Rwanda: Come clean about fate of missing activist Illuminée Iragena

One year after her sudden and suspicious disappearance, the Rwandan authorities must reveal the fate of nurse and opposition activist Illuminée Iragena, Amnesty International said today.

Illuminée Iragena, a member of the unregistered opposition political party United Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi), went missing on 26 March 2016 on her way to work as a nurse at the King Faisal Hospital in the country’s capital Kigali. 

“Sources close to the case believe that Illuminée was tortured and died in custody, but have no official information on her fate,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region.

Sources close to the case believe that Illuminée was tortured and died in custody, but have no official information on her fate
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region

“For her friends and family members, not knowing Illuminée’s fate must be agonizing. One year on, we’re calling for the Rwandan authorities to come clean about what has happened to her.”  

Illuminée Iragena’s family reported her disappearance to the police, but never received an official response. Worried by the lack of information on her situation, Amnesty International and other organizations also sent queries to the government that went unanswered. The authorities have so far failed to confirm whether or not they are holding her.

If she is in detention, her whereabouts should be immediately revealed and she should be charged or released. If she has died, the circumstances of her death must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the authorities should make public the outcome of any such investigation.  

The government should share information on any investigations or attempts to locate her.

Illuminée Iragena stood as a candidate in the 2008 legislative elections for the Social Democratic Party. Her husband, Martin Ntavuka, is the former FDU-Inkingi representative for Kigali. They have both previously been detained in connection with their political activities.

Another FDU-Inkingi member, Léonille Gasengayire, was arrested on 26 March 2016, the same day as Illuminée Iragena’s disappearance. She was released after three days but then re-arrested in August and charged with inciting insurrection. She was acquitted and released on 23 March.

Both women regularly visited FDU-Inkingi party leader, Victoire Ingabire, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for conspiracy to harm the authorities using terrorism and minimizing the 1994 genocide.

“There have been a number of recent cases of disappearances and this sets a worrying stage for the upcoming presidential elections in August,” said Sarah Jackson.

“The failure of the authorities to provide answers contributes to the chilling environment for the political opposition in Rwanda.”

Background/

Illuminée Iragena is just one of a string of people who have disappeared:

Violette Uwamahoro, wife of an activist in the banned Rwandan National Congress, went missing on 14 February and was later revealed to have been detained incommunicado for two weeks.

John Ndabarasa, a radio journalist reappeared in Kigali on 6 March after having been missing since 7 August 2016.  

Jean Damascène Munyeshyaka, national organizing secretary of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, went missing on 27 June 2014. His fate was never ascertained.

The government has committed to set up a desk under the Rwanda National Police to investigate cases of enforced disappearances, but no information is available on its status.