Countries at the Crossroads 2007 - Rwanda

  • Author: Jennie E. Burnet
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    25 September 2007

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)


Thirteen years after the 1994 genocide, in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered in less than three months, the Rwandan government has made enormous progress in bringing stability and economic development to the country. The genocide ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel movement that had been fighting a civil war with the government since 1990, seized most Rwandan territory and drove the genocidal regime into exile. Since 1994, the RPF has ruled, first under a consensual dictatorship in which it shared power with a limited number of political parties, and since 2003 under a nominal democracy following national elections.

President Paul Kagame and the RPF-dominated legislature were elected by a landslide; the elections, however, were marred by bias and intimidation, which precluded any genuine challenge to the RPF. While many international observers and diplomats based in Kigali viewed the 2003 elections as part of a continuing evolution toward democracy in the country, the elections allowed the RPF to consolidate its monopoly on power in the parliament, the presidency, and the ministries. The regime allows very little space for independent voices and, according to some analysts, has become even more repressive since the end of the transition period in 2003.1 The legislative and judicial branches of government have done little to counterbalance the executive or mitigate the influence of the military in policymaking. In practice, power remains concentrated in the hands of a small inner circle of military and civilian elites known as the akazu. Critical voices in civil society and the media have been almost completely silenced.

The government states that genocide prevention is one of its main priorities. While Rwanda's Hutu, Tutsi, and Batwa ethnicities – all of whom share a common language and culture – have achieved a substantial measure of peaceful coexistence, ethnic divisions remain a concern. In enforcing the 2001 Law on Discrimination and Sectarianism, which established stiff penalties for those guilty of "divisionism," the government has continued to silence critics of its policies or practices. Politically motivated accusations of divisionism can carry criminal penalties and have continued to be used to attack civil society organizations, the press, and individuals. Accusations of divisionism or "genocidal ideology" are among the most effective tools for silencing critics.

Achieving justice for the 1994 genocide remains an intractable problem. In a positive step, the government began implementing Gacaca courts, loosely based on a traditional conflict resolution mechanism (also called Gacaca) nationwide in 2005 following a pilot phase, reforms, and numerous delays. In 2002, the government had decided to implement the courts to try the bulk of genocide cases. Yet it now appears as if the Gacaca courts may fill the prisons rather than empty them. In March 2005, following the preliminary phase of trials, approximately 761,000 suspects stood accused of genocide.2 The majority of these suspects remain in their communities as the Gacaca courts continue trials; however, unknown numbers have been arrested or rearrested and returned to prison.

Transitional justice has been and continues to be largely one-sided as Gacaca will not be used to prosecute revenge killings or war crimes by the RPF in Rwanda between 1990 and 1995 or in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1996 and 2000. These crimes are not nearly on the same scale as crimes of genocide, yet failure to address them adequately has led to the perception that the government is carrying out victors' justice.

Accountability and Public Voice – 1.43

Free and fair electoral laws and elections: 1.25
Effective and accountable government: 1.75
Civic engagement and civic monitoring: 1.33
Media independence and freedom of expression: 1.38

Rwanda holds regular elections for parliament and the presidency, district councils and administrators, and local-level administrative positions. Yet elections are not conducted by secret ballot at all levels. In February 2006, Rwandans voted in local elections to fill administrative positions following the redrawing of district and provincial boundaries in January.3 In contests at the lowest administrative levels, citizens voted by lining up behind their chosen candidates and thus were not guaranteed ballot secrecy.4 Contests for officials at the next higher level used secret ballots, but Human Rights Watch reported numerous irregularities, including stuffing of ballot boxes and intimidation of candidates.5 In a number of contests, voters did not have a choice, as only one candidate stood for election.6

There is no meaningful competition between political parties and thus no real opportunity for rotation of power; since 2003, the RPF has dominated all levels of government. While Rwandan law guarantees the free operation of political parties, attempts to launch new parties have been stifled through targeted persecution of their leaders. Virtually all political parties included in the current government joined an RPF coalition in 2003. The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) peer review, conducted in 2005 and published in September 2006, was very favorable toward Rwanda and praised its achievements in economic development and security, yet the report characterized political participation in the country as "rehearsed."7

Rwanda boasts one of the most effective bureaucracies and civil services in all of Africa. On a day-to-day basis, the government operates effectively in terms of administration and implementation of policies. In general, government officials are educated, well-trained, and hold the requisite skills to perform their duties.

The 2003 constitution established the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as independent entities designed to provide checks and balances. In practice, however, the legislative and judicial branches have little independence from the RPF political party and little ability to oversee the actions of the executive. While the parliament has the greatest proportion of women of any legislative body in the world, it is dominated by RPF representatives. Since the destruction of opposition political parties prior to the national elections in 2003, the parliament has operated largely as a rubber stamp to policy initiatives emerging from the ministries and the president's office. In addition, the judiciary has yet to establish itself as an independent arbiter (see Rule of Law).

Civil society organizations speak publicly and influence policy decisions when their views are in line with those of the government and the RPF. Between 2004 and 2007, government dominance of civil society organizations increased. The 2001 Law on Non-Profit Associations gave government authorities the power to control projects, budgets, and hiring of personnel and required all organizations to obtain a renewable certificate of registration from the Ministry of Local Government, Good Governance, Community Development and Social Affairs (MINALOC). This certificate is granted on the basis of the organization's mission statement and annual report. The registration process allows government authorities to monitor the activities of NGOs and control their publications.8 Between 2004 and 2007, numerous organizations encountered difficulties in registering or renewing their registration.

At the end of June 2004 a report by a parliamentary commission on genocidal ideology recommended the dissolution of several international and local NGOs that "preached genocidal ideology and ethnic hatred." The organizations mentioned on the list included the only local human rights organization willing to criticize the government publicly and document human rights abuses committed by government authorities. Almost all the local civil society organizations named in the report closed their doors between July 2004 and January 2005. In 2006, all international NGOs and local civil society organizations with ties to France, or which promoted the French language or culture, were either ejected from the country or forced to close following the diplomatic row over the indictment of several RPF leaders by a court in France overseen by the anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. The effect of these events was to quell any autonomous civil society in Rwanda, as the surviving civil society organizations are very careful to avoid criticizing the government, the RPF, the president, or their policies.

