Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August 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. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. International election monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In 2013 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all of the open seats. In 2015 the country held a constitutional referendum; the National Electoral Commission reported 98 percent of registered voters participated of which 98 percent endorsed a set of amendments that included provisions that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).
The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings and politically motivated disappearances by security forces; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest; security forces’ disregard for the rule of law; prolonged pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights and on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; restrictions on and harassment of media and some local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on freedom to participate in the political process and the ability to change government through free and fair elections; harassment, arrest, and abuse of political opponents, human rights advocates, and individuals perceived to pose a threat to government control of social order; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on labor rights.
The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving some civilian officials and some members of the SSF was a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On July 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report documenting the cases of 37 individuals killed by police or other security forces in western areas between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of petty crimes, including theft of bananas, fishing with illegal nets, and unlawful border crossings. HRW reported, “The killings and enforced disappearances appear to have been part of a broader strategy to spread fear, enforce order, and deter any resistance to government orders or policies.” It was unclear, however, whether the national government ordered or approved this strategy. According to the report, local authorities, including law enforcement officers, threatened family members who reported the deaths. In January and February, members of unregistered opposition groups and local human rights activists issued similar reports that included some of the same cases covered by HRW as well as others. Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye publicly called the HRW report “fake news.”
On October 13, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), which is nominally independent but funded by the government, held a press conference to discredit HRW’s findings. The NCHR claimed that seven of the individuals cited in the report were alive and presented one individual with the same name at the press conference. The NCHR stated most of the others cited in the HRW report either had died of natural causes or were unknown to local authorities and residents. The NCHR reported that 10 of the individuals named in the HRW report were shot and killed by border patrols while using an illegal border crossing with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The NCHR stated that residents had been warned not to cross the border at night, and the government did not investigate the cases further. The NCHR also reported that in two cases documented by HRW, authorities had arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and jailed the security official responsible for the reported killings, a Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) soldier, who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
On November 1, HRW issued a press release that called the NCHR findings “largely fabricated” and noted discrepancies in the ages, next of kin, and residences among three of the individuals whose deaths HRW had documented and the persons presented by the NCHR. HRW also claimed that government officials “threatened and coerced victims’ family members to present false information” and detained those who refused to contradict their initial testimonies to HRW. The government launched an investigation into HRW’s allegations but did not complete it by year’s end.
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On February 14, Violette Uwamahoro, a dual British-Rwandan national whose husband was a member of a diaspora opposition movement, the Rwanda National Congress, disappeared after attending a family member’s funeral. The government refused to acknowledge her detention for three weeks. On March 23, the government announced that Uwamahoro had been charged with treason. On March 28, she was conditionally released pursuant to a judge’s order and allowed to return to the United Kingdom in mid-April.
On March 6, journalist John Ndabarasa, missing since August 2016, reappeared in Kigali. Ndabarasa told media that he had fled the country but decided to come back voluntarily because he no longer feared for his safety. HRW declared that Ndabarasa’s statement to media “raised a lot of suspicion” in light of the numerous cases documented by HRW “where former detainees were forced to make false claims following months of illegal, secret detention and torture.” According to local human rights organizations, authorities confiscated Ndabarasa’s identity documents and restricted his movements following his return.
On September 6, the Rwanda National Police (RNP) detained the Kigali representative of the United Democratic Forces (FDU) Inkingi, an unregistered opposition party, Theophile Ntirutwa, and at least nine other members of his party and its leadership. Whereas the other detainees were granted immediate access to FDU’s lawyer and charged in a timely manner, Ntirutwa was assumed missing for 18 days until the RNP confirmed his detention on September 24. According to HRW, in September 2016 the RNP had detained and tortured Ntirutwa for three days.
Domestic organizations critical of the SSF reported government interference in their operations and cited a lack of capacity and independence to investigate security-sector abuses, including reported enforced disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees and prisoners by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.
In 2012 the government signed into law a penal code that upgrades torture from an aggravating circumstance to a crime in itself. The law mandates the maximum penalty, defined by the extent of injury, for SSF and other government perpetrators. In 2015 the government ratified and indigenized the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). However, the Constitution takes precedence over international treaties. In December the Committee Against Torture reported there were no cases in which the Convention was applied or invoked before domestic courts.
