In February 2018, Rwandan police used excessive force and fired live ammunition to suppress a demonstration of several thousand Congolese refugees protesting camp conditions and a cut in food rations in Karongi district, Western Province. Some of the refugees, who were unarmed, threw stones at the police. While the police stated that five refugees were killed, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) publicly stated that at least 11 refugees were shot dead and called for an independent investigation. Human Rights Watch received testimony from survivors indicating that at least 15 refugees were killed, with several others still missing and feared dead.
Police arrested 15 refugees during the incident, and others were arrested in the days and weeks after the protest. Tensions boiled again at the Kiziba refugee camp in May, leaving one refugee dead and leading to the arrest of at least 42 others. At time of writing, many of those refugees remain in detention, accused of organizing protests or throwing stones at police officers, among other charges.
In March, the National Commission for Human Rights issued a statement deploring the injuries and deaths that resulted from the protests and stating that a public detailed report would follow an investigation. At time of writing, the commission has not published the report.
In April, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, the government agency that manages Kiziba, dissolved the refugees’ executive committee in Kiziba, blaming the committee for the “unrest.” This move, coupled with the arrests, prompted many members of the executive committee to flee the country.
Most of the refugees, ethnic Banyamulenge from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, have been in Rwanda since 1996.
By HRW report 2019