Since February 2004, when the government began easing restrictions on broadcast media, the radio airwaves have become more diverse, with several local and international radio stations broadcasting on the FM bands. By the end of 2005 at least nine commercial, community, and religious radio stations were operating in the country along with new provincial stations belonging to state-owned Radio Rwanda.9 In a crackdown related to the diplomatic conflict over the Bruguière indictments, the government stopped the FM transmission of Radio France International on November 27, 2006.10

Despite the relaxation of tensions with broadcast media, overall media independence and freedom of expression have declined. Basic legal guarantees of freedom of expression and the media were contained in the media law adopted in 2002. The law states that the press is free and that censorship is forbidden, yet in practice the media are still tightly controlled by the government. Articles of the same law impose criminal sanctions on the media for a wide range of offenses such as divisionism and genocide ideology, punishable by one to five years in prison. Accusations of these crimes are used to intimidate and silence journalists.

Several periods marked by courageous journalism criticizing the government, the RPF, and the president have been followed by crackdowns on the media. Since 2005, one of the few independent newspapers, the biweekly Umuco, and its personnel have been repeatedly harassed and threatened for their criticism of the government, and the publication has been censored. In September 2005 Rwandan authorities seized issues of Umuco at the Ugandan border as the paper was being brought from the printer and detained its editor for seven hours.11 In January 2006 and again in August, Umuco's editor was forced into hiding after articles critical of the ruling RPF party led to threats and a police summons.12 In a positive turn, an Umuco journalist was released from prison on July 28, 2006, after spending nearly 11 months in jail on a murder charge related to the 1994 genocide, a charge of which he had been acquitted several years earlier.13 The journalist had been arrested in 2005, just after he published an article in which he accused Gacaca officials in Gitarama province of mismanagement and witness tampering.14 Another independent newspaper, Umuseso, has been the target of similar harassment, intimidation, and censorship since it was founded in the early 2000s. Several of its journalists were forced to flee the country,15 and in August 2006 Rwanda's highest court upheld a ruling imposing a one-year suspended prison sentence and ordering Umuseso editor Charles Kabonero to pay the equivalent of US$2,000 in damages for defaming the deputy speaker of parliament in a 2004 article.16

Reporters Without Borders reported in August 2006 that Bosco Gasasira, the editor of the weekly Umuvugizi, had been receiving threatening phone calls and had been under surveillance by military intelligence for criticizing economy and finance minister James Musoni.17 In February 2007, Gasasira was attacked and injured by three men wielding crowbars. One of the attackers was arrested but has not yet been charged, although police said they had completed their investigation.18 The director of Umurabyo was jailed in January 2007 for publishing an anonymous letter that criticized the administration of President Kagame.19

Media activities have also been curtailed through public smear campaigns against specific journalists as well as the media in general. In January 2006, President Kagame and Joseph Bideri, director of the Rwandan Information Office (ORINFOR) publicly criticized the news media and singled out two journalists for exaggerating criticism of the Rwandan government by international human rights organizations and being biased against the government.20 As the largest advertiser in Rwanda, the government influences the media by only advertising in publications that support the RPF line.

The state does not hinder access to the Internet; however, the only Internet provider is the state-owned telecommunications company, RwandaTel. As a result, many Internet users assume that their online communications can be and are monitored by the government.


  • The electoral laws should be amended to ensure greater transparency in the electoral process (including registration of voters and candidates), the independence of the electoral commission, and freer campaigning. The government should hold elections for public office at all levels of the government by secret ballot. In order for such amendments to pave the way for free and fair elections in practice, however, the government must also open up space for independent political thought.
  • The government should not interfere with attempts to establish and operate new political parties.
  • The legislature, through amendments to the 2001 Law on Discrimination, should give a clear and restricted definition to the crimes of promoting "divisionism" or "genocide ideology" so that they are less apt to be used to punish critics of the regime.
  • The government should stop interfering with civil society and the media, and should encourage these groups to exercise their roles as independent monitors of government policy.
  • The government should thoroughly investigate all attacks against journalists and bring those responsible to justice.

Civil Liberties – 1.86

Protection from state terror, unjustified imprisonment, and torture: 1.14
Gender equity: 2.75
Rights of ethnic, religious, and other distinct groups: 2.00
Freedom of conscience and belief: 2.00
Freedom of association and assembly: 1.40

The majority of the Rwandan population has enjoyed relative security between 2004 and 2007. Nonetheless, repercussions of the 1994 genocide continue to be felt. The vast majority of survivors and families of those who were killed have yet to receive any reparations. Large numbers of survivors, especially women – many of whom were raped during the genocide and suffer from AIDS – live in extreme poverty. Many Rwandans continue to suffer the effects of trauma. The government has established a Fund for Assistance to Genocide Survivors that provides some support to defray the costs of education and health care. However, a law on reparations has never been finalized.

With the launching of Gacaca courts nationwide in 2005, many segments of society began to feel less secure. In some regions, genocide survivors have been threatened by people who did not want to be accused of genocide crimes, and Gacaca judges have been threatened or harassed. In December 2006, potential witnesses and Gacaca judges in Eastern province were killed.21 Many other Rwandans, particularly Hutu, have worried that the Gacaca jurisdictions might be used to settle other scores (see Rule of Law below).