On October 10, HRW published a report documenting 104 cases of individuals who were illegally detained, and in many cases tortured, in military detention centers between 2010 and 2016. According to the report, military intelligence personnel and army soldiers employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to obtain confessions before transferring the individuals to formal detention facilities. Detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, severe beatings, and other mistreatment. HRW observed the trials of multiple individuals who alleged being tortured at unofficial military detention centers, including Kami and Mukamira military camps, a military base known as the “Gendarmerie” in Rubavu, and detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba. According to the HRW report, many of the individuals told judges they had been illegally detained and tortured, but “HRW is not aware of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture.” There were no reported prosecutions of SSF personnel for torture.
There were numerous reports police at times beat newly arrested suspects to obtain confessions or instructed other inmates to beat them. Allegations of abuse at the police station in Gisenyi, located across the border from Goma, DRC, and the Remera station in Kigali were particularly frequent. Official reports of sexual abuse were rare, but according to former detainees, transactional sex in prisons and detention centers occurred regularly.
In 2015 and 2016, HRW published reports documenting the abuse by police and other detainees of detained street vendors, persons in prostitution, and beggars at the Gikondo Transit Center, a detention facility in Kigali (locally known as “Kwa Kabuga”), as well as so-called transit centers in Muhanga, Mbazi, and Mudende. According to the HRW report and unpublished reports from domestic observers, inmates carried out the majority of beatings, often with sticks, acting under direction of detention center authorities. The government disputed HRW’s findings, denying the existence of undeclared detention centers and stating that Gikondo was a rehabilitation facility designed to provide “social emergency assistance” in lieu of incarceration. According to HRW, several persons died during or just after their detention in Mudende in 2016 from severe injuries sustained during detention. According to local human rights organizations, these abuses continued during the year despite government efforts since 2015 to improve conditions in Gikondo.
Three RNP officers serving in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti were cited in a 2016 report by the UN secretary-general on sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by international peacekeepers. All three were paternity cases arising from inappropriate relationships with adult victims. The government immediately suspended the officers and opened investigations into their conduct, promising appropriate disciplinary action, provided DNA to the United Nations, and sent a senior officer to Haiti to ensure cooperation with the UN investigation. The UN investigations had not concluded by year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions ranged from harsh and life threatening to meeting international standards. The government took steps to improve conditions in some prisons and constructed additional facilities to relieve overcrowding, but conditions varied widely among prisons.
Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers.
Physical Conditions: According to the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), the prison population rose by approximately 15 percent, from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to more than 61,000 in August, which greatly exacerbated prison overcrowding. The government blamed inadequate facilities for two prison fires in March that caused severe damage to the Gasabo prison in Kigali. The government closed the prison in Gasabo and substantially reduced the prison population of the “1930” prison in Nyarugenge, transferring inmates to a newly constructed facility in Mageragere. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, although overcrowding was more prevalent in men’s wards.
Conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in detention and transit centers, according to HRW reports in 2015 and 2016. Detention centers in general lacked separate facilities for children. According to HRW, officials held children together with adults in Muhanga, Mudende, and Gikondo. They sometimes held minors in separate facilities, such as in Mbazi that had marginally better conditions than the facilities for adults. There was also a minors-only facility in Nyagatare; observers reported Nyagatare came close to meeting international norms and noted authorities provided detained children with formal education opportunities.
According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 150 children under age three lived with their mothers in prison. The law does not allow children above age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.
Authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial.
The government held six prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals. The government moved international transfers and some high-profile “security” prisoners previously held in maximum-security wings of Kigali Central “1930” Prison to the facility in Mageragere.
Prisoner deaths resulted from anemia, HIV/AIDS, respiratory diseases, malaria, and other diseases at rates similar to those found in the general population. Medical care in prisons was commensurate with care for the public at large because the government enrolled all prisoners in the national health insurance plan. Prisoners were fed once per day, but there were no provisions for feeding those in pretrial detention, who relied on family members for food. Authorities permitted family members to supplement the diets of vulnerable prisoners with health problems. HRW stated several detainees shared mattresses often infested with lice and fleas.
Conditions in police and military detention centers varied. Overcrowding was common in police stations and detention centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. Provision of adequate food and medical care was inconsistent.
Authorities transferred transit center male detainees and at-risk adults ages 18 to 35 to the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center on Iwawa Island in Lake Kivu. Sanitation, nutrition, and health services at the center generally met international standards.
Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.
Detainees held at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center did not have the right to appeal their detentions to judicial authorities.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross and also by members of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists carrying out monitoring functions on behalf of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). At times, however, it restricted access to specific prisoners and did not permit monitors to visit undeclared detention centers and certain military intelligence facilities. No domestic or international NGOs reported monitoring prison conditions during the year, citing intimidation by the government.
On October 20, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture suspended its monitoring mission under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, citing government obstruction, restrictions on access to detention facilities and detainees, and fear of reprisals against individuals interviewed by the delegation.
Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.
Improvements: Under its strategic plan for 2013-18, the RCS completed construction of a 9,500-person facility in the Mageragere suburb of Kigali to relieve overcrowding in the Kigali Central “1930” and Kimironko prisons. During the year the RCS established a correctional policy specialist position to oversee compliance with legal inmate rights provisions, and observers credited the RCS with continuing to take steps to improve prison conditions and eradicate abuses in formal detention facilities. The Ministry of Justice organized several conferences during the year on prisoners’ rights and encouraged corrections officers to respect the rights of inmates.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but SSF personnel regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but in practice few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention.
According to HRW’s October 10 report, individuals “suspected of collaborating with enemies” were detained unlawfully, and held “for up to nine months in extremely harsh and inhuman conditions,” frequently incommunicado. HRW also documented cases “in which individuals believed to be held in military custody have never returned and appear to have been forcibly disappeared.” Individuals detained by military intelligence were not registered in the formal law enforcement system, and “the period of their detention in military facilities [is] erased from public record,” according to HRW.
Domestic observers and local media reported the RNP systematically rounded up and arbitrarily detained street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. As in previous years, the RNP held detainees without charge at the Gikondo Transit Center before either transferring them to the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas in the countryside. In August, for example, the Ministry of Local Government and the mayor of Kigali ordered the forcible relocation to rural areas of more than 560 persons detained by police for begging and loitering in Kigali, according to local media. The government maintained that individuals in transit and rehabilitation centers were not detainees, although they could not leave the centers.
In the period preceding the August 4 presidential election, domestic observers noted that authorities intensified efforts to remove street children, unlicensed vendors, persons in prostitution, and the homeless from Kigali streets. Local human rights activists reported the SSF performed searches without a warrant of all residences near the president’s campaign rally points and detained those perceived to pose a potential threat. One human rights activist reported being detained for four days with at least one dozen other individuals without being charged.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The RNP, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The RDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the RDF also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the RNP. In 2016 the cabinet approved the creation of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau under the Ministry of Justice to assume the RNP’s investigation and prosecution responsibilities, but the bureau had not started operation by year’s end.
Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the RNP and the RDF, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The Inspectorate General of the RNP generally disciplined police for excessive use of force and prosecuted acts of corruption. Nevertheless, there were reports SSF elements at times acted independently of civilian control. For example, there were reports RDF J-2 (intelligence staff), NISS, and RNP intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture in military and police detention centers, both declared and undeclared.
The RDF normally displayed a high level of military professionalism and discipline. In August RDF Major Aimable Rugomwa, who in 2016 shot and killed a young boy in Kanombe on suspicion of theft, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 11 million Rwandan francs ($13,000). In October, two RDF soldiers were convicted of murder and extortion and sentenced to life imprisonment. The soldiers were convicted of extorting payments from individuals who could not present an identification document (ID) and of shooting and killing a man who refused to comply with their demands while on a night patrol on May 9 in the Gikondo suburb of Kigali.
Police at times lacked sufficient basic resources–such as handcuffs, radios, and patrol cars–but observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.
There were reports of abuse of suspects by the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO), including in May and August several incidents in which street vendors responded to alleged DASSO abuse by attacking DASSO officers. According to local media reports, street vendors also accused the DASSO of working with police to expropriate their merchandise. As in previous years, authorities disciplined individual DASSO officers and organized human rights training for all 2,600 DASSO personnel.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
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. There were numerous reports police and prosecutors disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. The SSF held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial 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.
The law permits investigative detention if authorities believe public safety is threatened or the accused might flee, and judges interpreted these provisions broadly. A judge must review such detention every 30 days, which may not extend beyond one year, but the SSF held numerous suspects indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days. Police also routinely circumvented arrest procedures by summoning suspects for daily interrogation, requiring them to spend up to 16 hours each day at Criminal Investigations Division headquarters without formally charging them with a crime. Individuals subsequently reported spending the bulk of each day simply sitting in a cell, and said investigators only questioned them for 20 to 30 minutes each day.
