130 Rwandans.
“This is a good step,” Dr Biruta said about the released adding: “but there are other issues we raised which they need to work harder on to address, mainly the aggressive media campaign against Rwanda and the arrests which haven’t stopped, much as they are planning to release some people next week,”
He said that every week there is a Rwandan arrested and tortured in Uganda, pointing out that this must stop with immediate effect.
“We concluded that there is still a lot more Uganda has to do if relations of the two countries must go back to normal, much as we are seeing this progress,”
“For that to happen, we need to have political will. If there is no political will, then we will not get anywhere. We agreed that there is need for political will on both sides and if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, it is frankly discussed and resolved,” Minister Biruta said.
He pointed out that Rwanda has appreciated actions such as the deregistration of terrorist outfits such as Self-Worth Initiative which masquerade as NGOs while mobilising and plotting against the government of Rwanda.
Dr. Biruta said that though the outfit was deregistered, it still operates Rwanda National Congress (RNC) cells in Uganda, something he said goes against the Government of Uganda previous commitment of disbanding the activities of the said criminal organization.
He said there are on-going mobilization activities in different parts of Uganda to support RNC and other different negative forces that continue to receive the support from Uganda’s Security Organs.
More 310 Rwandans who Minister Kutesa said committed “capital offenses” remain in detention. Rwanda said they should be formally charged and permitted consular visits as Rwanda is doing to Ugandan citizens jailed in Kigali.