Mr Noël Zihabamwe has filed a complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in relation to the enforced disappearance of Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers – Mr Jean Nsengimana and Mr Antoine Zihabamwe – in Rwanda (the Complaint). Mr Zihabamwe is supported by the Australian Human Rights Institute (UNSW Sydney) and human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, London, instructed by Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Australia’s leading independent law firm.
Mr Zihabamwe is an Australian Citizen who moved to Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2006. Since then, he has become a highly regarded human rights advocate and leader, working with new migrants, refugees and culturally and linguistically diverse communities in community development and advocacy.
In 2016, Mr Zihabamwe was approached by agents of the Rwandan government in an effort to recruit him to become an agent of influence in Australia for the government. 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 as part of a broader article on Rwandan informants operating in Australia. A month later, Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers, Mr Nsengimana and Mr A 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, 28 September 2019.
Mr Zihabamwe believes his brothers were abducted by the Rwandan Government in response to his refusal to act as an agent for them. Mr Zihabamwe has approached the Rwandan police and Rwandan Investigative Bureau in relation to the disappearance of his brothers however the Rwandan Government continues to deny any involvement in their disappearance. Since Mr Zihabamwe has raised public complaint about his brothers’ disappearance, his family in Rwanda have been harassed, intimidated and questioned by the authorities about Mr Zihabamwe and his work in Australia. Mr Zihabamwe and his legal team have grave concerns for the safety of his other family members in Rwanda.
Many enforced disappearances have been reported in Rwanda since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power around 1994 and the practice of enforced disappearances in Rwanda has been identified as a human rights issue by the United Nations, the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as being condemned by numerous United Nations member states in Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review 2021. The WGEID currently has on record 25 outstanding cases of enforced disappearances in Rwanda.
The Complaint 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.
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.
About Noël Zihabamwe
Noël Zihabamwe is a human rights advocate and community leader with a wealth of experience in the not-for-profit sector and in multicultural community advocacy, leadership, community capacity building, settlement services, research, and project implementation.
He has won multiple awards for his community leadership and assistance. He is the Founder and current Chairperson of the African Australian Advocacy Centre. He is also the former President of Federation of Rwandan Communities of Australia (FRCA), former Chairman of Rwandan Community NSW, and current Treasurer for Lower North Shore Multicultural Network (LNSM) and Africa Health Australia (AHA).
He is the co-author of One Thousand Hills, a book that won the 2016 NSW Premier’s Young History award and the 2017 NSW Premier’s Young Literature Awards.
Graduating from both Western Sydney University and Macquarie University, No√´l holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Welfare and International Social Development and a Master’s in Policy and Applied Social Research.
- Voice of America interview, Noel Zihabamwe, 7 March 2022.
- 'An unwelcome wake-up call', Daniel Flitton, The Interpreter, 16 June 2021.
- 'Australia: Umunyarwanda yareze Urwanda muri ONU arwagiriza bakuru biwe baburiwe irengero', SBS Ikirundi, 13 June 2021.
- 'Rwandan Australian files complaint to the UN over the disappearance of his brothers', Hamish Macdonald, ABC RN Breakfast, 7 June 2021.
- 'Australian citizen asks for UN’s help to locate missing brothers in Rwanda', Anna Patty, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2021.
- 'Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson joins forces with Rwandan-Australian over missing brothers', Richard Ferguson, The Australian, 6 June 2021.
- 'Murder and abduction claims have Rwandan Government accused of intimidating critics in Australia', Andrew Greene, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News), 18 October 2020.
- 'We need help': Community leader faces alleged threats and intimidation, Anna Patty, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2020.