Rwanda is keeping poor people out of sight by locking them up in "transit centres" around the country, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The authorities have rounded up thousands of homeless people, street vendors, street children and others since 2014, said Carina Tertsakian from HRW in London.

The detainees are kept in 28 centres for periods lasting from a few days to several months, without charging them with any criminal offence, according to the rights group.

Hundreds of people have been crammed in one room. Some detainees reported receiving only one cup of corn a day to eat, while others said they were only allowed to use toilets twice a day. Beatings were commonplace, and several detainees died during or after custody, HRW reported.

The group says the facilities, known as "transit centres" or "rehabilitation centres," do not transfer the detainees anywhere, and that few of those held reported any kind of training or educational opportunities.

"The arbitrary arrest of poor people is part of an unofficial government practice to hide 'undesirable' people from view," HRW said.

"Despite the Rwandan justice minister's public promises to investigate and act on information related to possible human rights abuses ... Human Rights Watch is not aware of any investigation, prosecution, or other actions by the Rwandan authorities," the report said.

Justice Ministry official Damas Mutagomwa denied that Rwanda did not prosecute abuses. "Torture is a serious crime in Rwanda, whoever is investigated," and suspects are liable to prosecution, he told dpa.

Mutagomwa said it was difficult to investigate cases reported by HRW, because the group did not give the names of its interviewees and because the victims often did not report those they accused of misconduct.

Rwanda is often considered an African success story on account of its strong economic growth – an annual average of 7.8 per cent since 2000.

Despite the government's success in reducing poverty, the World Bank classifies 45 per cent of the 12-million population as poor.

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