Since initial presidential reprieves in 2003, the government has released tens of thousands of prisoners, many who had been detained for many years awaiting trial. Additional releases have followed as part of the government's efforts to implement justice via the Gacaca courts. This was a positive step toward reducing the prison population, improving prison conditions, and ending the imprisonment of thousands of people who had not yet stood trial. Authorities provisionally released nearly 20,000 detainees in July 2005 and another 36,000 in August 2006.22 Another wave of releases began in February 2007. Many of the released prisoners had confessed to participating in the 1994 genocide but had already served the maximum sentence for their category of crimes.23 Many others were old and in poor health or had been children at the time of the genocide. Released prisoners attended a six-week re-education camp before returning to their home communities. After returning home, many of the released prisoners were rearrested because the local Gacaca jurisdiction rejected their confessions as incomplete or untrue.24

The government and security forces continue to arrest, detain, or "disappear" critics of the government, the RPF, or the president. In March 2005, Alberta Basimongera, former dean of the Law School at the National University, was arrested because of a text he had edited in 1995 that was highly critical of the RPF.25 Jean-Népomuscène Nayinzira, a presidential candidate in the 2003 elections and a former minister, was detained by police in May 2005 and continually harassed after he firmly critiqued the regime's governance policies in an interview on the Voice of America.26 Physical coercion and torture are often used during interrogations or detentions of suspects. Police officers, prison guards, and soldiers who engage in torture are not held accountable.

Progress toward ending prolonged pretrial detention has been made with the release of prisoners charged with genocide. Yet in May 2006 Human Rights Watch reported that hundreds of children were being illegally held in an unofficial detention center in the capital city of Kigali in "deplorable conditions."27 According to authorities, the facility was intended as a "transit center" for "undesirable persons," such as street children, beggars, street vendors, and sex workers, who had been arrested in the city and were being sent back to their communes of origin.28 Shortly after the Human Rights Watch report was published, the center was closed and detainees were forced to leave in the middle of the night.29 Some detainees were returned to their districts of residence while others were left outside the city limits. In general, prison conditions in Rwanda remain poor, with a lack of food, sanitation, and adequate medical care. Other than limited assistance provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross and religious charities, prisoners must rely on family members to bring them food, drinking water, clothing, and other basic needs.

Since late 2006, the number of extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings by police has been on the rise. According to Amnesty International, at least three prisoners at the Mulindi military detention center were killed and more than 20 were seriously wounded when military police fired upon unarmed prisoners while responding to a protest by prisoners in the center.30 In Eastern province several detainees were shot while "trying to escape," according to authorities, but forensic evidence indicated that the detainees had been executed.31

With the massive backlog in the criminal justice system as a result of the 1994 genocide and efforts to prosecute its perpetrators, the police and judicial system have very limited resources to protect citizens from abuse by non-state actors. Crime is a growing problem in the country, with petty theft being the most common offense. In 2006 and 2007, reports of home invasions by well-armed bandits increased.32 In most cases, victims do not seek assistance from the police or state for fear that the thieves will return and kill them.

In 2001, the parliament passed a law that made divisionism and genocidal ideology crimes, yet the legislation did not clearly define these terms. Since then, the government has used accusations of divisionism to weed out dissent from government or RPF policy. Between 2004 and 2007, the government's campaign against divisionism and genocidal ideology spread beyond the parliament and opposition political parties to include attacks on civil society organizations, schools, and the media. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities compiled a list of hundreds of persons suspected of such ideas in 2005 and 2006.33 A priest was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in September 2006 for "minimizing the genocide" by suggesting that prosecutors had been wrong to call persons who participated in genocide "dogs."34 In February 2007, Prime Minister Bernard Makuza said that more than 600 cases against people menacing genocide survivors, people accused of divisionism, or "genocide revisionists" had been prosecuted under a program set up by the Supreme Court.35

More positively, the Rwandan government continues to be a leader on the African continent in promoting women's rights and ensuring gender equality in law and policy. The 2003 constitution set quotas guaranteeing women at least 30 percent of all positions in decision-making bodies. Women are well represented throughout the government, often holding more than the number of places set aside by quotas. At the end of 2006, 42.3 percent of representatives and senators in the National Parliament were women.36 However, with the reduction of public space in which civil society organizations operate, women's organizations that had been very effective in lobbying the government on women's issues in the past have avoided tackling issues that are not in line with the government's policy directives.

Despite the advances in promoting women's rights in the law and government, it has proven more difficult to overcome gender-based discrimination in practice. Many women face unwanted sexual advances from superiors in the workplace or from government administrators. In these cases, women do not know where or how to seek assistance.

Important gaps remain in legal protections, especially to prevent violence against women. Although the penal code defines rape as a crime, prosecutions are rarely pursued. The government has made a priority of trying individuals accused of sexually abusing or raping children but has lacked sufficient resources to address the problem adequately. Police and investigators have little or no training in effective investigation of sexual assault or rape, and there is no standard protocol for conducting such inquiries. Few genocide prosecutions have included charges of sexual violence, despite recognition of sexual violence as a tool of the genocide. The open, public forum of Gacaca trials and severe social repercussions for victims of sexual assault make it almost impossible for victims of rape in the genocide to confront their abusers in court. Trafficking of women and children is a crime, but due to lack of resources it is rarely investigated and never prosecuted.

Since 1994, the government has implemented a policy known as "national unity," whereby citizens should consider themselves first and foremost as Rwandan rather than as Hutu, Tutsi, or Batwa. Notations of ethnic identity were removed from the national identity cards early in the transition period, and it became illegal to discriminate on the basis of ethnic affiliation. While some observers question whether the government's true intent is to eliminate discrimination, the Rwandan government maintains that this is indeed its intention and that this is the best way to prevent another genocide. Discussions about ethnicity have become taboo and, since 2001, are illegal if they are perceived as divisionist.

Despite laws and policies that have made explicit discrimination against members of ethnic groups illegal, some Tutsi genocide survivors, Batwa, and members of the Hutu majority complain that they are victims of discrimination in many aspects of government and society. Addressing these complaints of ethnic-based discrimination can be extremely difficult, as advocacy on behalf of any of these groups is often interpreted as promoting division within society and is thus illegal.

