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New exclusive findings on Benjamin Rutabana’s disappearance on Ugandan soil

An American human rights organization, International Relief and Human Rights Initiative (IRHRI), hasn’t called it quits in the search for the whereabouts of French citizen Benjamin Rutabana.

Rutabana, a French citizen of Rwandan origin, disappeared on Ugandan soil in September 2019, a few days after landing at Entebbe International Airport.

His disappearance still baffles his family, about a year on, and that’s the reason they approached IRHRI to help by applying their expertise and resources to locate Rutabana’s whereabouts.

After launching its investigations and involving into other rigorous processes including among others, a court hearing, IRHRI has since established that Rutabana, using passport number 16DA52086, left Brussels, Belgium on September 4, 2019 at 21:45 in an Emirates Airlines flight, had a stopover at Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates, before proceeding and landed at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda on September 5, 2019 at 13:50. He stayed in regular telephone contact with Ms Diane Rutabana, his spouse, between September 5 and 8, 2019, but never again since then.

Rutabana’s return ticket displays September 19, 2019 at 21:30 Kampala time using the same Emirates Airlines and would be in Brussels on September 20, 2019 at 13:25. Unfortunately for some unexplained reasons, Rutabana never boarded that flight, and contrary to his usual practice, he failed to contact his spouse informing her of any delays or change of programme, and all calls to his telephone went unanswered.

IRHRI has learned that a few days after his arrival in Uganda (September 8, 2019), Mr Rutabana was arrested and held at Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) offices in Mbuya and later at Internal Security Organisation (ISO) for interrogation to establish the purpose of his visit to Uganda.

None of the government security agencies has since publicly accepted the responsibility of arresting and detaining him, even after a production warrant was issued by the High Court Judge Esta Nambayo to produce Rutabana dead or alive.

The Attorney General told court that he was unable to find Rutabana in any of Uganda’s known custodies, and the case was closed and his side was advised to try diplomatic means to find him. Counsel Dr David Mushabe of Mushabe, Munungu & Co. Advocates based in Kampala, whom IRHRI contacted to advocate for the release of Rutabana, says the case file is still open in court and efforts to find him are still ongoing through legal processes.

READ: Benjamin Rutabana must be released unconditionally

Corroborated accounts of sources indicate that Rutabana is still within Uganda. According to IRHRI’s highly-placed sources, Rutabana was quizzed more than a dozen times and thereafter detained at one of the safe houses in Kampala. The exact location of the said safe house remains unknown since that one is an absolute top security secret.

Circumstances surrounding his arrest/disappearance

Our investigations revealed that a section of selfish people from the Rwanda National
Congress (RNC) led by Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, are behind Rutabana’s arrest and
detention. We found out that these people received a lot of money from Rutabana, being a
tycoon, in return for some favors; but they plotted to swindle the money and put him in trouble such that he lacks the ground to claim it, providing them with an opportunity to enjoy the money freely.

We have discovered that there were misunderstandings between Rutabana, Nyamwasa
and some other colleagues in their political party, RNC. They connived to portray Rutabana as subversive and upon landing in Uganda, he was treated as a terrorist just because of misinformation from these people to security agencies.

The connivance between the RNC and some of the top security officials in Uganda is the one making him not accessible even by the lawyer. Nyamwasa and the group, think that Rutabana wanted to start up his own rebel group and channel the funds, that’s why he is being kept and guarded like this.

Some sources say Rutabana is an associate of Kayumba Nyamwasa. Others say the two had fallen out in the months preceding his visit to Uganda. This fallout, it is said in some circles, led to his betrayal in Kampala or rather someone in his circles blew the whistle to Ugandan authorities.

It is alleged that Rutabana and Nyamwasa differed in opinions, on among others the killing of their boys in DRC, and the latter (Nyamwasa) seemed not to act. Thereafter some of the survivors called Rutabana in confidence that they had actually fled to Uganda.

So Rutabana’s visit to Uganda was meant to improvise safety for the survivors. However, it is believed that Nyamwasa thought that the former was actually undermining him, if he came to Uganda and since he has colleagues in Uganda’s security circles so he blackmailed him leading to his immediate arrest.

What’s new

Following the court processes and diplomatic conversations between French and Ugandan authorities, plus various media outcries and through engagement between IRHRI and Ugandan authorities, the matter ended up being brought to President Museveni’s attention.

Owing to the sensitivity of the matter, sources say Museveni caught wind of the matter and has long ordered for Rutabana to be protected safely rather than being detained.

