Human Rights Watch Calls on Countries to Vet All Interpol Red Notices From Rwanda to Prevent Abuse
A recent report by Human Rights Watch reveals new evidence of Rwanda abusing Interpol to persecute political critics abroad as recently as 2021. The report calls on countries to apply stringent vetting procedures on all Red Notices issued by Rwanda and, crucially, for governments to apply pressure on Interpol to improve its mechanisms against abuse of the Red Notice system by the Rwandan government. The report also goes on to make direct recommendations to Interpol itself.
Human Rights Watch received information regarding two cases of misuse of the Interpol Red Notice system by Rwanda, both of which were confirmed by Interpol.
Central to the report are examples of the Rwandan government carrying out extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and enforced disappearances against opponents. Interpol Red Notices are included as an additional powerful tool in Rwanda’s transnational weaponry. Rwanda attempts to use global legal assistance mechanisms by issuing arbitrary Interpol Red Notices and extradition requests. A tactic widely deployed by despotic regimes such as Turkey, China and Bahrain.
“Extraterritorial, or transnational, repression is the phenomenon of governments engaging in activities that involve or lead to the violation of human rights of specific targets outside of their territorial jurisdiction.”
Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) are credited with rebuilding a country left almost entirely destroyed after the 1994 genocide. However, the RPF has responded forcefully and often violently to criticism, deploying a range of illegitimate repressive measures. Those who flee the country often fail to escape targeted threats, surveillance, and harassment, including refugees and asylum seekers who have sought international protection.
Human Rights Watch’s hard-hitting report concludes with a series of detailed recommendations aimed at several interested parties including governments and the United Nations. What is striking is that the report includes direct recommendations to Interpol, calling on the organisation to:
Apply additional vetting prior to issuing any Red Notices at the request of Rwanda in order to prevent abuse of law enforcement and judicial processes.
Conduct monitoring to ensure that any Rwandans extradited under the Red Notice system are not subjected to serious human rights violations upon return, including torture and ill-treatment.
So concerning is the misuse of Interpol by Rwanda that the report calls on all countries to not only apply additional vetting to Rwandan Red Notices, but for governments to actively urge Interpol to clarify how it would ensure that suspects returned to Rwanda on a Red Notice are not subjected to torture and persecution.
One example of Rwanda’s Interpol abuse concerns a US case in which Rwandan authorities issued a Red Notice against former government official, Eugene Gasana. In 2016, Gasana fell out with President Kagame over his decision to amend the constitution and run for a third term in the 2017 election. He was removed from his government position and summoned back to Kigali. He refused to return and successfully applied for permanent resident status in the US.
Gasana’s refusal to return to Kigali marked the beginning of a series of attacks against him and his family. In the months that followed, allegations of rape and sexual harassment were brought against him, which were investigated and dropped by the US authorities. However, two years later in 2020 an Interpol Red Notice was issued against him for a series of sexual offences in Rwanda.
Gasana challenged the Red Notice and following a review by Interpol’s Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (the CCF), Interpol concluded that “there is a predominant political dimension to this case and that the retention of the data would not be compliant with Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution,” and ordered for the Red Notice to be deleted from Interpol’s database.
The case of Gasana is indicative of the way despotic regimes abuse Interpol’s systems to persecute opponents by manipulating its screening processes with unfounded arrest warrants. Gasana’s case illustrates not only the weaknesses in Interpol’s screening mechanisms, but crucially, that these weaknesses are lethal when abusive Red Notices slip through the net. The Human Rights Watch report provides all the relevant backdrop to show that Gasana faced a real risk of torture were he to be extradited to Rwanda on the back of a fabricated Red Notice.
Readers may recall the extraterritorial rendition of Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan human rights defender who left the country in 1996 having been hailed a hero for his role saving lives during the genocide, a role later portrayed by Don Cheadle in the blockbuster film Hotel Rwanda. Upon leaving Rwanda, Rusesabagina became a vocal critic of the RPF. Following the release of Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina complained of a harassment campaign against him by Rwandan agents while living in Belgium.
In 2020, Rusesabagina was kidnapped while boarding a plane in Dubai and taken to Rwanda where he was placed on trial for terrorism charges, which he has since been cleared of. The UN working group on arbitrary detention has confirmed that his return to Rwanda was state sanctioned abduction and he was finally released in 2023. His release came one month prior to the UK announcing their immigration policy for sending ‘illegal immigrants’ to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed.
The recommendations from Human Rights Watch are clear, Interpol must clarify how it prevents abuses of the Red Notice system by the Rwandan government and how it would ensure that suspects returned to Rwanda are not subjected to human rights abuses.