Rwanda is a source and, to a lesser extent, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Rwandan girls and, to a lesser extent, boys are exploited in domestic servitude within the country; some of these children experience nonpayment of wages and physical or sexual abuse within their employer’s household. Older females offer vulnerable younger girls room and board, eventually pushing them into prostitution to pay for their expenses. In limited cases, trafficking is facilitated by women who supply other women or girls to clients, or by loosely organized prostitution networks, some operating in secondary schools and universities. Brothel owners reportedly supply girls in prostitution to clients staying at hotels. Children in Rwanda-based refugee camps are brought to Kigali, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan at the hands of other refugees or Rwandan and Ugandan “sugar daddies” for use in the sex trade. Rwandan women and children are also recruited and transported to Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, South Africa, France, the Netherlands, Malaysia, China, and the United States, where they are subjected to forced agricultural and industrial labor, domestic servitude, and prostitution. Small numbers of women and children from neighboring countries and Somalia are victimized in prostitution and forced labor after being lured to Rwanda. A limited number of foreign nationals are moved through Rwanda to be exploited in third countries.
During the year, the UN Group of Experts and Human Rights Watch reported Rwandan government officials recruited children for and provided material support to the M23, an armed group operating in the eastern DRC, which also recruited children and men, at times fraudulently and by force. The Rwandan government’s material support for the M23 included weapons and ammunition. The M23 carried out successful recruiting activities in Rwanda during 2012, and reportedly gained new recruits from Kigeme refugee camp and possibly other camps, and from the Nkamira transit center. Demobilized M23 soldiers in eastern DRC reported they had been recruited in Rwanda, with some citing conscription by Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) soldiers. The UN Group of Experts cited the director of the Rwandan Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) for forcible recruitment of recently demobilized Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) child and adult soldiers from its Mutobo rehabilitation center into the M23.
The Government of Rwanda does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. It enacted a revised penal code, convicted two trafficking offenders, and undertook several investigations, resulting in the apprehension of suspected traffickers and the rescue of victims. The government referred child trafficking victims to protective services at a police hospital, opened four additional one-stop centers at public district hospitals—all of which screen for trafficking victimization and provide services to victims—and increased its diplomatic engagement to ensure the return of trafficked Rwandans from South Africa and East Asia. Nonetheless, the police continued to hold some trafficking victims in detention without being charged, and acknowledged the need for continued law enforcement training in victim identification and case investigation. As the government provided logistical support to M23, a group that committed trafficking crimes during the reporting period through forced or fraudulent recruitment of children and men, Rwanda is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Recommendations for Rwanda: Do not provide military support to the M23 or assist in M23 recruiting practices; investigate and prosecute those suspected of forcibly and fraudulently recruiting men and children in support of the M23 from refugee camps or elsewhere; enforce the trafficking-specific penal code amendments through increased investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses; increase the number of labor inspectors and resources available to them; utilize judicial police specifically trained on gender-based violence to supplement the work of the national police’s anti-trafficking unit and government’s labor inspectors; establish a system to assist foreign trafficking victims with relief from deportation; ensure central government funds sent to districts for labor inspection programs are allocated to such programs; and build capacity to screen for trafficking victims at child transit centers through increased collaboration between the police and the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion or NGOs.
Although the government maintained strong efforts to investigate and prosecute some trafficking crimes, failure to stop M23 recruitment within Rwanda in 2012, which was at times reportedly supported by Government of Rwanda officials, amounts to complicity in trafficking crimes; the government has not yet acknowledged or taken action to address these crimes which took place within Rwanda. The government convicted two trafficking offenders during the year and undertook several investigations, resulting in arrests of suspected traffickers and rescue of victims in the region and outside the country. In June 2012, the government promulgated its new penal code—the first since 1977—which criminalizes trafficking in persons under a variety of articles, mostly contained in Chapter 8. This chapter, in combination with forced labor articles and other statutory sections, covers almost all forms of trafficking in persons. Although the new penal code will facilitate the work of police and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases by more adequately covering the various stages of the trafficking process, it may also result in the conflation of trafficking with other crimes, as the new definition is too narrow. It defines trafficking as a crime requiring movement, which potentially leaves some forms of trafficking uncovered; for example, it is not clear that the law criminalizes the recruitment of an individual for the purpose of forced labor in the absence of movement. Chapter 8 prescribes penalties of seven to 10 years’ imprisonment or fines the equivalent of approximately $7,900 to $15,900 for internal trafficking, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment for transnational trafficking, penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes. However, penalties for trafficking crimes in other portions of the penal code differ; Article 206 (inciting adults into prostitution) and Article 178 (forced labor) prescribe penalties that are insufficiently stringent and not commensurate with other serious crimes. No cases have yet been tried under the new penal code, and prosecutions are unlikely without specialized training for police, prosecutors, and judges. In June 2012, the government enacted the Law Relating to the Rights and Protection of the Child, which outlaws child trafficking, prostitution, and slavery. Penalties for child defilement run from six months’ to life imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offense. Child trafficking convictions are subject to a minimum five-year prison term, while slavery convictions carry three to 12-year prison terms.
