Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

Rwanda is a one-party state which has been ruled by Major
General Juvenal Habyarimana since his accession to power in a
nonviolent coup in 1973. Founder of the single party, the
National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) , he was
again confirmed as President in the December 1988 elections.
The President sets government policy in consultation with the
party's Central Committee and the Council of Ministers. The
National Development Council (the legislature), established in
1982, ratifies laws but is not independent from the MRND.
Legislative candidates must be approved by the party, which
normally approves two candidates per seat.
The major organizations responsible for administration of
justice include the Ministry of Justice, the judicial police,
and the gendarmerie, a paramilitary force which receives
specialized police training. In addition, the Central
Intelligence Service in the Office of the President can make
certain decisions which may not be appealed, such as denial of
passports to Rwandan citizens or the extension of visas and
residence permits to foreigners.
Most Rwandans are poor rural farmers. There is little
industry, and imports are expensive because of high
transportation costs. Food production has managed to keep
pace with the high population growth rate. Rwanda's major
exports are coffee and tea, and the Government has a liberal
policy toward trade and investment.
Restrictions in practice on freedoms of religion, speech,
association, and the right of citizens to change their
government continued in 1988. The Government in 1987 released
295 members of certain religious sects convicted of charges
(refusal to join a political party) relating to observance of
their religion. In 1988 the Government denied a request by
one of those sects, the Jehovah's Witnesses, for legal
recognition; but it has not interfered with their right to
practice their religion. Public pronouncements by the
President and the Minister of Justice frequently refer to the
importance of human rights. Rwanda hosted in June a seminar
on the promotion of human rights in Africa. Also in 1988, it
gave temporary asylum to 41,000 Burundi nationals (mainly
Hutus) fleeing ethnic violence in northern Burundi.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
There was no evidence of politically motivated killing at
government instigation in 1988. In May 1988, an army sergeant
accused of the murder of a prominent colonel reportedly died
during interrogation by military and security authorities.
Subsequently, three officers were arrested in connection with
the case.
      b. Disappearance
There were no unexplained disappearances in 1988.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were no reports of torture in 1988. In the past,
Amnesty International (AI) has noted allegations of torture
made in court by political prisoners, involving severe
beatings and the use of electrical shock treatment. But AI
also noted the Minister of Justice's efforts to punish
security and police officials found to have mistreated
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Except for suspects caught in the act of committing crimes,
arrests are made with a warrant following an investigation.
There were no known exceptions in 1988 to the legally mandated
warrant procedures. In most cases, charges must be stated
formally in the defendant's presence within 5 days of arrest.
Failure to meet this requirement constitutes grounds for
dismissal of the charges.
Under broad preventive detention provisions, persons may be
held for 30 days if public safety is believed to be
threatened, if the accused might flee, or if the penalty
carries a minimum sentence of 6 months. At the end of that
period, judicial review is mandatory. Detention may be
prolonged indefinitely for 30-day periods. Detainees may
appeal their incarceration, and the appeal must be heard
within 24 hours by a competent judicial authority. Ministry
of Justice personnel conduct daily official visits to prisons
to assure that proper documentation exists for each detainee.
These officials can order detainees released if arrest
conditions do not conform to the law.
Rwandan security forces occasionally employ arbitrary arrest
and detention on political or security grounds. Most
detentions are short-term, often for less than 24 hours.
However, in January 1988, several relatives and associates of
a Rwandan exile who had been implicated in a 1980 coup attempt
were arrested and held without charge or judicial review.
They remained in prison without charge at the end of the year.
Sentencing to exile does not exist. With regard to forced or
compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is statutorily independent and expected to apply
the penal code impartially, but in practice the Government
exercises influence in political and security cases. The
President appoints and dismisses magistrates. Laws passed in
1982 strengthened the independence of the judiciary by
improving the process of selecting judicial personnel and more
closely defining their functions. The administration of
justice has been hampered by poor management and a generally
low level of education among civil servants. The Ministry of
Justice conducts training programs for officials and judges
and plans to establish a magistrate training center. In 1987
over 650 magistrates participated in two seminars organized by
the Ministry, and another 30 magistrates took part in an
intensive 9-month training program. The Ministry was planning
another series of training seminars for magistrates, court
clerks, and judicial administrators.All defendants are constitutionally entitled to counsel; but
because of a shortage of lawyers, many defendants are not
represented at trial. Family and other nonprofessional
advisors are permitted. Trials are public, and those which
arouse extensive public interest are often broadcast to the
street to permit persons who cannot be seated in the courtroom
to follow the proceedings.