Despite the government's mission to erase ethnic antagonism through the national unity policy, ethnicity has resurfaced in a dangerous fashion since the 2003 elections. Hutu citizens feel targeted by the implementation of Gacaca, and divisions among Tutsi, based on language and other differences, have become apparent as the RPF and President Kagame have reduced the circle of elites who wield power. Genocide survivors feel as if the government does not protect their interests. In addition, because Gacaca jurisdictions do not have the authority to address crimes perpetrated by the RPF or the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF, formerly known as the Rwandan Patriotic Army), many citizens feel as if Gacaca is one-sided, victors' justice.

The Batwa minority continues to face widespread poverty and discrimination. The government has acknowledged the impoverished status of the Batwa and has encouraged district governments to include Batwa and all poor citizens in housing and tuition assistance programs. In 2006, President Kagame appointed a member of the Batwa community to one of eight senate seats reserved for "representatives of historically marginalized communities."37 Despite these positive steps, the government has not sufficiently protected Batwa rights. For instance, the government has opposed peaceful organization among Batwa on the grounds that such organizing violates the principle of national unity framed in the constitution.38 Since June 2004, the Ministry of Justice has refused to grant legal status to the Community of Indigenous Peoples in Rwanda (CAURWA), which defends the rights of the Batwa minority, because the organization identified the Batwa as Abasagwabutuka, or the first inhabitants of the land.39 Following external pressure, the government agreed to engage in talks with CAURWA in 2006. CAURWA agreed to stop using the term Abasagwabutuka but refused to drop the term Batwa.40 This concession was not enough to satisfy the government, which threatened to stop any form of funding to the Batwa in April 2006 "if the community continues to consider itself a separate ethnic group."41 While the organization has not received a certificate of registration from the government, it has been allowed to continue operating.42

The government has made progressive efforts to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Under the 2003 constitution, one senate seat is designated for a representative of people with disabilities. This senator is appointed by an umbrella of organizations promoting the interests of or providing services to people with disabilities. Nonetheless, a lack of resources hampers the ability of people with disabilities to participate effectively in society or receive an education. Other marginalized groups, such as street children, sex workers, and the indigent, face social discrimination as well as government policies that infringe on their rights.

The 2003 constitution protects freedom of conscience and belief, and the government generally respected this right in practice between 2004 and 2007. Religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of Justice under the 2001 NGO law. In general, no group's activities were curtailed as a result of delays or difficulties in the registration process. However, the ministry continued the 2003 suspension of two local splinter organizations, the Eglise Methodiste Unie au Rwanda (the United Methodist Church of Rwanda) and the Communauté Methodiste Union Internationale (the International Union Methodist Community).43

The 2003 constitution recognizes freedom of association, but this right is restricted in practice. Rwandan law protects the right to form, join, and participate in trade unions; however, unions must follow the same onerous certification and registration process as other NGOs (see Accountability and Public Voice). Overall, trade unions are able to advocate for the interests of their members to a limited degree. In 2004, Imbaraga (Syndicate of Farmers and Ranchers of Rwanda) was named as one of the local NGOs promoting divisionism. While the union was not forced to stop all its activities, it faced a great deal of scrutiny from local, regional, and national governments.

Freedom of assembly is protected by law, but is not fully guaranteed in practice. Protests and demonstrations in line with RPF or government policies occur on a regular basis. To hold a demonstration, the sponsoring groups must apply for a permit. Between 2004 and 2007, demonstrations against government policies or critiquing the RPF have not taken place.


  • Swift and thorough investigations into cases involving threats to, attacks on, or killings of genocide survivors or witnesses should be conducted by local and national police authorities. Instances of extrajudicial executions or the use of disproportionate force by the National Police or Rwandan Defense Forces should be investigated by the relevant internal review boards or investigation units and perpetrators held to account before criminal courts or military tribunals, as detailed in Rwandan law.
  • The 2001 Law on Non-Profit Associations should be amended to reduce the administrative and bureaucratic hurdles for NGOs to become officially registered; the rules should be clear to avoid arbitrary abuses, and the government should not control project objectives or budgets.
  • Government actions to root out genocidal ideology and divisionism should incorporate due process and human rights standards. The government should not publicly accuse individuals or organizations of these offenses without thorough investigation of facts and without giving them a chance to defend themselves.
  • Historically marginalized groups, such as the Batwa, should be allowed to organize to advocate for their interests in accordance with the law.
  • Prosecutions of military and civilian personnel accused of revenge killings or war crimes should take place as part of the Gacaca process or in the standard criminal justice courts.

Rule of Law – 1.24

Independent judiciary: 1.20
Primacy of rule of law in civil and criminal matters: 0.50
Accountability of security forces and military to civilian authorities: 1.50
Protection of property rights: 1.33
Equal treatment under the law: 1.67

Thirteen years after the genocide, the Rwandan judiciary still faces nearly unparalleled challenges. Participation in the 1994 genocide occurred on an unprecedented scale, and the judiciary was decimated in its wake. In March 2005, the secretary general of the justice ministry stated that approximately 761,000 suspects had been identified in the investigation phase of Gacaca.44 The judiciary is still struggling to rebuild itself and deal with the massive undertaking of holding accountable those responsible for genocide.

In 2005, the judicial reform process launched in 2003 was completed and most genocide cases were directed to the Gacaca courts. The regular courts began operating again following the reorganization, although cases still proceed slowly as courts in many areas lack judges or other judiciary staff due to a lack of qualified personnel. As part of the judicial reforms, certain minimum criteria for judges, such as age and years in practice, were lowered to increase the numbers of candidates eligible to serve. Some judges appointed under these new criteria may not have adequate legal training to fulfill their duties. The majority of cases before the regular courts have been criminal trials and land disputes.

