Case study

Rwanda – freedom of association and expression

A case study from the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.

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2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a tragedy during which approximately a million people lost their lives. On 7 April, the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, attended commemorations in Kigali in order to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide, and to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. Rwanda’s progress on economic and social development remains impressive. However, the UK continues to have concerns about civil and political rights. We continue to urge the Rwandan government to address human rights concerns around freedom of expression and political space.

In January, former Head of Rwandan Intelligence, Patrick Karegeya, was found murdered in a hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa. In August, a South African court found four men guilty of the attempted assassination of former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa. The judge concluded that the crime had been “politically motivated” and had “emanated from a certain group of people from Rwanda”. The UK is deeply concerned by what appears to be a succession of acts of violence against Rwandan opposition figures.

During April and May, dozens of local people in north-west Rwanda were arrested and held incommunicado for up to two months. Some were later charged with various offences against state security, including collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group in eastern DRC with origins in the Rwandan genocide. The UK recognises that Rwanda has the right to prosecute those who seek to use violence against the state. In this case, however, the UK regrets that due legal process was not followed.

In October, former presidential bodyguard, Joel Mutabazi, was found guilty of treason and terrorism and sentenced to life in prison. He has appealed and continues to argue that his forcible return from Uganda did not respect due process. We call on the Rwandan authorities to ensure that due process is followed. Bernard Ntaganda, leader of opposition party PS-Imberakuri, was released from prison in June after four years’ incarceration. We continue to monitor the situation of other imprisoned political leaders and activists, including Victoire Ingabire and Sylvain Sibomana, both of the FDU Inkingi opposition party.

The UK believes that a free and vibrant media has an important role to play in any democracy. Following the broadcast in October of a BBC documentary about the Rwandan genocide, the Rwandan authorities suspended the BBC’s Kinyarwanda service and launched an inquiry. The UK recognises the hurt caused in Rwanda by some parts of the documentary, but is concerned by this decision, and urges the Rwanda government to allow the BBC to resume its broadcasts as soon as possible. The UK welcomed the freedom with which the East African newspaper was able to operate. We noted with concern the forced cancellation of talk shows on Isango Star and Contact FM, and the arrest of two journalists from Salus Radio in 2014. The UK welcomed, as an important step forward in tackling impunity, the arrest and trial of two police officers in connection with the July 2013 murder.

This case study is part of the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.

Published 12 March 2015