Rumors of cannibalism in Gitarama prison debunked

On 18 September 2023 at 12:43

Recent reports in the international press have revived disturbing allegations of cannibalism among prisoners at Muhanga Prison located in former Gitarama Prefecture, currently in Southern Rwanda. These claims have garnered widespread attention, even finding their way into publications like the ’Jerusalem Post’.

However, it’s crucial to scrutinize the credibility of these allegations, many of which are rooted in events that transpired over 25 years ago during the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

As of the most recent data from the Human Rights Commission, prison overcrowding in Rwanda currently stands at a rate of 124%. But can this overcrowding genuinely be linked to such gruesome acts of cannibalism?

It’s important to note that there is no concrete evidence to substantiate these rumors.

In fact, this is not the first time such claims have surfaced. Back in 2015, the Indian newspaper "Zeenews" reported on similar allegations, followed by coverage in various smaller media outlets.

These rumors reemerged in 2022, this time in the British newspaper ‘The Mirror’, and subsequently picked up by other publications like the ‘Daily Star’.

Muhanga Prison has the capacity of 3,063 detainees but currently houses 6,441 inmates, leading to an estimated overcrowding rate of 227.5%.

Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), the national body responsible for prisons, firmly maintains that there have been no reported cases of cannibalism in the country’s prison facilities.

To provide a more accurate picture of the situation, IGIHE has gathered testimonies from former Rwandan officials who unequivocally refute the notion of cannibalism at Muhanga Prison in the context of prison overcrowding.

Pierre Célestin Rwigema, a former Prime Minister from 1995 and the current representative of Rwanda in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), emphasizes that no such incidents occurred during his tenure.

He underscores that cannibalism is entirely incompatible with the cultural values of the Rwandan people.

Sheikh Abdul Karim Harelimana, who served as the Interior Minister in 1996 with oversight of all prisons in Rwanda, corroborates that while prison overcrowding was indeed a reality, hunger never compelled prisoners to resort to cannibalism.

"Prison overcrowding did exist, it is true, but no prisoner has ever eaten another," he assured IGIHE.

The Rwandan government is actively addressing the issue of prison overcrowding by constructing new facilities, providing alternative sentences, and employing electronic bracelet technology to monitor criminals instead of resorting to incarceration.

These measures demonstrate the commitment to safeguarding human rights and dispelling the baseless rumors that have circulated about Muhanga Prison.