Friday 12.5.2017 in Latest Developments in Rwanda Country Page
The forced removal of people from their land is currently a pressing human rights issue in Rwanda - one which has also led to a curtailment of free speech. The removals have typically taken place when disputes over ownership of property have arisen. In addition, the government plans to create "model villages" - in an attempt to modernise localities and resolve land disputes - however, many have complained of insufficient compensation for losing their land. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch has documented cases of individuals and groups being threatened and intimidated by the authorities for mobilising and speaking out against the forced removals. Access to land is a sensitive issue in Rwanda, which is one of Africa's most densely populated countries. A resident of one locality described to Human Rights Watch how the authorities had taken sides in their land dispute:
"Our opponents come to our farm land and destroy our crops. When we ask questions about this to the authorities, they don’t respond. These other people [who also claim the land] have more power than us. They are supported by the government and can take our crops. We are afraid that, even today, we can be arrested. They accuse us of being members of political parties that are outside of the government."
Rwanda ranks 159th of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index, indicating that while the country’s economy remains relatively stable, free expression vital for the growth of democracy remains stifled and impeded by official censorship and journalists' self-censorship.
On 6th March 2017, John Ndabarasa, a journalist who disappeared in August 2016, reappeared in Kigali. He claims to have fled the country and returned voluntarily. However, the details of his disappearance remain unclear. Human Rights Watch has documented cases in Rwanda in which former detainees were forced to make false claims after being in detention or face retribution.
The arrests and illegal detentions of members of the Rwandan Muslim community suspected of terrorism continued in recent months. On 15th March 2017, 44 Muslims, including minors, were accused of connections to or involvement in terrorist groups. Their trial was delayed several times and finally set for 2nd May 2017 in a closed-door hearing. The individuals have been held in detention in a secret location for more than a year.