Local rights watchdogs have sounded alarm over reported cases of police brutality, with some operations resulting in death.
A local umbrella association of human rights organizations, CLADHO, has accused police of killing unarmed civilians in their operation to keep law and order.
The outcry has been occasioned by the recent reported case of two robbery suspects who were shot dead by the police patrol in Rubavu, western province, on February 12.
Rwanda Today could not establish the exact number of victims who lost lives to police brutality, but a similar incident happened on January 17 involving a Ugandan national smuggler who was shot and killed by Rwandan security forces.
The suspected smuggler was shot as he reportedly attempted to flee to Uganda after he was arrested by Rwandan border operatives.
“In this case, it doesn’t matter what crime the victims are suspected of. Unless they are armed, dangerous, shooting them to death violates fundamental human rights to life and justice,” said Emmanuel Safari, executive secretary of CLADHO.
Incidence of use of excessive force on civilians started being reported often during the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions like travel bans and lockdowns.
Videos of security officers beating up civilians for violating the regulations started surfacing on social media.
Speaking to Rwanda Today, the Rwanda National Police Spokesperson John Bosco Kabera said officers are allowed to use force in some cases.
“Police officers may use force to ensure the safety and security of citizens per the law as well as the Standard of Operations on the use of firearms. Where such use of force contravenes the law and Standard of Operations, officers are held accountable,” Mr. Kabera responded.
The Law determining the powers and responsibilities of the Rwanda National Police, however, states that the use of force has to be lawful, reasonable, proportionate, and consistent with laws governing police officers.
Article 38 of the law provides that an officer may use firearms only if they are subjected to violence, fighting an armed person, or a notorious criminal when other means have failed.
The Executive Secretary of CLADHO says since Rwanda abolished the death penalty 16 years ago, no person deserves to be shot dead regardless of their crime.
“The police just give excuses. If you follow these cases, most victims are smugglers who are neither notorious criminals nor armed. The shooting must simply stop,” Mr. Safari said.
Two years ago, President Paul Kagame promised to tackle the issue of police brutality during an interview with a national broadcaster.
He said that he had instructed the leadership of the police to hold accountable any officers found to have engaged in excessive use of force. The transparency in accountability he said was necessary so as not to create a misperception that excessive force was police guidelines.
“We are going to see change, there is no need for that excessive force. Even when the one you are dealing with maybe a hardcore criminal, the police are trained and know how to deal with such a situation without applying excesses,” he said.