Five Burundians and one Kenyan are appealing their seven and 10-year jail terms in Rwanda for human trafficking.
The convicts were arrested at different times at the Akanyaru border with Burundi in the process of trafficking 17 young women to Uganda where they would be flown to Saudi Arabia.
Four of them were given seven-year sentences in October last year for trafficking six women while a Kenyan, Stephen Githaiga Ngiria, and another Burundian, Juma Idi, were each sentenced to 10-year jail terms in November 2017 for trafficking 11 young Burundian women.
Four of the convicts told the Court of Appeal in Kigali on January 20 that the women were handed over to them by relatives to help them find greener pastures in foreign countries.
The court failed to show a connection between myself and Saudi Arabia beyond the brother of the young woman I was talking to,” said Hamis Karimu, one of the convicts.
Prosecutors cited international protocols — which Rwanda subscribes to — as the basis for the charges.
“The international protocols on human trafficking show that this particular crime is carried out by a chain of people, who each play certain roles including recruiting, transporting and receiving ‘packages’,” said the prosecution.
The prosecution insisted that although the accused denied having knowledge of the transfer of the women to Saudi Arabia, they played a role in transporting the women to Uganda where they would be flown to Saudi Arabia.
But the defendants’ lawyers said people going to foreign countries normally need assistance from different persons.
“The idea of a chain as a characteristic of human trafficking should not be considered in court because even pilgrims who go to Saudi Arabia need help,” said one of the lawyers. The convicts had some relatives of the victims in court as witnesses, saying that the alleged victims still continued with their journey to Saudi Arabia and are currently working there to provide for their families in Burundi.
A mother of one of the girls told the court that she is content with her daughter’s stay in Saudi Arabia and regularly receives money from her daughter and even presented receipts to support her claim.
However, the prosecutors said the Western Union receipts she presented showed she receives money from her daughter’s employer and not from her daughter directly. “It is possible that her daughter is being enslaved and denied a right to free movement. That’s why she can’t send the money herself,” the prosecution said.
The five Burundians and the Kenyan are expected in court next month. Data provided by the prosecution’s office shows that 39 cases of human trafficking were recorded in the 2018/2019 year, involving 55 suspects of which 27 are women.
The Rwanda Investigative Bureau shows that since 2014, the country investigated over 189 cases of human trafficking involving 378 victims, many of whom were not Rwandan nationals.
A research carried out by Never Again Rwanda — a civil society organisation — showed that Rwandans are involved in trafficking their relatives.
In a human trafficking case heard in March last year, senior staff attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide, Gema Fernández told the court of Appeal in Kigali that the crime is mainly committed against women and children.