Urgent UN complaint filed following reprisals and intimidation against Australian citizen and his family in Rwanda

An urgent update and reprisals complaint has been made directly to the United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights regarding the case of two missing brothers in Rwanda.

The update comes in response to harassment and intimidation by Rwandan officials following an initial complaint to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances by human rights advocate Noël Zihabamwe earlier this month, and subsequent international media coverage. 

Since the initial filing, Mr Zihabamwe and his missing brothers’ friends and relatives in Rwanda have experienced intimidation by Rwandan government officials.There has also been a smear campaign by Rwandan media organisations against Mr Zihabamwe, falsely alleging in a number of published articles that he is affiliated with a “terrorist organisation” known as the Rwanda Alliance for National Pact (RANP).

“The UN has made clear that addressing and preventing acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with, inform and complain to the UN on human rights issues is a matter of vital importance, and such acts raise grave concerns,” Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute Professor Justine Nolan said.

Mr Zihabamwe is an Australian citizen who moved to Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2006. He 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 his refusal, Mr Zihabamwe 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 an article on Rwandan informants operating in Australia. A month later Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers, Jean Nsengimana and Antoine Zihabamwe, were abducted by Rwandan police while on a bus in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. They have not been seen since the day of their disappearance on 28 September 2019.

Following the filing of the first UN complaint, agents from the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) located family members of – and other persons known to – the missing brothers. These individuals were then taken and interrogated by the RIB. A number have communicated that they fear they will be compelled under torture to make false statements about the missing brothers.

“Given the timing of these events, such intimidation appears to be a direct response to Mr Zihabamwe’s communication to the Working Group,” leading human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, London said.

“The proper functioning of the UN human rights system requires that those making complaints do not face reprisals or threats for providing information to the UN. The intimidation and reprisals against Noel Zihabamwe and his family in Rwanda for engaging with the UN are prohibited and amount to an attack on the integrity of the UN system. 

“The reprisals and the conduct of the Rwandan government must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

In addition to filing the updated complaint, Australian police have been alerted to the incidences of reprisals, along with the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

A summary of the initial UN complaint can be found here.