Rwanda has three separate court systems for criminal/civil,
military, and state security cases. All but security cases
ultimately may be appealed to the Court of Appeals. Convicted
criminals must file an appeal within 3 months of the date of
judgment. In April 1987, the President criticized the
practice of some judges of delaying and backdating the
issuance of court opinions, thus effectively eliminating the
possibility of an appeal. He ordered the implementation of
administrative procedures to stop such abuses. The State
Security Court has jurisdiction over national security charges
such as treason. Decisions of this Court may not be appealed
before the Court of Appeals. If procedural violations are
alleged in security cases, these may be brought before the
Court of Cassation. If the Court of Cassation finds that
procedural violations occurred, the case is sent back to the
State Security Court and is tried by a different panel of
At the end of 1988, Rwanda was holding three prisoners
convicted of crimes against domestic security. These include
the former chief of state security, who was involved in a coup
attempt in 1980. Along with four codef endants , he was
convicted of murder for the killing of political prisoners and
was sentenced to death in 1985. His sentence, as well as that
of one of his codefendants, was commuted to life imprisonment
in 1988. The other prisoner's sentence has been reduced to 20
years. Four other prisoners implicated in the 1980 coup
attempt were released from prison in 1988 after completing
their sentences.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Rwandans are subject to occasional interference in their
private lives. Police normally are required to have warrants
before entering a private residence, but, using the pretext of
checking required documentation, authorities in practice gain
entry into homes without warrants. There is no evidence that
the Government monitors private correspondence, and the
receipt of foreign publications is permitted.
All Rwandans are required to be members of the MRND and to pay
party dues.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law guarantees freedom of speech and press, but these
statutory assurances are not observed. Open criticism of
government policies and officials is rare. Such criticism
increased somewhat in 1987, but appears to have lessened in
1988. The Government sought to mute critical statements in
the months leading up to presidential and legislative
elections, primarily through the increased presence of
security agents in public places and through occasional
short-term detentions. Candidates in the 1988 legislative
elections were restricted to expressing opinions and
advocating policies consistent with party doctrine. Members
of the National Development Council have in the past
criticized government policies from the floor of the Council.
The Government controls radio broadcasting (the most important
medium in reaching the public) and produces a daily press
bulletin and a weekly newspaper. Two Catholic church
publications sometimes print muted criticism of political and
economic conditions. Such criticism is tolerated and
occasionally even encouraged by the Government. There is no
record of any journalist having been arrested for what he has
written. The Government has cautioned the press, however, to
avoid what it regards as "harmful" criticism of leaders. It
maintains that the press should devote its efforts to
"promoting development." Books and imported publications are
not censored. There were no known incidents involving
restrictions on academic freedom of inquiry and research at
the university.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly is limited. No public meetings or
demonstrations are permitted if there is any chance they will
result in expressions of overt opposition to government
policies. The Government permits private associations, but it
requires that they be officially registered and accorded legal
recognition. For a discussion of freedom of association as it
applies to labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution, but
limited government harassment of and discrimination against
several nonconformist religious groups, including the
Jehovah's Witnesses, continues. The Government denied a
Witnesses' request for legal recognition in October. Many
observers believe this was on the grounds that the group
refuses to recognize its authority to require citizens to
salute the national flag, to join the sole political party, or
to join the army. Government officials have indicated,
however, that the Witnesses' right to practice their religion
will not be impeded.
The population is 70 percent Christian and 1 percent Muslim,
with the remainder following traditional African or no
religious practices. Eighty percent of the Christians are
Roman Catholic, but there are active Protestant
denominations. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kigali, who
had been a member of the MRND Central Committee, resigned from
the Committee in January 1986, apparently to bring his status
into accord with Vatican doctrine. The Government depends
upon church-sponsored schools for a considerable portion of
education in Rwanda (over 85 percent of secondary schools are
church sponsored)
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Freedom of movement and residence within Rwanda is restricted
by laws and regulations which require all residents to hold
national identity cards and residence and work permits.