In 2012, the Rwandan National Police (RNP) and National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) investigated and prosecuted several trafficking cases, which led to the conviction of two offenders and the acquittal of one defendant. NPPA continued its investigation of five additional cases at the close of the reporting period; neither the NPPA nor the RNP provided information regarding pending cases. In August 2012, Nyarugenge Intermediate Court in Kigali sentenced two Rwandan men convicted of slavery under article 390 of the 1977 penal code to five years’ imprisonment; the men were part of a network of Chinese, Rwandan, and East African nationals trafficking young women and girls to China through Uganda for prostitution through fraudulent promises of employment. In another case, a Kigali intermediate court acquitted a Rwandan woman, also charged under article 390, for attempting to transport four Rwandans to Europe for unknown purposes; although the prosecution appealed the verdict to the high court and the supreme court in early 2013, both upheld the acquittal, with the supreme court citing insufficient evidence. Rwandan law enforcement cooperated with countries in the region and beyond—including Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Malaysia, and France—to investigate transnational trafficking offenses, facilitate the repatriation of trafficking victims, and disrupt trafficking operations. In addition, in August 2012, the RNP co-hosted with INTERPOL a training exercise for officials from 12 East African nations focusing on transnational trafficking crimes and enhancing cooperation among nations in the region. Such coordinated work in the region yielded results; in July 2012, the RNP worked with Tanzanian authorities to rescue two Rwandan boys and arrest their Tanzanian trafficker. Police and immigration officials maintained strict border control measures as part of a strategy to prevent transnational child trafficking; in 2012, immigration officials cooperated with Ugandan authorities in their interception of Ugandan girls attempting to reach Malaysia via Kigali after being denied travel through Uganda’s international airport.
During the year, the RNP expanded its anti-trafficking unit from four to 15 officers, and the NPPA maintained two designated prosecutors to coordinate all cases related to human trafficking. The gender desk at each of Rwanda’s 75 police stations is staffed by at least one judicial police officer; all judicial police officers specializing in serious crimes have undergone training on identifying and assisting victims of trafficking, and investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases. In 2012, the RNP trained 58 police officers on transnational crime, including human trafficking, at Rwanda’s 13 border crossings. With in-kind support from the government, IOM and UNODC trained 133 police officers and district commanders, immigration officers, labor inspectors, and local officials on victim identification. Nonetheless, the lack of awareness of human trafficking among officials remained an obstacle, and RNP officials maintained the increased number of investigators was still inadequate to investigate properly the numerous reports of forced labor, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation of child domestic workers. All newly hired immigration officers received training on passenger profiling, document verification, and the identification of victims of trafficking in 2012; during the year, 33 officers received this training.
In past years, the government was recognized for its unparalleled level of care for former child combatants; however, in 2012, though such care of child combatants and other trafficking victims continued, it provided support to the M23—a rebel group that forcibly and fraudulently recruited and used child soldiers. During the year, with partial donor support, the RDRC moved its center for child ex-combatants from Muhazi to Musanze. Following their return from the DRC by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), 66 former child combatants received three months’ care, including psycho-social counseling, at the center; an increase from 52 assisted in 2011 and 47 in 2010. The RDRC worked with local authorities and an NGO to locate the children’s families, and social workers sensitized families to their acceptance of the child’s return; during the reporting period, RDRC staff had reunited 53 children with relatives, an increase from 21 reunited in 2011. However, there were reports that Rwandan government officials actively recruited former child soldiers for use by the M23, including from the RDRC-run demobilization and rehabilitation center in Mutobo. Reports also suggest that the RDF may have recruited individuals—some who may have been under the age of 18—from Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center to join M23. Furthermore, the government refused to allow the repatriation of 50 ex-M23 combatants, including 14 child soldiers, who claimed Rwandan nationality.
