CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 23.04.2019 at 10:06

Rwanda Overview

While the rules governing civic space in Rwanda are relatively progressive, in practice civil society organisations and human rights defenders must operate within seriously confined boundaries if they are to avoid harassment or censure.

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Tensions escalate as Rwanda Temporarily Shuts Border with Uganda

Tensions escalate as Rwanda Temporarily Shuts Border with Uganda

Association

Rwanda has deployed its armed forces along the border with Uganda, further straining the already tense diplomatic relations between the two countries. Initially, the official reason given was that Rwanda was upgrading its one stop border post at Katuna border and advised drivers to use Chanika border post as an alternative, but the latter was blocked as well. Ugandan truck drivers have been warned by Rwandan officials to lock themselves in their trucks while in Rwanda for security reasons.

Rwandans have also been advised to desist travel to Uganda following safety concerns raised by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. According to reports, there have been over 40 cases of harassment and imprisonment of Rwandan nationals in Uganda with no consular access since January 2018. During this period, over 800 Rwandans have also been denied entry while others have allegedly been deported from Uganda. Rogers Donne Kayibanda, a 43-year old Rwandan, is the latest victim of alleged illegal detention and repeated harassment of Rwandans who travel to or through Uganda.

Peaceful Assembly

A year later, Rwanda is on the spot after the killing of Congolese refugees who protested cuts on subsistence allowance they had been receiving from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ office (UNHCR), demanding to be repatriated to DRC or relocated to a new country. While no official investigation has been published into the killing of protesters, a report by Amnesty International outlines how at least 63 refugees are facing charges in connection with the protests, ranging from ‘participating in and organising illegal demonstrations’ to ‘spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan government’. They are also charged with ‘violence against public authorities,' while the officers responsible for the killings which left at least 11 refugees dead remain free.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes said:

"Instead of accusing refugees of tarnishing the image of Rwanda, the authorities should investigate how 11 refugees ended up dead during a protest manned by police officers". 

Association in Rwanda

The independence of civil society organisations in Rwanda is seriously compromised in practice – those that cooperate with the government can operate relatively freely, while those that do not face interference, harassment or closure.

The independence of civil society organisations in Rwanda is seriously compromised in practice – those that cooperate with the government can operate relatively freely, while those that do not face interference, harassment or closure. In 2016, there are few active human rights organisations in Rwanda and some of those that do exist have either been undermined by state intelligence infiltration or weakened by internal divisions. In October 2015, seven steering committee members of the remaining rights organisations, the Great Lakes Human Rights League (LDGL), were arrested and briefly detained. The LDGL’s acting Executive Secretary Epimack Kwokwo was arrested in 2015 and was continually harassed, including through threatening phone calls, because of his work to protect human rights defenders in Rwanda. Kwokwo was expelled from the country in May 2016. Civil society representatives surveyed in 2011 were generally positive about their experiences of registering an organisation, although some have criticised the requirement to reregister on an annual basis. Relatively enabling NGO laws passed in 2008 and 2012 are undermined by the imposition of excessively bureaucratic requirements for registration and limits on overhead spending by INGOs. Rwandan law does not impose any barriers on foreign funding of local CSOs.

Peaceful Assembly in Rwanda

While the Constitution protects the right to assemble in public, the law regulating this right requires that organisers give the authorities a month’s notice of their intention to gather.

While the Constitution protects the right to assemble in public, the law regulating this right requires that organisers give the authorities a month’s notice of their intention to gather. Spontaneous demonstrations are not provided for the in law. In practice, individuals often refrain from taking to the streets to demonstrate out of a fear of being arrested. As a result protests in Rwanda are rare, although demonstrations related to the Rwandan government’s actions are frequently organised by diaspora communities living in other countries in Africa and Europe. When protestors in Rwanda fall foul of the rules governing public assemblies, they are liable to be punished with a large fine or up to three years in jail.

Expression in Rwanda

There are substantial limitations on the right to free expression in Rwanda. Criticism of the government carries risks, and many journalists self-censor their reporting.

There are substantial limitations on the right to free expression in Rwanda. Criticism of the government carries risks, and many journalists self-censor their reporting. Journalists and media houses violating these unwritten rules are regularly targeted. In January 2016, investigative reporter John William Ntwali was arrested on trumped up charges and detained for 13 days. In 2014, his news website Ireme was hacked during a two-week period of attack on the media. In February 2016, the offices of The East African were raided by police who arrested one journalist and confiscated two computers. Foreign media also face restrictions in Rwanda. In October 2014, the authorities suspended BBC radio broadcasts within the country, a decision which was made indefinite at the end of May 2015. Fred Muvunyi, the head the Rwanda Media Commission fled the country saying he feared for his own safety after the commission argued with government over the BBC suspension. The ten year sentence imposed on singer Kizito Mihigo in 2015 highlighted that the private communications of people in Rwanda can be easily intercepted and read by the state. Mihigo was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and the content of WhatsApp and Skype messages sent to opposition critics in exile were used as key evidence. Despite attempts by the government to expand Internet access in Rwanda, penetration remained at just 11% in 2014, and the government blocked certain sites on the grounds that their content violated strict media laws or prohibitions on ‘genocide denial’.