Leader of African-Australian Community files urgent UN complaints over enforced disappearance of brothers in Rwanda and reprisals

Jennifer Robinson (instructed by Australia’s leading independent law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth), is representing human rights advocate and community leader Noël Zihabamwe and his family at the UN over the disappearances in 2019 of his two brothers in Rwanda, Jean Nsengimana and Antoine Zihabamwe.

Mr Zihabamwe has won multiple awards in Australia for his community leadership and assistance in the not-for-profit sector and in multicultural community settlement services and project implementation. He is the Founder and current Chairperson of the African Australian Advocacy Centre, and current Treasurer for Lower North Shore Multicultural Network (LNSM) and Africa Health Australia (AHA).

After refusing to act for the Rwandan government as an agent of influence in Australia in 2016, Mr Zihabamwe was subjected to ongoing harassment, which he exposed in an interview with ABC News in August 2019. His brothers were subsequently abducted by Rwandan police while on a bus in the Eastern Province of Rwanda and have not been seen since the day of their disappearance, 28 September 2019.

Supported by The Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales,

Mr Zihabamwe filed a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). Support from the Australian Government is also being sought to advance this case, and the UN is being asked to intervene with Rwanda to help locate Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers.

On the WGEID complaint, Jennifer said: “For too long, Noel and his family have been suffering with the mental anguish of not knowing the fate of his brothers, Jean and Antoine – they simply don’t know if they are still alive or whether they are being unlawfully detained. The circumstance of their disappearance suggests there was involvement by the Rwandan state but Noel’s inquiries with Rwanda have so far been met with a wall of silence.”

Since the initial filing, Mr Zihabamwe and his missing brothers’ friends and relatives in Rwanda have experienced intimidation by Rwandan government officials, including being interrogated by agents from the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB). There has also been a smear campaign by Rwandan media organisations against Mr Zihabamwe, falsely alleging in a number of published articles that he is affiliated with a “terrorist organisation” known as the Rwanda Alliance for National Pact (RANP).

“The UN has made clear that addressing and preventing acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with, inform and complain to the UN on human rights issues is a matter of vital importance, and such acts raise grave concerns,” Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute Professor Justine Nolan said.

Following the filing of the first UN complaint, A number have communicated that they fear they will be compelled under torture to make false statements about the missing brothers.

On the reprisals complaint, Ms Robinson said, “Given the timing and nature of these events, such intimidation appears to be a direct response to Mr Zihabamwe’s communication to the Working Group. The proper functioning of the UN human rights system requires that those making complaints do not face reprisals or threats for providing information to the UN. The intimidation and reprisals against Noel Zihabamwe and his family in Rwanda for engaging with the UN are prohibited and amount to an attack on the integrity of the UN system.  The reprisals and the conduct of the Rwandan government must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

In addition to filing the updated complaint, Australian police have been alerted to the incidences of reprisals, along with the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The initial complaint was widely covered in the media:

Coverage of the reprisals complaint by the Australian Human Rights Institute can be read here: