Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Rwanda

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Rwanda, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

In 2007, the 1994 genocide and grave human rights violations committed in the Great Lakes region continued to weigh on Rwanda's relations with the international community. Tensions have persisted between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and President Paul Kagame has been accused by the Congolese Government of supporting the rebel group of dissident General Laurent Nkunda in the east. The latter has in fact justified the fighting against the Congolese army in order to create a protected zone for Tutsis in the Kivus from attacks by the Interhamwe (Hutu militias present on Congolese territory since the end of genocide). During the second half of the year, tensions between the two countries eased to a certain extent, and Rwanda and the DRC even signed a joint statement on regional stability on November 9, 2007.

The situation in the country also remains marked by national reconciliation efforts and trials of those suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide, particularly before Gacaca Courts.1 The task is immense and difficult since these courts, created in 2001 to accelerate the trial of more than 100,000 people detained since the genocide, issue a community-based form of justice that is often far from international standards, particularly with regard to respect for the rights of defence in localities where perpetrators of the genocide and survivors coexist. The security of survivors, witnesses and judges is not guaranteed and several of them have been attacked or killed, each time putting at risk the delicate balance between ethnic groups. In this regard, at the end of 2006, President Paul Kagame made a statement on the radio to warn those responsible for such attacks and called on the population to ensure the protection of witnesses and judges. In 2007, the warnings continued, but they have not prevented further killings, albeit fewer.2

Acts of harassment of human rights defenders who denounced the malfunctions of the Gacaca Courts

Human rights defenders who followed trials before the Gacaca Courts and denounced their malfunctions were subjected to constant harassment. In general, questioning the authorities exposed the defenders to retaliation or to accusations of "genocidal ideology."

A network of observers has been set up to examine Gacaca conditions for a fair trial, and has noted irregularities in several districts. Echoing those findings, NGOs have denounced the use of summary and hasty justice in order to meet the deadline originally set for December 31, 2007 and extended to March 2008; corruption and the abuse of power by basic authorities (villages and cells) in some districts, who use the courts to settle personal scores and intimidate witnesses; numerous procedural irregularities (lack of respect for the rights of the defence, lack of material evidence), and the undue delay in the execution of judgments. Their members have been threatened or interrogated by the authorities or the security services with impunity. The conviction of Mr. Francis Xavier Byuma, President of an NGO working on children's rights, is emblematic. Mr. Byuma was sentenced on May 27, 2007 to 19 years' imprisonment for complicity in genocide by a Gacaca Court, as the Chairman of this tribunal was the subject of an investigation carried out by his organisation. Despite this obvious conflict of interest, attempts to challenge the President of that court were denied. His only recourse now lies with the National Service for the Gacaca Courts.

Similarly, several members of NGOs were questioned by the authorities following publications on the conduct of the cases before the courts. Human rights facilitators who informed witnesses about their rights and encouraged them not to use false testimony were also beaten. In this regard, the Observatory would like to emphasise that, for the safety of defenders and their families, any specific information on their identity, their organisations or even the places where these events were held cannot be disclosed, which demonstrates the intensity of the repression against them.

Threats against NGOs accused of jeopardising the process of national reconciliation

Several NGO employees were interrogated by the Directory of Military Intelligence on their publications and investigations into abuses by the ruling authorities. At least a dozen cases of defenders and journalists harassed and intimidated by the authorities were identified in 2007 but, again, for security of the defenders and their families, no details about them can be revealed. It should also be remembered that since 2004 many human rights defenders and their families have had to leave the country for fear of reprisals. In addition, while it has not made progress this year, a bill designed to strengthen supervision by the State regarding activities and publications of NGOs is still under discussion in Parliament and remains a threat to the freedom of expression of civil society organisations.

Bill governing the activities of international NGOs working in Rwanda

A bill setting out the procedures for registration, recruitment of personnel, and conduct of activities of international NGOs established in Rwanda was adopted by the Council of Ministers on July 26, 2006. It became applicable in accordance with a ministerial Decree on October 12, 2007 but has not been passed by Parliament or promulgated by the President.

The purpose of this bill is to require greater involvement from international NGOs in the development of national capacity. However, in order to achieve this objective, several provisions in the text affect the independence of NGOs. NGOs will, for example, have to comply with the development plans of districts or obtain prior authorisation from the ministry whenever they wish to expand their sphere of operation. This means that in case of an expansion of activity to cope with an emergency, they might find themselves at odds with the obligation to submit a report every three months, which is required in the event of changes in activity. In general, the bill leaves too much room for arbitrary decisions and imposes too many obligations on NGOs without consultation. For example, in the event of termination of activities, the international NGO will have to transfer, in the form of a gift, its equipment and materials to Rwandan organisations involved in similar activities, with the consent of the ministry concerned, but without even the choice of the partner. The Government may also make the decision to halt the activities of international NGOs by giving three months' notice, and the employment of expatriate staff must be approved by the ministry, taking into account the expertise required in a given sector and the qualifications of the staff proposed.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 More than 250,000 persons acting as judges in nearly 10,000 courts in the country.

2 See Press Release of the organisation Ibuka,

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