Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Rwanda

While economic progress and development continued, freedom of expression was further restricted. Journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition faced a repressive environment. Rwanda’s human rights record was examined under the UPR mechanism in November.


Political debate was dominated by discussion of planned amendments to presidential term limits in the Constitution. More than 3.7 million people petitioned Parliament to lift the two-term presidential term limit to allow President Kagame to stand for a third term in 2017, although there were reports of pressure to sign the petition. On 8 October, the Supreme Court rejected a petition brought by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda challenging the legality of amending the Constitution. The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate voted in favour of reducing the presidential term from a seven to five-year term renewable once, as well as a provision that would allow the President in place at the time of the amendment to stand for an additional seven-year term. The revised Constitution was adopted in a referendum on 18 December, and Paul Kagame confirmed that he would seek re-election in 2017.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders worked in an increasingly challenging environment, facing intimidation and administrative interference.

In January, two former police officers were sentenced by Rubavu High Court to 20 years in prison for the murder of Gustave Makonene, Transparency International’s Rubavu co-ordinator, who was killed in 2013.

The Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), an NGO, continued to face difficulties. LIPRODHOR members were electing a new executive committee on 5 September when police arrived and interrupted the meeting. On 21 November, a different new executive committee was elected.

On 12 October, the executive secretary of the regional NGO Human Rights League of the Great Lakes Region, headquartered in Rwanda, was taken in for questioning by the immigration services. Seven members of the newly elected executive council and oversight committee were also taken for questioning by police the next day. This took place in the context of a dispute over leadership of the organization.

Political prisoners

Former prisoner of conscience Charles Ntakirutinka, who was released in March 2012 after 10 years in detention, continued to wait for a response to his request for a passport submitted in April 2012. Other former political prisoners and opposition political figures also continued to report difficulties obtaining travel documents.

Freedom of association

The Secretary-General of the opposition political party United Democratic Forces , Sylvain Sibomana, and another party member, Anselme Mutuyimana, remained in detention for inciting insurrection or trouble among the population after organizing a meeting in September 2012. The party complained about conditions of detention, reporting that Sylvain Sibomana was denied his medically prescribed diet from August and that party president Victoire Ingabire was temporarily refused access to her lawyer. The party vice-president Boniface Twagirimana was arrested on 4 December, and released the next day.

There was no progress in the case of Jean Damascène Munyeshyaka, national organizing secretary of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, who went missing on 27 June 2014.

Freedom of expression

Journalists continued to work in a difficult environment, with some employing self-censorship to avoid harassment.

On 29 May, the BBC Kinyarwanda services were indefinitely suspended by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority following the recommendation of a committee of inquiry led by the former Prosecutor-General, Martin Ngoga. BBC services were originally suspended in Rwanda in October 2014 in response to the broadcast of the documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story, on the grounds that it violated Rwandan laws on genocide denial, revisionism, inciting hatred and divisionism.

Fred Muvunyi, chair of the Rwanda Media Commission, the media’s self-regulatory body, resigned in May and left the country, reportedly following a dispute over the handling of the BBC case, as well as criticisms contained in the Commission’s (unpublished) report on the state of the media in Rwanda.

Unfair trials

The singer Kizito Mihigo was found guilty on 27 February of plotting against the government, forming a criminal group and conspiracy to commit an assassination. Evidence presented by the prosecution included WhatsApp and Skype messages. Having previously pleaded guilty and asked for pardon, Kizito Mihigo was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His co-accused Cassien Ntamuhanga, a journalist, and Jean Paul Dukuzumuremyi, a demobilized soldier, were sentenced to 25 and 30 years respectively. Agnes Niyibizi, an accountant, accused of being a treasurer for the Rwanda National Congress (a group of political dissidents in exile), was acquitted.

The military court trial of Colonel Tom Byabagamba, retired General Frank Rusagara and retired Sergeant François Kabayiza accused, among other charges, of inciting insurrection or trouble among the population and illegal possession of firearms, continued throughout the year. François Kabayiza claimed in court that he was tortured in detention. Tom Byabagamba and Frank Rusagara were relatives of David Himbara, a former presidential adviser now in exile. Retired captain David Kabuye, who was arrested by Rwandan military intelligence in August 2014, completed a six-month jail term in March 2015 for illegal possession of firearms. He was rearrested and later acquitted on new charges of inciting insurrection or trouble among the population and defamation. Just days before his acquittal, David Kabuye appeared as a prosecution witness in the case against Frank Rusagara. The trials were believed to be politically motivated.

International justice

Trials of individuals suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide continued in courts outside Rwanda. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) officially closed on 31 December.

Rwanda’s intelligence chief, General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, was arrested in the UK in June, on a warrant issued by the Spanish authorities in connection to the 2008 war crimes indictment brought against 40 Rwandan officials by Judge Andreu Merelles, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. A UK court dismissed the extradition request in August, and the Spanish Supreme Court ruled on 10 September to revoke the arrest warrants and close the case.

After hearings in April, the ICTR Appeal Chamber ruled in Nyiramasuhuko et al on 14 December that the six appellants’ right to be tried without undue delay had been violated, and reduced the length of their sentences. This was the last appeal judgment before the ICTR. The six accused were variously convicted in 2011 of crimes of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was the former Minister of Family and Women’s Development.

Jean Uwinkindi, whose case was the first to be transferred from the ICTR to a national jurisdiction, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Rwandan High Court on 30 December. ICTR indictee Ladislas Ntaganzwa was arrested on 9 December in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Prosecutor of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals urged his swift transfer for trial in Rwanda.

In September, a Swedish court started trial proceedings against Claver Berinkindi, accused of being one of the leaders of attacks on a municipal building and school in Muyira during the genocide. He faces charges of murder, incitement to murder, attempted murder and abduction, and was previously found guilty in his absence by a Rwandan court.

A French court controversially dropped the case against genocide suspect Wenceslas Munyeshyaka in October, citing a lack of evidence. Wenceslas Munyeshyaka was a priest in the capital Kigali and was accused of taking part in killings and rapes during the genocide, as well as helping the Interahamwe militia to identify Tutsi to be killed and raped.


In April, President Kagame confirmed to media that Rwanda was in discussion with Israel to finalize a deal to receive failed Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who “voluntarily leave” Israel. The NGO International Refugee Rights Initiative reported in September that those sent to Rwanda had their travel documents taken away and were given the option of being “transferred” to Uganda within days of arriving or remaining in Rwanda undocumented. They were not given the opportunity to claim asylum in Rwanda.

At the end of the year, over 70,000 refugees were living in Rwanda after fleeing the crisis in neighbouring Burundi.

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