|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
While Rwanda prepares for the upcoming presidential elections to be held in August this year, concerns are mounting regarding the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) as arbitrary arrests of these groups continue to swoop the country.
Naome Ruzindana, Director of Horizon Community Association (HOCA) said numerous cases of arrests and abuse of the LGBTI people have gone unnoticed in Rwanda and “this is because there is no documentation of such cases and in some instances we find out at a later stage and then when we try to follow up, the people involved do not want to cooperate and some live in fear of being re-arrested, making it difficult for them to reach out to us.”
Ruzindana further stated “ever since we did a campaign last year which was to stop the criminalisation of same sex relationships, there has been a lot of discrimination and harassment of LGBTI people and they know us now and we are really feeling unsafe.”
She also pointed out that threats that often face LGBTI organizations have led to a lack of interest by human rights defenders to continue their human rights work and opt for safer environments.
Ruzindana said the most recent arrest case is that of Sheema Jdamal and Jasonde Mbarute who were arrested early this month for “disguised gender identity.”
“We had contacted IGLHRC, CAL and GenderdynamiX, to take over the case, but since there has been interference with communication on our side, there hasn’t been much progress on the case. The two were arrested and later released and there has been no active involvement on our side since the hacking of our computers.”
Following interventions by the Rwandan civil society and the international community and governments, the Rwandan Government had last year indicated that Article 217 of the draft Penal Code, which criminalises same sex relationships, would not be a part of the final text of the penal code revisions, but the recent events against LGBTI people have left many uncertain.
“The government seems to be silent, they have not spoken against homosexuality but we are not sure of their position. There has been influence from the religious groups that are trying to influence government against HOCA. They also use the media to lobby against homosexuality and warn people about us and our work, and have used examples like Zimbabwe and Malawi to support their argument and push their antigay crusades”, Ruzindana concluded.