People who wish to spend more than 3 days in a township other
than their own m.ust obtain permission from the authorities of
the area they will be visiting. Police conduct periodic
checks, especially in urban areas, and return all those not
registered in the locality to' their own township. Property
owners who do not require tenants to show valid documentation
are subject to fines and even imprisonment. Undocumented
tenants are subject to expulsion.
A major deterrent to foreign travel was eliminated in 1987,
when the Government abolished the requirement for posting
substantial deposits (as much as $600) with passport
applications. Applicants now need only pay a small ($20)
nonrefundable fee for a passport, and they must hold a valid
exit visa. Foreign travel is controlled by means of a
security check of all passport applicants conducted by the
Central Intelligence Service, but unexplained refusals appear
to be less frequent than in the past. Properly documented
Rwandans may emigrate.
There are an estimated 225,000 Rwandan refugees in neighboring
countries. Most are ethnic Tutsis who fled Rwanda during the
revolution of 1959 and subsequent ethnic violence associated
with independence in 1962. Official policy permits these
people to be repatriated on a case by case basis if the
refugee does not represent a security risk, and if land is
available in Rwanda. The lack of land, therefore, effectively
precludes any significant repatriation. In 1988 approximately
24 refugees returned to Rwanda from Burundi. The Government's
position is that demographic pressures and strained economic
resources preclude any large-scale return of these refugees.
It has encouraged countries hosting the refugees to offer to
naturalize them; this has not been well received by Rwanda's
Rwanda hosts some 19,000 Burundi refugees (mainly Hutu) who
fled the 1972 massacres. In mid-1988, 41,000 Burundi
nationals fleeing ethnic violence again sought refuge in
Rwanda. The Rwandan Government refused to accord official
refugee status to this latest group but did grant temporary
asylum. Rwanda has received widespread praise for its efforts
to meet the humanitarian needs of these refugees, most of whom
had returned voluntarily to Burundi by the end of 1988.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: the Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Rwandans have no opportunity to change their government
through a free choice of alternative candidates from opposing
parties. The MRND, the sole body permitted political
activity, makes all policy decisions and nominates all
candidates for public office. It in turn is dominated by the
President, who also holds the position of President of the
MRND. He chooses the Central Committee members and is the
only constitutionally recognized candidate for president.
Every citizen is automatically a party member and is required
to pay party dues representing 2 days' pay per year.
Delegates are both elected and appointed to the party's
governing National Congress, which meets every 2 years. The
essential function of the Congress is to endorse the programs
presented by the party leadership. The 1988 Congress
rejected calls for the election of local party officials by
secret ballot rather than the raising of hands.
Only candidates approved by the party may run for the
legislature, the National Development Council. The President
also can veto candidates for the Council. Within the
one-party system, the voters can, and sometimes do defeat
incumbents in elections. Presidential and legislative
elections are held every 5 years, most recently in December
1988 when President Habyarimana was reelected to a fourth
5-year term. There is only one candidate for the presidency;
each legislative slot has two candidates nominated by the
party, who are identified on official documents as to their
ethnic origin. Votes for the President are cast by means of
color-coded cards indicating a yes or no vote.
Women play a relatively minor role in Rv;andan political life.
The 25-member MRND Central Committee includes 3 women, and, as
a result of the December 1988 elections, the National
Development Council has 12 female deputies out of a total of
70 members. The Vice President of the Kigali Court of Appeals
is a woman. A number of women serve on local councils.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Rwanda has taken some steps in recent years to participate in
human rights activities and to improve its human rights
record. It receives and cooperates with delegations from
human rights groups, including a delegation from Amnesty
International in May 1986. Representatives of the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made a regular
visit to prisons and spent 3 weeks in Rwanda in the fall of
1987. There were no reports of requests for outside
investigations of alleged human rights violations in 1988.
The Ministry of Justice hosted a conference in June on human
rights which was attended by representatives of 12 Francophone
African countries. The conference focused on the preparation
of human rights reports required by U.N. agencies and other
Rwanda is a signatory to the International Covenants on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and on Civil and
Political Rights, as well as the African Charter of Human and
People's Rights. Rwanda is also a member of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
In 1959 the majority Hutu ethnic group (89 percent of the
population, according to the 1978 census) overthrew the Tutsi
monarchy. In 1962 Belgium granted internal autonomy and then
independence to a Hutu-led government which had overwhelmingly
won a U.N . -supervised election. This movement against the
Tutsi marked the end of the traditional, feudal society in
which the Hutu had lived in subordination for centuries, and
the beginning of a more modern society that places greater
emphasis on individual rights. During the next decade, Hutu
efforts to redress the social, economic, and educational
discrimination suffered under Tutsi rule led to division and
corruption among the Hutus and to sporadic ethnic strife.
This gave rise to the coup d'etat which brought President
Habyarimana, a Hutu, to power in 1973.
The Constitution states that "all citizens are equal before
the law, without any discrimination, notably that of race,
color, origin, ethnicity, clan, sex, opinion, religion, or
social position." However, the legal requirement that ethnic
origin be listed on identity documents serves to ensure that
informal quotas corresponding to the Hutu/Tutsi ratio insociety are not exceeded. The Tutsi minority is in fact
discriminated against in education and has been relegated to a
minor role in government, civil service, and the military.
Private business is the only aspect of society in which the
Tutsis wield any significant influence.
Following the Government's steps to restrict the activities of
some religious groups, there have been incidents of
discrimination based on religious affiliation. In 1986, for
example, one high ranking government official reportedly was
threatened with arrest because of his membership in the
Jehovah's Witnesses, and three Witnesses were fired from the
Ministry of Transport and Communication for their religious
Women perform most of the agricultural labor and have
benefited less than men from social development. Despite the
language in the Constitution, women's rights to property are
limited, and women are not treated equally in divorce
proceedings. Moreover, women have fewer opportunities for
education, employment, and promotion. Family planning
services are inadequate but are improving, and the President
has been an outspoken advocate of family planning efforts.
There are few organizations promoting women's interests, and
efforts to establish a national women's organization within
the party have been unsuccessful. The Government is
completing revision of the Rwandan Family Code. The new Code
will modernize Rwandan laws concerning marriage, divorce, the
status of children born out of wedlock, child custody, and
other elements of family law.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Rwandan economy consists largely of subsistence farming.
There is very little industry, and hence few workers in the
modern, wage economy. Labor organizations have just begun to
develop, and the Government is guiding this evolution through
a new labor union, the Central Union of Rwandan Workers
(CESTRAR) . The Union is integrated into the sole political
party, the MRND, Other workers' associations no longer have
the right to exist independently but must affiliate with
CESTRAR. CESTRAR' s organizers contend that having a variety
of different labor organizations might threaten national
unity. CESTRAR' s Executive Committee was elected in December
1987, and a number of training sessions and organizational
conferences have taken place. Union membership (open to all
salaried workers) is optional.
While CESTRAR's mandate is still evolving, initial indications
are that CESTRAR's leadership intends to focus on
nonwage-related work conditions and on providing training
opportunities to its members. In theory, CESTRAR members have
the right to strike, but only with the approval of the
Executive Committee—in effect, the Government. CESTRAR has
established positive relations with employer organizations to
improve labor conditions. However, CESTRAR remains primarily
a political instrument designed to encourage more active party
involvement by salaried workers. CESTRAR is affiliated with
the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the
Organization of Central African Workers.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to organize "professional organizations" and to
engage in collective bargaining with employers granted by the
labor code is exercised within the framework of CESTRAR.
Government control of CESTRAR combined with the small size of
the wage economy is a significant constraint on the collective
bargaining process. Labor laws are implemented uniformly
throughout the country. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced and Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is prohibited by Rwandan law and does not occur
in practice.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Except in the subsistence agriculture sector, which is the
overwhelming employment of most Rwandans, children under 18
are not permitted to work without their parents' or guardian's
authorization, and they may work at night only under
exceptional circumstances on a temporary basis. The Minister
of Labor may grant work permission to a child under 14. Child
labor outside the agricultural sector is uncommon.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wages in the small modern economic sector are set by
the Ministry of Labor. The current minimum wage is
approximately $1.50 per day; higher minimum wages apply to
certain professions. The minimum wage is inadequate to
provide a decent standard of living for urban families and is
often supplemented by work in petty commerce or agriculture.
Hours of work and occupational health and safety in the modern
wage sector are controlled by lav; and enforced by labor
inspectors. Government offices and most private sector
companies have a 43 hour workweek which includes Saturday
morning community service.