Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Rwanda

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Rwanda, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
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

Parliamentary elections were held from September 15 to 18, 2008 and won by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (Front patriotique rwandais – FPR) with a large majority.1 These were the second elections since the adoption of the Constitution in June 2003, which put an end to the post-genocide transition period. According to the European Union Observation Mission, the elections took place in a peaceful environment, despite a number of irregularities being noted.2 The mission also referred to instances of intimidation and a number of short-term arrests, mostly related to allegedly "illegal campaigning"3 by the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party.

In 2008, the country still faced the major challenge of making the reconciliation process a success and washing away the deep stain left by the genocide. In this regard, the country is involved in a judicial process, in particular before the "Gacaca"4 people's tribunals, with the aim of trying people suspected of having taken part in the 1994 genocide. The Rwandan Parliament passed a law on February 21, 2008 that extends the courts' jurisdiction to permit them to try the "first category of planners" and to pronounce sentences up to life imprisonment. In November 2008, it voted a law that introduced discriminatory treatment by abolishing life sentences for cases transferred by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), in order to prompt the transfer of cases.5 However, these tribunals remain characterised by their political nature6 and by grave dysfunction, such as cases of corruption, abuse of power and use for personal goals.

This year was also marked by a hardening towards independent journalists who criticised the Government, with the adoption of a new Press Law by Parliament on May 7, 2008. Several members of Parliament had already expressed concern in debate about certain provisions that could endanger freedom of the press, in particular the articles relating to press offences, which stipulate that it is possible to resort to preventive detention of journalists if they are suspected of publishing false information, libel and insults, or of publishing attacks on morals.7 A few days before the adoption of this law, on May 2, 2008, the new Minister of Information, Ms. Louise Mushikiwabo, banned three directors of independent publications – the private weekly Umuseso, the bi-monthly Rushyashya and the bi-monthly Umuvugizii – from attending the ceremony to commemorate the International Press Freedom Day.8 In addition to the Press Law, a Law on the Interception of Communications on Grounds of National Security was adopted on September 9, 2008, which would be used in an abusive manner against human rights defenders and journalists.9 This law has indeed a broad impact since it authorises all kinds of acts of tapping surveillance, recording, storage and decoding of communications, as well as any other type of surveillance of communication networks and data without the knowledge or explicit authorisation of the user. In order to do this, Rwanda has invested considerable sums in sophisticated technologies for intercepting any message sent by telephone or Internet. To this should be added the interception of correspondence sent by post.

Impossibility of independent observation of elections

During the parliamentary elections, some human rights defenders were the target of pressure and acts of harassment to prevent them from carrying out independent observation during the election campaign and on voting day. The Civil Society Election Observation Mission (Mission d'observation électorale de la société civile – MOESC) was organised by the Civil Society Platform (Plateforme de la société civile) at the Government's initiative and set up a country-wide observation programme. Any organisation wishing to observe the elections was obliged to do so via the Platform, which brings together 700 civil society organisations. "Long term" observers were recruited before the start of campaign operations, as well as "short term" observers. On August 14, 2008, the League for the Promotion and the Defence of Human Rights (Ligue pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l'Homme – LIPRODHOR) was refused accreditation by the National Election Commission (Commission nationale des élections – CNE) on the grounds that LIPRODHOR was already involved in observation activities through MOESC since it was a member of the Collective of Human Rights Leagues and Associations (Collectif des ligues et associations de défense des droits de l'Homme – CLADHO), itself a member of MOESC, and that no organisation could participate in two different observation missions. However, LIPRODHOR had not proposed observers to MOESC through CLADHO because it planned to set up an independent field mission. Following CNE's refusal, LIPRODHOR finally took part in MOESC with two "short term" observers but was not able to deploy long term observers and file a report. CNE also refused accreditation to the League of Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands lacs – LDGL) for members of its observation group who were at the same time members of LIPRODHOR, although this had not been a problem for other organisations. It may also be noted that the President of CNE attacked the LDGL report, arguing that its president had changed the preliminary version of the report in order to make it more critical.10

Obstacles to the work of international NGOs

In December 2008, a law was published in the official journal, identifying three types of NGOs: those constituted under national law, those under foreign law and those representing a religious faith.11 A specific law relating to the organisation and functioning of each category was due to be voted at a later date and civil society organisations expected new restrictions. The adoption of this law, which lays down strict rules for foreign organisations, in particular requiring them to prove that they have worked with national organisations that are already registered, demonstrates the desire to bring these organisations under control.

In 2008 hostility also took the form of obstacles to the entry of international NGOs members.12 On two occasions, the Rwandan Government refused permission for Dr. Alison Des Forges, Principal Advisor to Human Rights Watch (HRW), to enter Rwanda, firstly on September 4 and then on December 2, 2008, as she came to take part in an international conference on legal aid. On this occasion, Rwandan officials prevented her from leaving the plane and sent her back to Belgium. It is worth noting that Dr. Des Forges was an expert witness at 11 ICTR trials for genocide, in particular that of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora and two other people who were convicted on December 18. She also gave evidence during trials for genocide in national courts of Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada. On several occasions, most recently on December 12, 2008, HRW called on the ICTR Prosecutor to ensure that he carried out his mandate to examine the allegations made against FPR. On December 3, 2008, the Rwandan authorities blocked another member of HRW for one day; he was finally authorised to enter Rwandan territory in the evening.

1 The next presidential elections are planned for 2010 and the local and Senate elections for 2011.

2 Irregularities included the total or partial absence of seals on the ballot boxes at the opening of polling stations, the non-reconciliation of ballots, the non-verification of electors' fingers for ink to prevent multiple voting and the non-rigorous verification of voters on the voter list. See EU Election Observation Mission Final Report, Legislative Elections to the Chamber of Deputies 15 – 18 September 2008, November 21, 2008.

3 In some instances, the local authorities accused members of the opposition parties of campaigning illegally, arguing in particular that their opponents had not informed them of their intentions. See Rwandan Association for the Defence of Human Rights and Public Liberties (Association rwandaise pour la défense des droits de la personne et des libertés publiques – ADL).

4 The Gacaca tribunals include more than 250,000 judges at around 10,000 courts throughout the country.

5 See Law No. 6620/2008 of November 21, 2008, which modifies and complements Organic Law No. 3120/2007 of July 25, 2007 relating to the abolition of the death penalty, published in the Official Journal (Journal officiel) No.23, December 1, 2008.

6 It is, for example, virtually impossible for victims to obtain justice for crimes committed by soldiers belonging to the Rwandan Patriotic Army (Armée patriotique rwandaise – APR), the armed branch of FPR and protected by the latter. See LIPRODHOR.

7 See League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands lacs – LGDL) Press Release, May 9, 2008.

8 See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, May 6, 2008.


10 See Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Report 2008, December 2008.

11 On October 12, 2007, the draft law specifying the methods of registration and recruitment of personnel and operational methods for international NGOs established in Rwanda was applied by ministerial decree without being adopted by Parliament or promulgated by the President.

12 See HRW Press Release, December 23, 2008.

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