The 2003 constitution guarantees judicial independence, yet in practice the judiciary is subject to influence by the executive and by members of the political, military, and economic elite. One prominent case that demonstrated the lack of judicial independence in the regular courts was that of former president Pasteur Bizimungu and former public works minister Charles Ntakirutinka. In February 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences of Bizimungu and Ntakirutinka on counts of treason and embezzlement.45 Human Rights Watch noted many irregularities as well as weakness in the prosecution's case, most notably the many contradictions of the prosecution's star witness.46 The government has made some efforts to increase the professionalism of employees of the justice system. In November 2005, prosecutors from around the country met to review national search warrant and arrest procedures to ensure that the relevant authorities followed the procedures.47

The 2003 constitution guarantees the right to independent counsel, a right that was not previously assured. However, in the regular courts handling criminal cases or more serious genocide crimes, defendants do not always have access to defense as there are few qualified lawyers in the country, and few Rwandans have the means to hire a lawyer. The Gacaca law (Organic Law No. 16/2004 of 19 June 2004) prohibits defendants from being assisted by counsel.

It is common for civil and criminal disputes to be handled outside the formal judicial system. Local officials often intervene in rape cases to encourage the parties involved to resolve the matter amicably, in part to protect victims from the social stigma of rape. The 2003 constitution established mediation committees to help resolve certain disputes at the local level before the parties go to court. However, the mediators are unpaid, which has led to fears of corruption.

Regular and military tribunals have tried few cases of war crimes and revenge killings committed against Hutu, and most of these resulted in only nominal penalties. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has also been accused of one-sided justice as it has declined to investigate allegations of war crimes by the RPF. Each time the ICTR prosecutor has initiated investigations of RPF war crimes, the Rwandan government ceases its cooperation with the ICTR, which makes prosecuting genocide cases impossible. While some RPF officials have faced judicial proceedings in standard courts, notably for corruption, they generally enjoy impunity until they are no longer useful to the akazu.

Gacaca jurisdictions began systematic investigations into genocide crimes in January 2005 and began trials throughout the country in March 2005. The national government has done a great deal to raise the awareness about Gacaca and to promote it as the best solution for genocide survivors and the families of those accused of participating in the genocide. Prior to 2001 115,000 people accused of genocide crimes were in prison, kept in inhumane and degrading conditions with little prospect of facing trial due in the overburdened Courts of First Instance.48 The Gacaca presented a real prospect for achieving closure: it was predicted that they would finish hearing cases in a matter of years, rather than the decades it would have taken the ordinary court system to do the same. In theory, the Gacaca promote restorative justice by reintegrating convicts, making use of community service sentences, and recognizing the role of women as key players in the reconciliation process. Their introduction was initially welcomed by the citizenry, and moreover, in April 2005 President Paul Kagame stated publicly that any member of the government summoned before the Gacaca courts must testify.49

However, despite early support, the Gacaca jurisdictions failed to gain the trust of the populace, increasing popular fears of political instability and decreasing their sense of security. In March and April 2005, thousands of Rwandans fled into exile in Burundi and Uganda because they feared unfair treatment by the Gacaca courts.50 Following a mass repatriation in June 2005, thousands of Rwandans again crossed the border; these refugees numbered 19,000 in March 2006.51 In 2005, a joint commission between the Burundian government and the UNHCR began evaluating individual asylum requests by Rwandans. Between April 12, 2006, and June 13, 2006, the Burundian government had repatriated 5,206 Rwandans, according to a UNHCR representative.52

In the wake of the mass prisoner releases, Ibuka, an umbrella organization of genocide survivor groups, protested that the released prisoners were a "security threat" and that "their release will only serve to weaken the Gacaca courts as survivors will find these courts irrelevant."53 In some regions, there was evidence of efforts to sabotage Gacaca, and certain clandestine groups called Ceceka (Kinyarwanda for "be quiet") organized a code of silence in some communities.54 Killings of potential witnesses in genocide cases as well as of Gacaca judges in 2004 and 2006 threatened to undermine the ability of the courts to carry out trials in certain communities. According to Ibuka, 177 survivors and witnesses of the genocide were murdered between 2000 and 2007.55 As a consequence, witnesses prefer to keep silent and fewer and fewer citizens and judges participate in the process.56

Numerous actions by the courts made citizens doubt their impartiality. In 2006, the Gacaca courts jailed dozens of witnesses and defendants for refusing to speak completely or truthfully.57 In other instances, the Gacaca courts refused to reduce the sentences of those who had admitted guilt, a promise that had been made in order to encourage people to confess. One of the primary fears of the populace was that the courts would be used to settle personal scores or ends other than justice. In one case, a panel of judges jailed a journalist for 11 months on false charges after he published an article on corruption in Gacaca jurisdictions.58

The independence of the Gacaca jurisdictions was brought into question in a very public way when Rwandan authorities arrested Belgian Catholic priest and journalist Guy Theunis, a strong critic of the RPF, as he passed through Kigali in early September 2005.59 Witnesses before a Gacaca court accused him of publishing material that had incited people to participate in the 1994 genocide. In 1994, Theunis was editor of the French-language review Dialogue, which had translated and published excerpts from the extremist Kinyarwanda newspaper, Kangura, renowned for its anti-Tutsi rhetoric, which had inflamed anti-Tutsi hatred in the lead-up to the 1994 genocide. After considerable diplomatic pressure from Belgium, the Rwandan government agreed to transfer Theunis to Belgium, where the case would be tried.

The presumption of innocence is protected in the constitution but is essentially absent in many criminal cases, especially genocide cases. The government publishes a list of suspects accused of the most heinous genocide crimes. While the suspects have yet to be tried, many Rwandans view those named on the list as guilty. Appearance on the list can result in a loss of civil rights such as suffrage. There are also concerns about the broadcasting on radio of the names of some of those accused of divisionism.

