Rwanda: Iwawa Island—Prison Camp or Paradise Vacation spot?
By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
In a nation rebuilding itself on hope and change it is a crime to not carry an ID. To be
homeless of any age and other normal daily challenge of the Rwandan people can be an
illegal action in Rwanda resulting in arrest and imprisonment. The New York Times reports
that "Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of
children, have recently been rounded up from the nation's neatly swept streets and sent —
without trial or a court appearance — to this little-known outpost. They will spend up to
three years here being "rehabilitated," learning skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and
motorcycle maintenance." In a nation rebuilding itself on hope and forgiveness this
appears to be a step in the wrong direction.
As the nations election looms near more stories like this are beginning to surface. This
"rehabilitation island" is anything but a place for rehabilitation and job skills training.
The men and children on this island will spend up to three years there with no one to fight
for their rights or to seek justice in their situations. The conditions are deplorable and
not fit for human inhabitants. The hundreds of men, teenagers and children are living in
make-shift buildings on side to side mattresses. There are no lights and no Malaria nets. .
This island screams injustice from every side. While the political leader praise this
island as a "rehabilitation facility" children are crying out for someone to call their
parents to tell them where they are. Iwawa Island is located in the middle of Lake Kivu and
there are no means of escape due to it being located miles from land. Many refer to is as
All of this begs the question….what is the real reason for this prison camp? More of these
men have been accused of being political dissenters and many have been outspoken for their
opposing political views to the current presidential election. Many of the political
opposition party members have been denied registration for the election. Recently political
dignitaries visited the island and were greeted by the Police Commissioner as if they had
arrived on an island in Paradise. The children were hidden from view while the other
prisoners danced and sang for the dignitaries.
Sadly, in my search for NGO's seeking to help the injustice of this horrific situation I
was not able to locate any. In the early 1990's when this island was used for similar
purposes NGO's were denied access then. I fear that is the case again. I urge any NGO's
within Rwanda to seek a way to help these men and children.
Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch
Welcome to Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch Blog. Our objective is to promote the institutions of democracy,social justice,Human Rights,Peace, Freedom of Expression, and Respect to humanity in Rwanda,Uganda,DR Congo, Burundi,Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, and Somalia. We strongly believe that Africa will develop if only our presidents stop being rulers of men and become leaders of citizens. We support Breaking the Silence Campaign for DR Congo since we believe the democracy in Rwanda means peace in DRC. Follow this link to learn more about the origin of the war in both Rwanda and DR Congo:http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net/gsdl/cgi-bin/library