Rwanda: a lawless and/or unlawful country?

Who holds the power and for who?  

By Arnold Gakuba

The US Department of State, on 30th March 2021, released the 2020 Country report on Human Rights Practices in Rwanda. This report raises so many questions from various people (Rwandans or not Rwandans) of which Rwanda is a lawless of unlawful country? This article is a commented summary of the above report to give the insights of how Paul Kagame regime was against human rights in 2020. 

Rwanda is “so called” a constitutional republic country with a “so-called” multi-party system. The ruling party, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seems to lead the coalition of political parties which parties –in reality- are absorbed in it. The question is: does the constitution serve the public or the government? The Rwanda 2020 Human Rights report gives the clarifications on this issue under six sections: respect for the integrity of the person, respect for civil liberties, freedom to participate in the political process, corruption and lack of transparency in government, governmental attitude regarding international and non-governmental investigation of alleged abuses of human rights and discrimination, societal abuses and trafficking in persons. 

In 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. This election took place after amending the article 101 of the Rwandan constitution by the ruling party (RPF) and his leader Paul Kagame simply aiming at maintaining him on power.  In the following year 2018, the elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies also took place and candidates from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) were almost a hundred percent elected -if not nominated-. In both the 2017 and 2018 elections, the international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.  In September 2019, 12 new senators were elected -if not nominated- to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Remember that in a constitutional republic country, the chief executive and representatives are democratically elected by the people, and the rules and the head of state and other representatives are elected but they do not have uncontrolled power. Is it the case in Rwanda? 

The Rwanda National Police, under the Ministry of Justice and the Rwanda Defense Force, under the Ministry of Defense are supposed to be responsible for internal and external security in conjunction with the central and local government. However, members of the security forces supported by the government committed law abuses during the year 2020 and even before. First of all, significant human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government as illustrated below.

List of government arbitrary and unlawful killings in 2020

1Kizito MihigoGospel Singer17 February Found dead in police custody 
2Anselme MutuyimanaMember of FDU-InkingiMarchPolice investigation had not progressed 
3Several individuals in NyanzaCiviliansMarchResistants to lockdown regulations 
4Two Burundian in Ngoma DistrictRefugees July Suspect of trafficking illegal drugs
5Two individuals in GasaboCivilians August Suspects 
6One individual in GasaboCivilian August Suspect of theft 

Source: US Department of State (2021). 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda. 

 The report also revealed that there were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The data on this issue is summarized in the table below.

List of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities in 2020

1Venant Abayisengamember of DALFA-UmurinziJuneRIB has not disclosed the results of investigation up-to-date
2Eugene Ndereyimana member of FDU-Inkingi2019government failed to complete investigations or take measures to ensure accountability
3Boniface Twagirimanamember of FDU-Inkingi2018government failed to complete investigations or take measures to ensure accountability

Source: US Department of State (2021). 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda. 

As it is shown in the table 2 above, there were reports the Rwanda Defense Force’s (RDF) military intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture. Some advocates reported that RDF intelligence personnel took suspected political opponents to unofficial detention centers where they were subject to beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment with the purpose of extracting intelligence information. Domestic organizations cited a lack of independence and capacity for government officials to investigate security sector abuses effectively, including reported enforced disappearances.

The same report stipulates that the constitution and law prohibittorture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. But, there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services officials. The physical conditions in prisons were reported of overcrowding and food shortages were common while the prison population rose from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to approximately 66,000 during the year, which greatly exacerbated overcrowding.

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but state security forces regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. Human rights NGOs previously reported that individuals suspected of having ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwanda National Congress, or other insurgent groups were detained unlawfully and held incommunicado for long periods in harsh and inhuman conditions. The table 3 below gives the picture. 

List of arbitrary arrests and detentions in 2020

1Paul RusesabaginaHero of the film Hotel RwandaAugust 31Under illegal detention 
211 FDU-Inkingi leadersPolitical opponents 2017seven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from two to 12 years
3Several street children, vendors, suspected petty criminals, and beggarsCiviliansNoneMany of them are still in detention centers

Source: US Department of State (2021). 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda. 

The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. State security forces held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed non-judicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitution.

In the area of “Freedom of Expression”, the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted this right. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical of the government on sensitive topics. The RIB and RNP reported opening 55 new investigations related to genocide ideology statutes as of May, although none had resulted in arrests as of September 27. Most independent newspapers opted not to publish print editions and released their stories online instead. There were 35 radio stations (six government-owned community radio stations and 29 independent radio stations) and more than 13 television stations, according to the RMC. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government. 

The media professionals reported the government continued to use threats of arrests and physical violence to silence media outlets and journalists. Journalist Jean Bosco Kabakura remained outside the country after fleeing in 2018 because of threats related to his publication of an article examining the roles of police, military, and civilian authorities in the shooting of refugees from the Kiziba refugee camp earlier in 2018. Several other journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country. Failure to investigate or prosecute threats against journalists resulted in self-censorship. The significant human rights issues were also observed with the politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; and restrictions on political participation. 

To sum up, Rwanda is documented to be a constitutional republic country where the power is held by the people for the people.  However, based on the data from 2020 Country report on Human Rights Practices in Rwanda published by US Department of State, Rwanda is an unlawful country with several registered and unregistered human rights violations. As the Turkish proverb says: “When violation comes into the house, law and justice leave through the chimney.” In fact, Rwanda is a country where the power is held by Paul Kagame (RPF) for Paul Kagame (RPF).