Gacaca judges are elected by the local community; however, these elections were marred by the same problems as other local-level elections. In some jurisdictions, the judges were elected through a queuing system, rendering citizens' votes public instead of secret. In other jurisdictions, there were irregularities in the balloting. By the end of 2006, 45,000 Gacaca judges had been accused of genocide, further calling into question the impartiality of the Gacaca jurisdictions.60 Moreover, Gacaca courts sometimes operate outside the parameters of the law, as some judges lack basic understanding of legal principles. In particular, judges have been rejecting confessions or refusing to reduce sentences without the necessary judicial justifications.61 Gacaca judges have received very little training, and observers have found that what instruction they did receive has often been inconsistent from one training site to the next. Avocats Sans Frontieres highlights the challenges that Gacaca judges face in remaining impartial and objective in their duties, as they have little protection from reprisals from the local community.62 In December 2006, a Gacaca judge was killed in Eastern province.63

Senior military officials continue to play an important role in the government and akazu. Security forces have continued to improve their professionalism since 2004, and the RDF are acknowledged as being among the best-disciplined troops in Africa. In December 2005, the RDF hosted and participated in a regional training session on international humanitarian law sponsored by the International Committee for the Red Cross.64 Nonetheless, security forces continued to commit abuses, including arbitrary arrest and possible extrajudicial executions. In January 2007, Human Rights Watch reported on the killings of individuals in custody.65 All criminal cases involving RDF or the police are referred to military tribunals for hearings, and these tribunals do not have any oversight by the judicial or legislative branches and limited oversight by the executive branch. Since national elections in 2003, the RDF no longer has deputies in the parliament, but it continues to hold great influence within the executive branch of government.

The 2003 constitution guarantees the right to own private property individually or collectively. In a country where approximately 90 percent of the population subsists from agriculture, land is the most important form of private property. Land was one of the root causes of the genocide, and land access remains a volatile issue, as Rwanda is a densely populated country. In 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees fled to neighboring countries in the wake of ethnic violence, abandoning their land to those who remained. In the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide, a huge number of Hutu refugees fled the country just as the 1959 refugees returned to Rwanda. Many of the 1959 returnees occupied houses and land that had been left vacant by those who fled more recently. In an effort to find a solution for the 1959 refugees, who were not supposed to claim the homes or land they had left decades ago, and for genocide survivors whose homes had been destroyed, the government and donors built resettlement villages. With forced repatriation in 1996 and 1997 of more than 1 million mostly Hutu refugees, tensions over land and real estate property again flared. The government applied a national policy of village-ization, which required all Rwandans to move to the villages, instead of to traditional, dispersed habitats. From 1998 to 2000, village-ization was carried out on a large scale, sometimes by force or coercion. Village-ization was a key element of the counterinsurgency campaigns in the Northwest. Many farmers lost their land in the process or had their houses destroyed, and many families were obligated to share their land with 1959 refugees.66 The land law of 2005 reiterated the village-ization policy after several years of government silence on the issue. These events have laid the foundation for extensive land disputes.

Given the growing land crisis, the government embarked on the development of a national land policy in 2000. Population growth, inheritance customs, and land scarcity have resulted in tiny dispersed plots where many families survive on less than one hectare. Given the mountainous terrain of the country and variations in soil types, intercropping and dispersed plots served as the best way for families to ensure enough food to survive. Yet an underlying assumption of the land policy process was that such use of land was irrational. Thus, the land policy attempted to "modernize agriculture" and encourage "rational" use of the land. On this basis senior government and military officials and important businessmen assumed control of large plots of land to use as commercial farms, particularly marsh land, which had historically been provided to farming cooperatives or poor families by local government officials. Families who were displaced from the land rarely had access to due process or compensation for their loss.

In September 2005 the government published a law on land tenure. In accordance with the 2003 constitution, the land law guaranteed Rwandans (and foreign investors) the right to own land.67 The final version of the land bill states that women have equal rights with men to inherit or own land. Despite these legal guarantees, the law also granted the government far-reaching powers over land use.68 The law states that farmers who fail to follow the national plan for land use may see their land "requisitioned," with no compensation.69 While a detailed implementation plan is still being developed, officials in some regions have begun to give directives to the population. For instance, in 2006 officials in two districts in Southern province ordered residents to cut down their banana plantations, a primary food crop, and replace them with ornamental trees or "more productive" cash crops.70 Following public protest in one district, officials said that residents would not be forced but only "persuaded" to comply.71

In efforts to modernize the capital city, Kigali, many people living in non-cadastral properties have had their property confiscated to make way for new, "modern" buildings under a new urban planning program known as PIGU (Urban Management and Infrastructure Project).72 Many of the relocated people said that they were not compensated by the government as required by Rwandan law, or that compensation was insufficient to build a house elsewhere.73

Litigants seeking to enforce contracts face an extremely slow judicial process that discourages them from seeking government intervention.


  • The Gacaca law should be amended to allow defendants and civilians to protect their rights through access to independent counsel.
  • The Gacaca law should be amended to include jurisdiction over abuses perpetrated by the Rwandan Defense Forces (formerly known as the Rwandan Patriotic Army), as well as reprisal attacks committed by civilians against those suspected of genocide.
  • The land law should be amended to protect private citizens' property rights by guaranteeing them compensation for the value of land requisitioned by the government as well as any improvements thereupon.
  • The central government, particularly the ministries of agriculture and local governance, should clarify government policies vis-à-vis land use and decisions about appropriate crops for farmland.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.48

Environment to protect against corruption: 2.80
Existence of laws and ethical standards between private and public sectors: 2.75
Enforcement of anticorruption laws: 2.50
Governmental transparency: 1.86

The Rwandan government and bureaucratic infrastructure are widely recognized for their professionalism. As a result, Rwanda enjoys the reputation of having less corruption as compared to other African countries. Between 2004 and 2007, the government has continued reforms aimed at reducing corruption even further. Tough measures aimed at curbing public-sector corruption, such as asset disclosure and codes of conduct for public servants, were instituted in 2004, and beginning in 2005 certain prominent government officials were accused of corruption in both the media and the courts. In recognition of the government's success in controlling corruption, significant amounts of the country's national debt have been canceled.74

In general, the government is free from excessive bureaucratic controls and registration requirements. Nonetheless, private citizens face situations where they are required to "thank" local officials or bureaucrats with small monetary payments for handling their paperwork quickly.

