One quiet December morning, as mist was lifting over the Western Province in Rwanda, soldiers banged on Fulgence Rukundo’s door. They called him by name and said that he had stolen a cow. Neighbors came out to see what the commotion was about. Rukundo opened his door. He said he was innocent, but went with the soldiers.
Rukundo, 28, was slight but muscular. His wife had given birth to a baby – their second child – ten days before the soldiers came for him. Rukundo was well known in the village as a jovial, good-natured, fun-loving man. As he was taken from his house by the soldiers that morning, surprised villagers started calling each other on their mobile phones. Word of his arrest spread. Many people followed him and the soldiers at a distance.
The next couple of hours were to be his last.
Since 2016, Rwandan soldiers and police officers have been involved in killing people suspected of committing petty crimes, like stealing bananas, sugarcane, or a motorcycle, or using illegal fishing nets, a new Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch documented 37 executions of suspected petty criminals and offenders, in what appears to be part of a broader strategy to spread fear, enforce order, and deter any resistance to government orders or policies. Villagers told Human Rights Watch’s researcher how in community meetings local and military authorities had publicly told people that new “laws” or “orders” call for killing thieves and other criminals. Family members were told not to mourn those who were executed, as if sympathizing with those killed was itself a crime.