After prosecutors formally file a charge, detention may be indefinite unless bail is granted. Bail exists only for crimes for which the maximum sentence if convicted is five years’ imprisonment or less, but authorities may release a suspect pending trial if satisfied the person would not flee or become a threat to public safety and order. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, at intelligence-related detention centers such as Camp Kami or Kwa Gacinya, or in undeclared detention facilities. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.
Convicted persons sometimes remained in prison after completing their sentences while waiting for an appeal date or due to problems with prison records. The law provides that pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed, but it does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted. The law allows judges to impose detention of equivalent duration and fines on SSF and other government officials who unlawfully detained individuals, but there were no reports that judges exercised this authority.
Arbitrary Arrest: Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities frequently detained their supporters and party officials but released most after detention of one week or less. Several, including FDU leaders, were detained longer than one week. FDU assistant treasurer Leonille Gasengayire, who was detained in August 2016 on what domestic and international observers called politically motivated charges, was released in March. On September 6, Gasengayire and eight other FDU members, including the party’s top leaders, were arrested, allegedly for “recruiting individuals into armed groups operating in a neighboring country.” On September 20, they were arraigned and charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Domestic and international observers disputed the prosecution’s claim and argued the charges were politically motivated. On September 6, Theophile Ntirutwa, the FDU’s Kigali representative, also was detained, but he was not charged with the others and was assumed missing until September 24, when RNP confirmed his detention. In October the courts denied bail to Ntirutwa and eight other FDU members and remanded them to pretrial detention. They remained in detention, and the trial had not commenced by year’s end.
Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an ID, police and the DASSO regularly detained street children, vendors, and beggars without IDs and sometimes charged them with illegal street vending or vagrancy. Authorities released adults who could produce an ID and transported street children to their home districts, to shelters, or for processing into vocational and educational programs.
There were numerous reports that authorities detained family members of individuals suspected of committing crimes if the suspects themselves could not be located. Authorities advertised the detention of the suspects’ relatives but released them without charges if the suspects turned themselves in.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for extended periods without arraignment. HRW reported that when some detainees were transferred from military detention facilities to official detention facilities, military, intelligence, or police officials made detainees sign documents stating they had been arrested on the date of their transfer rather than their actual date of arrest, thereby erasing their military detention from the record. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial. The inspector general of the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) sanctioned some government officials who abused regulations on pretrial detention with penalties, including fines and suspensions.
To eliminate case backlogs and reduce the average length of pretrial detention, in 2015 the government promulgated national regulations on the organization, jurisdiction, competence, and functioning of cell- and sector-level mediation committees (Abunzi), whose members were elected locally, expanding their jurisdiction to include criminal cases. In March a domestic NGO announced preliminary findings of a survey that showed a sizable majority of citizens viewed the Abunzi as biased; many survey respondents described the Abunzi as corrupt and reported dissatisfaction with their decisions. The government criticized the survey findings, and the organization did not publish survey results by year’s end. If one of the parties to a dispute rejected the sector-level mediation committee’s decision, it could appeal it to the local primary court, but few reported having the means to do so. In approximately half of the cases that were appealed, courts overturned the Abunzi decisions because of misapplication of the law.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although detainees have the right to challenge their detention in court, few tried and none were able to obtain prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. As in previous years, there were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.
Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. In its 2016-17 activity report, the NPPA stated it had processed to conclusion 89 percent of the 26,026 cases it had received. Despite the NPPA’s conclusion that its 181 prosecutors handled all cases without significant undue delay, defense lawyers noted a substantial increase in criminal cases and reported there were an insufficient number of prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms to hold trials within a reasonable time.
By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers. The expense and scarcity of lawyers and most lawyers’ reluctance to take on cases they considered sensitive for political or state security reasons, however, limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers working on politically sensitive cases reported harassment and threats by government officials and denial of access to evidence against their clients.
Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The Rwandan Bar Association and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need. Legal aid organizations noted that the requirement that defendants present a certificate of indigence signed by their district authorities made it difficult to qualify for pro bono representation. Defendants reported that authorities frequently delayed or refused to issue the certificate, especially in genocide-related cases.
