1999 Scores

Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 6.5
Civil Liberties: 6
Political Rights: 7


Rwanda continues to slowly rebuild after the 1994 genocide. The government, led by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) closely directs the country's political life. In 1999 it extended the transition period, before which multiparty national elections can be held, for an additional four years. Carefully controlled nonparty local elections were held in March. The search for justice in the wake of the genocide continued, with a prominent Roman Catholic bishop being placed on trial for complicity in the killings. The government severely criticized a decision by the International Tribunal based in Arusha to release a former government official charged with incitement to genocide. The security situation remained tenuous in parts of Rwanda, with violence perpetrated by both Hutu guerillas and government forces. The government also implemented a controversial policy of strongly encouraging citizens in the northwest part of the country to move into protected villages. The region continued to be highly unstable as Rwandans and Ugandans remained deeply implicated in the civil strife of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda's ethnic divide is deeply rooted. National boundaries demarcated by Belgian colonists led to often violent competition for power within the fixed borders of a modern state. Traditional and Belgian-abetted Tutsi dominance ended with a Hutu rebellion in 1959 and independence in 1962. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed or fled the country in recurring violence during the next decades. In 1990, the RPF launched a guerrilla war to force the Hutu regime led by General Juvenal Habyarimana to accept powersharing and the return of Tutsi refugees. Hutu chauvinists' solution to claims to land and power by Rwanda's Tutsi minority, which constituted approximately 15 percent of the pre-genocide population, was to pursue their elimination as a people.

The 1994 genocide was launched after the suspicious deaths of President Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira in a plane crash in Kigali. The ensuing massacres had been well plotted. Piles of imported machetes were distributed, and death lists were broadcast by radio. A small United Nations force in Rwanda fled as the killings spread and Tutsi rebels advanced. French troops intervened in late 1994, not to halt the genocide, but in a futile effort to preserve some territory for the crumbling genocidal regime that was a closely linked to the French government.

International relief efforts that eased the suffering among more than two million Hutu refugees along Rwanda's frontiers also allowed retraining and rearming of large numbers of former government troops. The U.N., which had earlier ignored specific warnings of the 1994 genocide, failed to prevent such activities. The Rwandan war became inextricably bound up with the Congo's conflict. This climate of unrest makes early improvement in the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms very unlikely.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Rwandans have never enjoyed their right to choose their representatives in open elections. The government announced in June that multiparty elections would not take place until 2003 at the earliest. The current self-appointed government is dominated by the RPF, but also includes several other political parties. A 70-member multiparty national assembly was appointed in November 1994.

Rwanda's basic charter is the Fundamental Law, an amalgam of the 1991 constitution, two agreements among various parties and groups, and the RPF's own 1994 declaration of governance. Political parties closely identified with the 1994 massacres are banned, and parties based on ethnicity or religion barred. Several other political parties operate and participate in government. There is some Hutu representation in the government, including President Pasteur Bizimungu.

Constitutional and legal safeguards regarding arrest procedures and detention are widely ignored. The near destruction of Rwanda's legal system and the death or exile of most of the judiciary are severely limiting criminal adjudication. To help address this problem, the government intends to revive a traditional court system, the Gacaca, where elders will preside over community trials dealing with the less serious genocide offences.

Rwandan media are officially censored and constrained by fears of reprisals. Journalists accused of abetting or participating in genocide have been arrested. The state controls the broadcast media, and the few independent newspapers publishing in Kigali reportedly exercise considerable self-censorship. The role of the media in Rwanda has become a contentious test case for media freedom and responsibility. During the genocide, 50 journalists were murdered, while others broadcast incitements to the slaughter.

Local nongovernmental organizations such as the Collective Rwandan Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights operate openly. International human rights groups and relief organizations are also active. Numerous clerics were among both the victims and perpetrators of the genocide (a prominent Roman Catholic cleric, Bishop Augustine Misago, is currently on trial). Religious freedom is generally respected.

Rwanda's economy is only now reaching pre-1990 production levels. There is serious de facto discrimination against women despite legal protection for equal rights. Rape by Hutu soldiers and militiamen was widespread in 1994. Women are being forced to take on many new roles, especially in the countryside where the dearth of males necessitates their performance of many traditionally male tasks. Constitutional provisions for labor rights include the right to form trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. The Central Union of Rwandan Workers, which was closely controlled by the previous regime, now has relatively greater independence.

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