US calls conditions in Rwanda’s detention centres harsh to life-threatening

<span>Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Britain’s closest ally, the US, has criticised Rwanda’s dire human rights record, describing conditions in the country’s detention centres as harsh to life-threatening.

The British home secretary, Suella Braverman, took a group of journalists on a trip last week to reveal details of her £120m scheme to send all migrants arriving in the UK through irregular means to Rwanda whether they claim asylum or not. The legality of the scheme is due to be tested shortly in the UK court of appeal.

But the US, in its annual human rights assessment published on Monday said Rwanda operated a system including harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary detention, serious restrictions on free expression including the imprisonment of journalists, and no effective system of collective bargaining.

Braverman has dismissed domestic critics of Rwanda as part of a “leftwing blob”, but it may be harder to dismiss the documented findings from the UK’s closest ally.

The Home Office has defended its plan by saying British refugees will be housed in a new 528-home estate, in Gahanga, on the outskirts of Kigali.

The US state department report passes no judgment on the UK government plans, but the cumulative impact of the report suggests many of the refugees will be deported to a country in which human rights are little better than the countries from which they originally fled.

Conditions at prisons and unofficial detention centres ranged from harsh and life-threatening to approaching international standards. As of July, local civil society organisations reported the country held 84,710 detainees in facilities with a total capacity of 61,320 persons.

Similarly “conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial or intelligence service-related detention centres, where individuals suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care”.

Conditions were also described as life threatening in “National Rehabilitation Service-operated district transit centres holding street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons engaged in commercial sex, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. Overcrowding was common in police stations and district transit centres.

Human rights advocates reported local law enforcement officials regularly cleared the streets of homeless and other needy individuals and subjected them to abusive treatment and unsanitary conditions in transit centres before major international events or conferences in the country.”

The report says “police killed several persons while in custody or while attempting to resist arrest or escape police custody. Observers reported cases of police and military personnel killing individuals suspected of theft. In September police reportedly killed a man in Gatumba Sector for resisting arrest. There were no public reports of investigations into these killings.”

The government “continued to use arbitrary arrests (or the threat of arbitrary arrest) as a tool to discourage government critics, independent voices, and political opposition members. Observers reported state security forces sometimes held individuals incommunicado and subjected them to interrogation and threats to curtail their exercise of freedoms of speech and association.

“Observers and human rights advocates continued to report police used torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to intimidate or obtain information from individuals in unofficial detention centres.

Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities detained their officials and supporters, including for lengthy periods.”

The state department concludes: “The country is credibly alleged to have killed or kidnapped persons, or used violence or threats of violence against individuals in other countries, for purposes of politically motivated reprisal.”

It adds: “Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical of the government on sensitive topics. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and journalists led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression.

“The government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security, human rights, and other matters it deemed sensitive.”