Several institutions are involved in combating corruption. In 2004, the Ombudsman's Office was established to monitor transparency and compliance with regulation in all public sectors, among other duties. According to U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, the Ombudsman's Office has embraced its mission, declaring that those who do not comply will face prosecution.75

The Office of the Auditor-General regulates financial management and adherence of public entities to financial accountability and transparency standards. The auditor-general is required to submit annual audit reports and findings to parliament. The 2003 constitution mandates that the budget process be transparent and that the parliament oversee the process. However, parliament has yet to assert this power in practice.

The National Tender Board regulates public procurement and tender processes in a centralized system for large contracts. The Rwanda Utility Regulation Agency, the Auditor-General's Office, the Anticorruption Division in the Revenue Authority, and the National Bureau of Standards are all in place to enforce regulations as well. On numerous occasions the president has spoken out against corruption and declared that all public servants must make open declarations about possible conflicts of interest. In this vein, the government has decreed July 11 of each year as Public Accountability Day, when government officials will open up their offices to voters. Despite this rhetoric, it is yet to be determined whether this openness will result in genuine and rigorous financial accountability.

In state-sponsored educational institutions, the government has protected higher education from pervasive corruption. Students are not required to pay bribes for admission or for good grades. Given the lack of oversight of private universities, technical colleges, and secondary schools, however, it is unclear to what degree these institutions may be educationally deficient or corrupt.

Enforcement of anticorruption laws tends to occur in cycles. In 2004, a number of high government officials, including the attorney general and a former minister, as well as more than 100 police officers, 47 district mayors, and 5 governors, resigned or were removed from office over allegations of corruption. Yet none of these high officials faced charges in court. In late 2006 and early 2007, another cycle of anticorruption enforcement began. In 2006, the National Tender Board halted a tender for a study of the social and economic integration of youth in the country by the Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sports. The youth and culture minister said that he requested the criminal investigations department to intervene and investigate irregularities in the tender process, including the possibility of bribes paid to tender committee members.76 In February 2007, former public service and labor ministry secretary general Charlotte Mukankusi was arrested in connection with abuse of public office after she allegedly awarded illegal tenders to RUMA, a local consultancy and auditing firm, in exchange for kickbacks.77 The criminal investigations department also investigated the link between RUMA and the Ministry of Public Service, Skills Development and Labor (MIFOTRA). It was alleged that the ministry awarded numerous tenders to RUMA without following the normal tendering procedures.78 It remains to be seen whether these officials will answer the allegations in court. In several other instances in 2006, the National Tender Board reminded various ministries of the need to follow tendering procedures for large contracts. In cases where upper level government officials, such as ministers, deputy ministers, and secretaries of state, have been accused of corruption, the national news media have covered the stories in depth. However, the perception remains that many government officials have engaged in corruption but are protected as long as they remain in good stead with the akazu. There are no whistleblower laws or other means to make citizens feel secure when reporting cases of corruption.

The positive NEPAD peer review outlined several areas in which the government needs to make changes in order to adhere to the Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary and Financial Affairs.79 The review lauded the government's achievements in sound public finance management, yet it also noted the lack of capacity in the parliament in performing its oversight functions in all areas of economic policy making and implementation.80

Government policies are lacking in transparency and accessibility to the general public. No law guarantees public access to government information. Since the release of the 2004 report of the Office of the Auditor-General, the office's annual reports have not been widely publicized and are not readily available to the general public. The government primarily imparts information to the public through national radio broadcasts, national television broadcasts, the state-owned newspaper, Imvaho-Nshya, and "sensitization" meetings organized by local officials. These meetings are sometimes billed as soliciting popular feedback, but most Rwandans view them as forums for the government to provide information without allowing the people to express differing points of view or provide input. In this way, the government is able to control the timing and content of public access to information.

Overall, the government is praised for its fair and legal administration and distribution of foreign assistance.


  • Each year, the Office of the Auditor-General should publish and publicize the findings of its annual report to the parliament.
  • The Office of the Auditor-General should be granted the necessary resources and powers in order to thoroughly investigate allegations of corruption. When the Auditor-General uncovers evidence of corruption, he should turn all findings over to the police to conduct a criminal investigation. The judiciary should pursue vigorous prosecution of corruption charges against all government officials.
  • The capacity and resources of the parliament should be reinforced so that it is prepared to assume its duties as overseer of all areas of economic policymaking and implementation.
  • The parliament should pass legislation guaranteeing public access to government information.


Jennie E. Burnet is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville.


1 See for example, Filip Reyntjens, Post-1994 Politics in Rwanda: Problematising 'Liberation' and 'Democratisation'," Third World Quarterly 27, no. 6 (2006).

2 Filip Reyntjens, "Chronique Politique Du Rwanda Et Du Burundi, 2003-2005," L'Afriques des Grands Lacs, Annuaire 2004-2005 (2005): 13.

3 "Rwanda: Local Government Polls Begin," IRIN, 6 February 2006,…., accessed 7 February 2007.

4 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (New York: Human Rights Watch [HRW], 2007),, accessed 7 February 2007.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 "Country Review Report of the Republic of Rwanda," (Midrand, South Africa: The New Partnership for Africa's Development [NEPAD], 2006), 135.

8 "Rwanda" (London: Amnesty International [AI], 2006),, accessed 7 February 2007.

9 "Rwanda Country Report," in Attacks on the Press in 2005 (New York: Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], 2006).

10 "Radio France Internationale Censored" (CPJ, 2006),, accessed 19 December 2006.

11 "Police Confiscate Opposition Fortnightly, Hold Editor for 7 Hours" (Paris: Reporters Without Borders [RSF], 2005); available from, accessed 19 December 2006.