During the year, police identified and referred an unknown number of sex and labor trafficking victims to the Isange Center, a one-stop holistic facility within the Kaciryu police hospital in Kigali that provided a variety of assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including child domestic workers and children in prostitution. Social workers utilized a set of questions to identify potential cases of trafficking upon a person’s arrival at the center. In 2012, the government opened four additional one-stop centers at public district hospitals, which also screened for trafficking victimization and provided services. Judicial police officers encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes and interviewed victims at the Isange Center rather than at police stations; these initial statements could stand as testimony if victims did not wish to appear in court. The standardized checklist used by police when working with victims required securing medical, social, and counseling services; the presence of a victim’s advocate during investigations; and referrals of victims to NGOs, religious entities, or community groups for further assistance. The police headquarters in Kigali continued operating a hotline for reporting gender-based violence crimes that received several calls reporting cases of human trafficking in 2012.
The government provided an unknown amount of funding to support eight private or NGO-run child rehabilitation centers that afforded over 200 street children—some of whom were trafficking victims—with shelter, basic needs, and rehabilitative services; it operated three transit centers for screening and referring street children, including victims of domestic servitude or prostitution, to these longer-term care facilities. The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) screened some of the children and young adults detained in these centers. The RNP, however, often discharged young people from the transit centers or transported them to remote districts with instructions not to return to Kigali, without screening for vulnerability to trafficking. The police also held some child victims of trafficking in detention at the transit centers, sometimes for weeks or months without being charged with a crime or interviewed in conjunction with an investigation. Due to inadequate screening, victims of trafficking could face time in prison or the Nyagatare Rehabilitation Center for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked. RNP officials acknowledged that given the number of victims arrested and detained by the RNP, training in victim identification and investigation remained inadequate. Beyond providing a stay of one month, the government did not provide foreign trafficking victims with care or legal alternatives to their removal to a country where they may face hardship or retribution.
During the year, Rwandan officials worked with the Rwandan embassy in South Africa and INTERPOL to repatriate a young Rwandan woman who had been recruited with the promise of a scholarship and later forced into prostitution in Cape Town. Police worked with the Ugandan honorary consul, INTERPOL in Malaysia, and the Rwandan embassy in Japan to repatriate a Rwandan recruited in Kampala and taken to Malaysia by a Nigerian trafficker. Despite the best efforts of the Rwandan embassy in China, the government continued to encounter difficulty in working with Chinese authorities to repatriate approximately 100 Rwandan women exploited in various cities in China.
Although the government maintained its anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period, there continues to be a lack of understanding among its officials and Rwandan society of the full scope of the country’s human trafficking problem. The government remained without a lead ministry or inter-ministerial coordinating body to oversee its anti-trafficking efforts. In partnership with UNODC and IOM, MIGEPROF co-sponsored anti-trafficking radio and televisions campaigns and undertook informational campaigns through district labor offices. During the year, the RNP detected the presence of Kampala- and Nairobi-based labor recruiters and brokers, both legitimate and fraudulent, in Rwanda and confirmed their involvement in the recruitment of workers through fraudulent offers of employment or excessive fees for migration or job placement. In 2012, the Ministry of Public Service and Labor (MIFOTRA) began drafting amendments for the labor law to include new regulations on labor recruitment. MIFOTRA continued to train all labor inspectors twice per year on how to identify and handle cases of child labor, including trafficking in persons. MIFOTRA’s labor inspectors held monthly sensitization activities and quarterly trainings for employers and local authorities on child labor regulations. However, these 30 district labor inspectors were insufficient in number to fulfill their monitoring mandate, and the government did not provide them with adequate resources, including transport, to identify and prevent the use of exploitative child labor effectively. MIFOTRA continued its public awareness campaigns on the worst forms of child labor, including trafficking, through radio shows, television announcements, and skits, and partnered with IOM and UNODC on similar campaigns. The government failed to make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government trained Rwandan troops on gender sensitivity and sexual exploitation prior to their deployment to UN peacekeeping missions abroad. In addition, Rwanda also hosted a second UN training course on investigation and prevention of sexual and gender-based crimes at the Rwanda Peace Academy in Musanze District, which drew participants from 16 countries that contribute police to UN missions.