Human Rights Watch warned in a report released on Monday that Rwandan authorities were seeking to formalize “their abusive arrests and detention of some of the country’s most vulnerable children under the pretense of rehabilitating them”.
HRW urged the Geneva-based United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which starts its review of Rwanda on January 27, 2020, to call for the immediate closure of Gikondo Transit Center, “where children are arbitrarily detained and abused”.
“Rwandan authorities claim they are rehabilitating street children,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But instead, they are locking them up in inhuman and degrading conditions, without due process, and exposing them to beatings and abuse.”
The 44-page report, “‘As Long as We Live on the Streets, They Will Beat Us’: Rwanda’s Abusive Detention of Children,” documents the arbitrary detention of street children for periods of up to six months at Gikondo Transit Center, in Kigali, the capital.
HRW said since 2017, a new legal framework and policies under the government’s strategy to “eradicate delinquency” have sought to legitimize and regulate detention in so-called transit centers.
“But in reality, this new legislation provides cover for the continuing arbitrary detention of, and violations against, detainees, including children,” it said.
Under legislation introduced since 2017, people exhibiting “deviant behaviors … such as prostitution, drug use, begging, vagrancy, [or] informal street vending,” can be held in transit centers for up to two months, without any other further legal justification or oversight.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 30 formerly detained children ages 11 to 17 between January and October 2019, and reviewed public statements, official documents, publications in state media outlets, Twitter feeds of government officials, and other official sources, as well as the available information produced by the National Commission for Children, the National Commission for Human Rights, and the National Rehabilitation Service, and found that violations begin as soon as the police or members of the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO), a local security force, round up the children off the streets.