Covering events from January - December 2003

"Disappearances", arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and the ill-treatment of detainees were reported. Eighteen prisoners were sentenced to death for crimes committed during the 1994 genocide; no executions were carried out. Approximately 80,000 individuals remained in detention, nearly all of them suspected of participation in the genocide. Most were held for prolonged periods without charge or trial, in harsh and overcrowded conditions. Trials of genocide suspects continued at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. Grave human rights violations committed in previous years by state security agents remained without thorough or independent investigation. Several people were detained for peaceful opposition activities.


The governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda accused each other of not honouring the July 2002 bilateral agreement, in which the Rwandese government pledged to withdraw its troops from eastern DRC and the DRC government undertook to disarm and repatriate Rwandese opposition groups. Reports of continued Rwandese involvement in eastern DRC after its forces had officially withdrawn were denied by the government. The Rwandese and Ugandan governments made accusations that the other was harbouring, sponsoring and training armed opposition movements.

The end of the government's transition program following the genocide was marked by the adoption of a new Constitution, the fifth since independence in 1960. The draft Constitution contained provisions that could restrict fundamental civil and political rights.

Information provided by the government-controlled media on key provisions of the draft Constitution was limited. In May the new Constitution was overwhelmingly endorsed in a referendum.

The presidential election was held on 25 August and parliamentary elections between 29 September and 2 October. Incumbent Paul Kagame won the presidential election with 95 per cent of the vote, while his Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) party won 74 per cent in parliamentary elections. Opposition candidates and supporters faced severe intimidation during and after the electoral campaigns. There were consistent reports of voter intimidation before and on polling day by supporters of the governing party.

The high proportion of women elected to parliament resulted in part from government legislation and administrative practices aimed at advancing the position and status of women.


A number of "disappearances" were reported, many linked to government actions against the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR), Democratic Republican Movement. Others who "disappeared" were reportedly victims of criminal activities by members of the Rwandese security forces.

  • Several people reportedly "disappeared" in April, apparently because they were suspected of opposition to the government. They included Dr Leonard Hitimana, an MDR deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Augustin Cyiza, former President of the Court of Cassation and Vice-President of the Supreme Court, and Eliezer Runyaruka, a university student and cantonal judge in Nyamata. According to witnesses, the vehicles in which the "disappeared" were last seen or which belonged to them were last sighted in a military detention facility or driven and subsequently abandoned by members of the security forces.
  • Charles Muyenzi and Aimable Nkurunziza, former armed forces officers, were forcibly returned from Burundi. They were reportedly handed over to the Rwandese security forces on 9 November, and subsequent efforts to locate them met with no response from the authorities. Aimable Nkurunziza had previously received refugee status in Uganda.

Suppression of the opposition

Opposition party members and leaders were intimidated by repeated interrogations at police stations, unlawful detentions and death threats. A number fled the country. Opposition party organizers were allegedly threatened and bribed to defect to the RPF or to make false accusations against their party's candidate. Many voters were forced or pressured to join the RPF and attend RPF political rallies. Civil society organizations were denounced as "divisionist" or "sectarian". In April a parliamentary commission accused the membership of the MDR and 46 named individuals of fomenting "division". The leading independent human rights organization was accused of financially supporting the MDR.

Abuses in the criminal justice system

Public confidence in the criminal justice system continued to erode. The police frequently detained suspects unlawfully for long periods without trial. Court decisions were not always respected by Public Prosecutors' Offices, and defendants acquitted by the courts sometimes remained in prison. One third of all arrests and preventive detentions were estimated to be in violation of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Many officials in the criminal justice system did not have the necessary legal training or experience. Draft laws before parliament proposed restructuring the judicial system and simplifying civil and criminal justice procedures to address some of these issues.

Genocide trials

More than 450 genocide suspects were tried, significantly fewer than in 2002. By the end of 2003 the Specialized Chambers had tried slightly more than 8,000 suspects since they became operational in 1996. In many cases, trials did not meet international standards of fairness. Eighteen defendants were sentenced to death. The sentences were not carried out.

The government, in an attempt to address serious prison overcrowding, provisionally released more than 20,000 detainees. Most had confessed to participation in the genocide. However, among those who did not benefit from the provisional release were detainees whose case files contained insufficient evidence to warrant their detention.


The long awaited start of gacaca trials, a community-based system of justice, did not begin as planned. Community members and elected local magistrates continued pre-trial work in the 746 tribunals, which started operating in 2002. They listed victims and suspected perpetrators, and made an inventory of civil damages claims. The remaining 8,258 tribunals were planned to be operational in 2004.

The tribunals were plagued by inaction by magistrates and community members, the unwillingness of communities to provide information and public dissatisfaction that human rights abuses by members of the former armed opposition group, the RPF, were excluded from their consideration. After the fall of the government in 1994 the RPF's political wing became the ruling party and its armed wing became the armed forces, known as the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) until renamed the Rwandese Defence Forces (RDF) in June 2002.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Trials of leading genocide suspects continued at the ICTR, which held 56 detainees at the end of 2003. Five trials involving 20 defendants continued, three of which began in 2003. The trials of seven former government ministers began in November. Judgments were given in five trials involving eight suspects. By the end of the year, the ICTR had delivered 17 judgments since its first indictments in 1995.

Two suspects were arrested in the DRC and Uganda, and transferred to the ICTR for trial. Another 16 individuals were indicted by the ICTR but not apprehended. The US Congress renewed its Rewards for Justice Program to assist in the capture of those indicted.

The ICTR had accused the Rwandese government of frustrating investigations of war crimes allegations against former RPA members. In August, human rights groups pressed the UN Security Council to ensure the independence and impartiality of the Court, despite pressure by Rwanda and other states not to prosecute RPA members for crimes against humanity that had led the court to suspend investigations against former RPA members in September 2002.

International justice

Other states continued to bring to trial or deport genocide suspects under their national jurisdiction. Despite the Belgian parliament's repeal of its legislation conferring universal jurisdiction on Belgian courts, a number of genocide cases that had already begun were pending before the courts.

  • In September the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Léon Mugesera, accused in Canada of crimes against humanity for making a speech inciting violence and ethnic hatred in Rwanda in 1992. The Court found that the speech did not constitute an explicit incitement to genocide or a crime against humanity, and that he could remain in Canada.

Freedom of expression

Members of the press and civil society continued to face intimidation and harassment for criticizing the government or armed forces. A number of journalists and human rights activists were interrogated by the police, detained and driven into exile. Others had to exercise self-censorship in relation to certain subjects to avoid politically motivated repression by the security forces.

  • Police arrested five journalists and the driver of the privately owned newspaper Umuseso on 19 November, and confiscated one edition of the paper. The journalists were interrogated and two of them reportedly beaten, allegedly because of an article that questioned the demobilization of certain senior military officers. They were released without charge after two days.


The government continued to express its intention for all Rwandese refugees – estimated at 85,000 – to return to Rwanda. Tripartite agreements were signed between Rwanda, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and host countries: the Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Many returning refugees expressed concern about their security and the economic situation in Rwanda. In Uganda, only 200 out of 14,000 Rwandese refugees registered for voluntary repatriation, despite attempts by the Rwandese government and UNHCR to persuade them that it was safe to return.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Rwanda in January, March, July and August. In October AI's Secretary General travelled to the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to meet senior government and UN officials, survivors of human rights abuses, Congolese human rights activists and international humanitarian agencies.

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