Rwanda Holding Capital's Poor in Unlawful Detention, Group Says

  • Human Rights Watch says beggars, vendors, homeless abused
  • Government says facility provides social rehabilitation

Rwandan authorities have illegally detained street vendors, sex workers and beggars to drive people they deem as "undesirable" from the capital, whose clean streets the government views as a measure of economic success, Human Rights Watch said.

Police have harassed and rounded up scores of Kigali’s most vulnerable people, the New York-based rights group said Thursday in a report, citing interviews with 57 former detainees. Thousands have been held at the Gikondo Transit Center for a few days to several months and faced mistreatment and beatings, the group said. Rwandan authorities said there’s no unofficial detention centers in the country.

“Kigali is often praised for its cleanliness and tidiness, but its poorest residents have been paying the price for this positive image,” Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch’s Africa director, said in a statement. The group urged Rwanda’s government to close Gikondo and end the arrests.

The East African nation has been criticized by the U.S. and advocacy groups for cracking down on civil liberties and trampling on human rights, even as investors focus on its status as one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, which expanded 7 percent last year. The $7.5-billion economy relies on crop exports including coffee for most of its foreign-exchange revenue, while it sold$400 million of Eurobonds for the first time in 2013.

Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said Human Rights Watch hadn’t contacted authorities about the report. Gikondo is a transit center where "victims" of Rwanda’s recent history are detained before being relocated to rehabilitation centers, a system that avoids criminalizing them, he said by phone.

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