12 "Rwanda: Newspaper Editor Goes into Hiding" (CPJ, 2006),, accessed 19 December 2006.

13 "Rwandan Journalist Freed after 11 Months in Jail" (CPJ, 2006),, accessed 19 December 2006.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 "High Court Upholds One-Year Suspended Sentence and Heavy Fine for Editor Who Published Political Analysis" (RSF, 2006),, accessed 19December 2006.

17 "Umuvugizi Editor Latest Target in Harassment of Independent Press" (RSF, 2006),, 19 December 2006.

18 Eleneus Akanga, "Rwanda: Uncertainty as Journalists' Beatings Mount," The New Times (Kigali), 17 February 2007.

19 "In Rwanda, Newspaper Director Jailed for Publishing Critical Letter" (CPJ, 16 January 2007),, accessed 21 February 2007.

20 "President Kicks Off Verbal Onslaught on Journalists by Government Officials" (RSF, January 31, 2006),, accessed 19 December 2006.

21 "Killings in Eastern Rwanda," (HRW, Backgrounder, no. 12007, January 2007).

22 "Rwanda: Release of Thousands of Prisoners Begins," IRIN, 1 August 2005,…., accessed 9 February 2007.

23 Ibid.

24 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW).

25 Reyntjens, "Chronique Politique," 4-5.

26 Ibid., 5.

27 "Swept Away: Street Children Illegally Detained in Kigali, Rwanda," (HRW, Backgrounder, no. 22006, May 2006, 9.

28 Ibid.

29 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW) .

30 "Rwanda: Reports of Extrajudicial Executions in Mulindi Military Detention Centre Must Be Independently Investigated" (AI, 16 March 2006),, accessed 18 December 2006.

31 "Killings in Eastern Rwanda" (HRW).

32 Telephone interviews with family members of victims and personal communications from victims, December 2006, March 2007, and May 2007.

33 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW).

34 Ibid.

35 Felly Kimenyi, "Rwanda: Makuza Tasked over 2003 Kaduha Killings," The New Times, 7 February 2007.

36 Compiled from, accessed 2 November 2006.

37 "Rwanda: Funds for Batwa under Threat over Name Change," IRIN, 3 April 2006,, accessed 15 February 2007.

38 "Submission of the Forest Peoples Programme Concerning the Republic of Rwanda and Its Compliance with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (Netherlands: Forest Peoples Programme, 5 October 2006),…, accessed 15 February 2007.

39 "Rwanda: Funds for Batwa under Threat over Name Change," IRIN.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Telephone interview by author with human rights observer, 15 February 2007.

43 "Rwanda," in International Religious Freedom Report 2006 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2006).

44 Reyntjens, "Chronique Politique," 13.

45 Felly Kimenyi, "Supreme Court Upholds 15-Year Sentence for Bizimungu" The New Times February 22, 2006 (Kigali: Rwanda Development Gateway, 2006),, accessed 7 February 2007.

46 "Historic Ruling Expected for Former President and Seven Others" (HRW, Backgrounder no. 12006, January 2006..

47 "Rwanda: Prosecutors Meet on Search Warrant, Arrest Procedures," IRIN, 7 November 2005,…, accessed 7 February 2007.

48 Amnesty International (AI) "Gacaca: A Question of Justice" 17 December 2002,

49 "Rwanda: Year in Brief 2005 – a Chronology of Key Events," IRIN, 13 January 2006,…, accessed 9 February 2007.

50 Rwandans' Asylum Claims Must Be Heard (HRW, 2005),, accessed 18 December 2006.

51 "Burundi-Rwanda: Bujumbura Hands over 571 Rwandans," IRIN, May 11, 2006,, accessed 7 February 2007.

52 "Burundi-Rwanda: Thousands More Asylum Seekers Repatriated," IRIN, 13 June 2006,…, accessed 7 February 2007.

53 "Rwanda: Release of Suspects in the 1994 Genocide Angers Survivors," IRIN, 9 August 2005,…, accessed 7 February 2007.

54 Reyntjens, "Chronique Politique," 13.

55 "Rwanda/Genocide – 177 Survivors and Witnesses of the Genocide Murdered since 2000, Ibuka Reports," Hirondelle News Agency, 31 January 2007.

56 Ibid.

57 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW).

58 Ibid.

59 "Rwanda Country Report" (CPJ).

60 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW).

61 "Monitoring of the Gacaca Courts, Judgement Phase" (Brussels: Avocats Sans Frontieres, 2005).

62 Ibid.

63 "Killings in Eastern Rwanda" (HRW).

64 "Great Lakes: Junior Army Officers Learn Humanitarian Law," IRIN, 7 December 2005,…, Great_Lakes&SelectCountry=GREAT LAKES, accessed 7 February 2007.

65 "Killings in Eastern Rwanda" (HRW).

66 "Uprooting the Rural Poor in Rwanda" (HRW, 2001).

67 "Rwanda – Human Rights Overview" (HRW).

68 Ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 "Rwanda – Events of 2006" (HRW).

71 Ibid.

72 "Rwanda: Counting the Cost of Modernisation," IRIN, 13 September 2006,…, accessed 7 February 2007.

73 Ibid.

74 "Rwanda: Year in Brief 2005 – a Chronology of Key Events," IRIN.

75 "Corruption in Rwanda" (Norway: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, May 2005),, accessed 20 February 2007.

76 Ignatius Ssuuna and Godwin Agaba, "Rwanda: Youth Ministry Officials Quizzed over 60m Tender," The New Times, 9 February 2007.

77 Ignatius Ssuuna, "Rwanda: Former Mifotra Sg Arrested," The New Times, 12 February 2007.

78 Robert Mukombozi and Ignatius Ssuuna, "Rwanda: New Twist in Mifotra Saga as Probe Widens," The New Times, 17 February 2007.

79 "Country Review Report of the Republic of Rwanda" (NEPAD), 60-61.

80 Ibid., 73.

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