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UK's Ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Julian Braithwaite Image: UNITED NATIONS The United Kingdom has expressed concern over “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom” in Rwanda. UK's ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Julian Braithwaite made the statement on Rwanda at the 37th Session of Universal Periodic Review. “As a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, we urge Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights,” said the statement dated January 25. But the UK welcomed Rwanda’s “strong record” on economic and social rights, and promotion of gender equality. As a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, we urge Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights United Kingdom In human rights realm, however, the UK recommended that Rwanda conducts transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture and brings perpetrators to justice. It also called on the Paul Kagame government to protect and enable journalists to work freely, without fear of retribution, and ensure state authorities comply with the Access to Information law. Braithwaite also recommended screening, identifying and providing support to trafficking victims, including those held in government transit centres. However, Rwanda’s delegation led by Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye denied the claims in a lengthy statement virtually. Busingye denied existence of illegal detention facilities, dismissed allegations the opposition and critical media were being deliberately targeted. He also denied the government of Rwanda is involved in forced disappearances. “There are no prosecutions that target persons simply because they are politicians or journalists or human rights defenders, and the so-called political trials do not exist, nor are trials against journalists or human rights defenders just for being journalists or human rights defenders,” the AG said. The US also said despite Rwanda’s progress in increasing gender equality and access to education, it was concerned about limited civic and political space. "This is specifically unduly burdensome permitting requirements which inhibit the right of peaceful assembly," US State Department said in a statement. The US recommended promotion for the right to freedom of expression by ending detentions and harassment of members of the media and civil society for their reporting, among other proposals highlighted by Human Rights World Report 2021 accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front of targeting those perceived as a threat to the government last year. “Several high-profile government critics were arrested or threatened. Authorities failed to conduct credible investigations into the suspicious death in police custody of well-known singer and activist Kizito Mihigo, in February,” the report said. Human Rights Watch particularly noted that arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities continued unabated. “Fair trial standards were routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics,” they said. State interference and intimidation have forced many civil society actors and journalists to stop working on sensitive political or human rights issues. President Kagame has in the past hit back at critics of human rights, saying their accusations are motivated by historical guilt. By Elidu Kibii, The Star

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