Basing on this, sources say Rutabana is alive and well, and not being held against his will. After being taken through a torturous process after the blackmail, it’s safe to think Kayumba or anyone who might be acting on his behalf thought they had finished him off; letting him go has to be tactical, since he is a key witness in the high stakes in Kigali-Kampala standoff.

While it might not sound comforting to Rutabana’s family and well-wishers that he is alive and well in Kampala, there are likely more stakes surrounding his reappearance than his disappearance.

When contacted, the French ambassador whom the court advised together with the government of Uganda to apply diplomatic means to find the whereabouts of Rutabana, said “we take note of the court ruling” only without divulging more details on how far they have reached with diplomacy or if they can confirm that Rutabana is safe and well protected.

IRHRI’s take

Sources informed IRHRI that the government of Rwanda through its Embassy in Uganda, after learning of Rutabana’s arrest, has since shown a suspicious interest in him as a high profile RNC’s Commissioner for Capacity Development. Rutabana got misunderstandings with Nyamwasa over RNC leadership after the death of rebels, who were clashed by Rwandan soldiers in the DRC in June 2019 and those who survived were captured and taken to Rwanda, where they are still detained up to now.

The Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Uganda recently signed the Extradition Treaty during Fourth Quadripartite Summit between Heads of States and Governments of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Rwanda. IRHRI welcomes the release of prisoners from both sides and the guarantee to continue this process in observance of the Rule of Law and the International Humanitarian Law, but is mindful that the treaty can be wrongly used by the political and security mafia groups pursuing personal interests. Rwandan government might take advantage of this treaty in order to persecute and violate the rights of some targeted individuals with Rwandan origin whom they consider as critics and enemies of Rwanda.

IRHRI has discovered that there are ongoing negotiations between Rwandan and Ugandan governments that in order to improve their bilateral relations and reopen the border between the two countries, about 130 Rwandan prisoners in Uganda have to be deported and handed over to the authorities in Rwanda. This is a ploy by Rwanda to have their opponents crashed, and IRHRI condemns such an arrangement.

IRHRI has also established that there is an underground arrangement between some Rwandan top security operatives through their Embassy in Uganda and some individual high ranking officials in Uganda to falsely brand and frame Rutabana of being a terrorist and a rebel against Kigali regime thus handing him over together with the other prisoners in Uganda to the authorities in Rwanda in return for big amounts of money from Rwandan government.

IRHRI and the family of Rutabana, are not happy seeing some individuals trying to tarnish the good image of Uganda, because of their personal interests while deceiving, committing crimes and making mistakes as we have clearly mentioned above.

IRHRI has been receiving reports indicating that there are many cases of human rights violation in Rwanda. It is known worldwide how the security operatives in Rwanda have gone far in fabricating and framing cases against Rwandan political opponents. It is in this regards that IRHRI has requested the office of the President of the Republic of Uganda to review that treaty in order to provide adequate protection to all law-abiding people while living in Uganda.

IRHRI assures everyone that they shall not condone those political and intelligence games by selfish individuals who are involved in evil and unprofessional practices of tricking, betraying and selling people like Rutabana in a high-level corruption scandal.

With the concrete information we have gathered and with our witnesses, IRHRI through its
lawyers, is preparing to file another application in court compelling whoever is holding
Rutabana to release him unconditionally so that he reunites with his family in Belgium. In this suit, new government institutions including the Department of Immigration and some individual security officers will be required to appear in court and give their individual accounts of what they really know about Rutabana’s case.

IRHRI calls upon the French Embassy in Uganda to come out and talk about the rights of its missing citizen as one of the diplomatic means to secure him from the hands of evil and corrupt people who can potentially harm him in one way or another.

IRHRI continues to encourage President Museveni to do everything he can in his capacity to secure the release of Rutabana such that his family can again have a glance at him.

“All our sources indicate that Rutabana is still within Uganda under the custody of top security organisations, that’s the conclusive information we have. I urge Mr Museveni and his government to ensure his immediate release. Uncertainty really engulfs his family, they need him since he was the breadwinner and has not been seen for a year now,” Mr Greg Heavens, the CEO of International Relief and Human Rights Initiative (IRHRI), said.

IRHRI thanks the organizations and individuals that have put up a spirited fight for the rights of Rutabana and others whose rights are violated.

“Special thanks go to some individual Ugandan top security officers who took risks and accepted to share information with us to see that Rutabana can be helped. Some were interrogated, some were punished, but as a human rights body, we thank them for not being selfish while they see someone’s rights being violated. We do give them special recognition,” Mr Greg said.

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