The Minister of Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye has dismissed claims by Sierra Leonean convicts serving lengthy jail terms in Rwanda that their lives are in danger.
Reports in the West African country say that four former Sierra Leonean rebels currently serving their jail terms in Mpanga Special Prison in Nyanza district, in Southern Province, wrote to the President of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, John Kamanda, expressing fear for their safety.
The four, Issa Sesay and Morris Kallen of the former Revolutionary United From (RUF) as well as Santigie Borbor Khanu and Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara of the former The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) claim that they were threatened by the head of the facility they are held in.
Minister Busingye however says that the allegations by the convicts who were relocated to Rwanda in 2009 are untrue, pointing out that in the past they were found to make allegations which are investigated and later discovered not to be true.
“Rwanda observes her international obligations regarding these prisoners to the letter. Their rights are fully respected,”
“If they engage in activities that violate the law e.g. genocide denial, it would still be handled according to the same agreement by which they are here and other relevant law,” Busingye told KT Press on Thursday.
In their letter, the convicts make a number of allegations, claiming that they were threatened by the head of the facility Michael Kamugisha who accused them of engaging in acts of genocide denial.
They allege that Kamugisha invited them to his office following a disagreement between two of the convicts, Ibrahim Bazzy and Santigie Khanu, in an effort to mediate them and restore order.
However, he also warned the duo that if allegations that they collaborate with genocide deniers inside the prison are found to be true, action will be taken against them in line with the law.
It is from this session that the convicts claimed that their lives could be in danger because prison heads in Rwanda are all powerful and could do anything.
The Attorney General however ruled out any possibility of threats directed towards the Sierra Leonean convicts, emphasizing however that they were probably cautioned to conduct themselves in a manner that does not violate the laws of their host country. He said however that they will follow up on the case.
“Such threats, if they happened, would be out of place and of no effect on them, at all. We will follow it up to establish the facts,”
“These prisoners have made outrageous allegations before which were investigated and found baseless. They will continue to be as safe and protected as they have always been,” Busingye added.
In their latest allegations, the convicts claimed that the prison head said a case would be opened against them if it is proved that they are involved in acts of genocide denial.
In a letter titled ‘Complaint of threat to kill us”, they claim that Kamugisha would kill them after he accused them of collaborating with enemies of the state inside the facility. They further alleged that the warning “sent a chill down our spine”.
“We do not feel safe here anymore. Our concern now is, since they have housed us together with their enemies they have also catalogued us as their enemies and can treat us in the same manner as their enemies especially where Director Kamugisha has categorically emphasized that the heavy guns and barrels of Rwanda are now directed on our heads,” the letter reads.
Busingye termed the allegations and fears as unfounded. The Spokesman of the Residual Court, Peter Andersen confirmed to media in Sierra Leone that the complaint was received by the court.
It is not the first time the men who were found guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity have been accused of making unfounded allegations.
In November 2011, Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) refuted claims that the war crimes convicts were being ill-treated, pointing out that they were receiving ‘extraordinary care’ than any other prisoners.
At the time, they claimed they were no getting good food and that they were being denied their conjugal rights but the government said they were getting everything required as indicated in the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed when they were transferred to Rwanda.
RCS said the prisoners complained even when they were being afforded extra incentives including balanced diet meals, sports amenities, a DSTV connection and health insurance which afforded them treatment in the leading referral hospital.
A total of eight were transferred to Rwanda in 2009 but three of them were released on parole but while 5 remain in prison. The 5th prisoner, Augustine Gbao, was also granted conditional early release by the Residual Court but he could not be released to return home due to the New Coronavirus outbreak.
The other four will continue to serve their sentences.