CIVICUS

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Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 04.11.2019 at 06:40

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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South Africa issues warrants for two Rwandans in 2014 murder of ex spy chief

South Africa issues warrants for two Rwandans in 2014 murder of ex spy chief

Australia's national broadcaster reported that a network of alleged Rwandan spies has been working to suppress dissident refugees in the country, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murdering Rwandan critic Colonel Patrick Karegeya, who was found dead in his hotel room in Johannesburg in 2014, Syridio Dusabumuremyi, an official of the FDU-Inkingi party had been stabbed and murdered in an attack by two men at a shop where he worked, Rwanda voted in favour of extending the mandate of the United Nations LGBT rights watchdog for another three years at the U.N. Human Rights Council, Supreme Court in Rwanda rejected a challenge to the law created in 2018 which maintains that it is a crime to insult the president, Burundian musician Jean Pierre Nimbona, popularly known as Kidum, was banned from playing at the Kigali Jazz Fusion festival.

Association

Australia's national broadcaster reported that a network of alleged Rwandan spies has been working to suppress dissident refugees in the country. According to the report, expat and refugee Rwandans say silencing critics and suppressing support for opposition parties in exile are among the top priorities of the Rwandan Government. The spies arrive in the country as students as it is easier to obtain visas, while others are recruited after arriving in the country as genuine refugees having been threatened, blackmailed or coerced to become part of the intelligence network. The report also reveals that the Rwandan government has a broad network of spies in Europe tasked with tracking down opponents of the Rwandan regime. Enforced disappearances of government opponents remains common in Rwanda, often without investigation or accountability.

In other developments, in September 2019, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murdering Rwandan critic Colonel Patrick Karegeya, who was found dead in his hotel room in Johannesburg in 2014. From 1994 to 2004, Karegeya was the head of Rwanda’s external intelligence services, but he fell out with the government and was imprisoned twice before fleeing to South Africa in 2007 where he founded the exiled opposition party the Rwanda National Congress (RNC). Rwandan President Paul Kagame has long denied any involvement in the murder.

On 24th September 2019, it was reported that Syridio Dusabumuremyi, an official of the FDU-Inkingi partyhad been stabbed and murdered in an attack by two men at a shop where he worked. The murder raised concern over a string of unresolved murders of the party’s members.

Victoire Ingabire, leader of the unregistered but vocal FDU-Inkingi party, said:

"Our party deplores the assassination of its national coordinator, Mr Dusabumuremyi. He was savagely stabbed by two individuals this Monday shortly after 9 pm… After several unsolved assassinations of our party members, we have no hope that his murder will be fully investigated and solved”.

On a positive note, in July 2019 Rwanda voted in favour of extending the mandate of the United Nations LGBT rights watchdog for another three years at the U.N. Human Rights Council, one of only three African states to do so. The U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016 passed a resolution that created the LGBTI rights watchdog position.

Expression

In April 2019, the Supreme Court in Rwanda rejected a challenge to the law created in 2018 which maintains that it is a crime to insult the president. This means that anyone who insults President Kagame will face between five and seven years in prison. It has been argued that this law is unconstitutional as it undermines freedom of expression. However, the court ruled that the law will remain due to the responsibility that the office holds.

In September 2019, Burundian musician Jean Pierre Nimbona, popularly known as Kidum, was banned from playing at the upcoming Kigali Jazz Fusion festival. Although the Mayor of the city said that he had been banned for failing to seek permission to perform at this particular event, Kidum indicated that he was unsure about the reasons for the cancellation because three of his shows in Rwanda had been cancelled at the last minute since December 2018. Kidum is one of Burundi's biggest music stars and has performed in Rwanda for the past sixteen years. Kidum, who is now a freelance musician based in Nairobi, was a leading peace activist during Burundi's civil war between 1993 and 2003 and used his songs to call for reconciliation. 

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’.