Australian human rights advocate files UN complaint over the disappearance of his two brothers in Rwanda

A complaint has been lodged with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) over the disappearances of two men in Rwanda in 2019.

The complaint was filed by human rights advocate and community leader Mr No√´l Zihabamwe and is supported by the Australian Human Rights Institute and leading human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, London, instructed by Australia’s leading independent law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Mr Zihabamwe is an Australian citizen who moved to Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2006. Mr Zihabamwe was approached by representatives of the Rwandan Government in 2016 in an effort to recruit him to become an agent of influence for them in Australia. Upon Mr Zihabamwe’s refusal, he was subject to ongoing harassment from the Rwandan Government and its representatives.

In August 2019, Mr Zihabamwe shared the story of this harassment anonymously with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as part of a broader article on Rwandan informants operating in Australia. A month later Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers, Mr Jean Nsengimana and Mr Antoine Zihabamwe, were abducted by Rwandan police while on a bus in Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers have not been seen since the day of their disappearance on 28 September 2019.

“I believe my brothers were abducted by the Rwandan Government in response to my refusal to act as an agent for them,” Mr Zihabamwe said.

“I approached the Rwandan police and Rwandan Investigative Bureau in relation to the disappearance of my brothers, however, the Rwandan Government continues to deny their abduction.”

Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute Professor Justine Nolan said many enforced disappearances have been reported in Rwanda since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power around 1994.

“The practice of enforced disappearances in Rwanda has been identified as a human rights issue by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and Amnesty International, as well as being condemned by numerous United Nations member states in Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review 2021,” Professor Nolan said.

The complaint to the UN alleges that the enforced disappearances of Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers represents a clear violation of fundamental rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the right to liberty and security, the right to life, the right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to a fair trial, the right to be free from arbitrary detention and the right to an effective remedy.

“For too long, Noel and his family have been suffering with the mental anguish of not knowing the fate of his brothers, Jean and Antoine – they simply don’t know if they are still alive or whether they are being unlawfully detained. The circumstance of their disappearance suggests there was involvement by the Rwandan state but Noel’s inquiries with Rwanda have so far been met with a wall of silence,” Ms Robinson said.

“We are now asking the United Nations to intervene with Rwanda to assist us to locate Jean and Antoine so that Noel and his family can know the truth and, if possible, so that we can take the appropriate action to ensure their safety and liberty.”

The complaint calls on the WGEID to transmit the allegations to the Rwandan Government and to assist Mr Zihabamwe to clarify the fate or whereabouts of his brothers.

A summary of the complaint can be found here.

News tags