The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, but domestic human rights organizations noted that officials did not always enforce this right, particularly in cases of deaf and hard-of-hearing defendants requiring sign language interpreters. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision.
There were some reports the SSF coerced suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial (see section on political prisoners below). The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.
The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes. The government did not release figures on the number of civilians tried as accomplices of military personnel.
In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to a Tanzania-based branch of the MICT. It continued to pursue eight genocide fugitives subject to Rwanda tribunal indictments. During the year several countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, transferred other high-profile genocide suspects to Rwandan authorities, and prosecutions in these cases were underway.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were numerous reports that local officials and the SSF briefly detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. Frequently, authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells–even in facilities with severe overcrowding–to ensure they would not be mistreated while in detention. Numerous individuals identified by international and domestic human rights groups as political prisoners remained in prison, including Victoire Ingabire, Deo Mushayidi, and Theoneste Niyitegeka.
FDU president and former 2010 presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire was convicted and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in 2012 in what was considered a flawed trial based on politically motivated charges. In 2013 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and increased her sentence from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. Following the September 6 arrest of the FDU’s top leaders on charges that human rights organizations believed to be politically motivated, the party released a statement accusing authorities of impeding access to Ingabire and preventing party members from bringing her food. On November 24, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ruled that Rwanda violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of expression and that her 2012 conviction in a flawed judicial process violated her right to defense.
Convicted and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2008 for complicity in genocide, former 2003 presidential candidate Theoneste Niyitegeka remained in prison at year’s end. International and domestic human rights organizations claimed the charges against Niyitegeka were politically motivated and that there were serious irregularities in Niyitegeka’s appeal proceedings in sector-level courts.
Colonel Tom Byabagamba and retired brigadier general Frank Rusagara remained in prison after their sentencing in 2016 to 21 and 20 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image. HRW documented numerous irregularities in these two cases, including the fact judges allowed the defense to cross-examine only four of the 11 prosecution witnesses. One of these, retired captain David Kabuye, was arrested at approximately the same time; Kabuye stated during his own trial he was forced to testify against Rusagara and Byabagamba. Kabuye was released and charges against him dropped following Byabagamba’s and Rusagara’s sentencing.
On August 29, police raided the residence of presidential aspirant and vocal Kagame critic Diane Rwigara (see section 3). Rwigara and several family members reported being held incommunicado and placed under de facto house arrest for several days. The Rwigaras told local press that they were summoned by police for near daily questioning until their formal arrest on September 23. On October 16, Rwigara was charged with forgery, divisionism, and inciting insurrection; her mother faced the latter two charges and her sister the charge of inciting insurrection. On October 23, the court remanded Diane Rwigara and her mother to 30-day pretrial detention, which may be extended for up to one year. She remained in detention, and the trial had not commenced at year’s end.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for violations of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) after exhausting domestic appeals.
Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The NCHR investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases.
A March HRW report chronicled the cases of dozens of families forced off their land by local authorities in western areas either to enable government construction of “model villages” or because politically connected families laid claim to the land. HRW stated military and civilian authorities “arrested, beat, and threatened persons who challenged… government decisions to force residents off their land.”
On May 8, relatives of FDU member Jean Damascene Habarugira reported they were instructed by authorities to retrieve his body from Nyamata Hospital in Bugesera, 24 miles from his residence in Ngoma from which he had disappeared several days earlier. Habarugira had been a vocal opponent of the government’s land consolidation policy. Habarugira’s eyes had been gouged out and his head partially decapitated. The FDU alleged local authorities bragged of “eliminating” Habarugira in community meetings. Several days later police arrested the chief of security in Habarugira’s village for killing him.
The EACJ continued hearings in the case of Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, a Rwandan businessperson living in self-imposed exile in South Africa whose United Trade Center shopping mall in Kigali, valued at 16.2 billion Rwandan francs ($19 million), was seized by the government in 2013. In September authorities auctioned off the building for 6.9 billion Rwandan francs ($8.1 million) to a group of Kigali investors whose identities were not disclosed.
The government continued harassment of the family of Assinapol Rwigara whose death, the family claimed, was a politically motivated killing by SSF members after an automobile accident in 2015. During the year the government closed the family’s tobacco factory after previously demolishing a hotel belonging to the Rwigaras in 2015 and seizing real estate owned by the family in 2016. In September, two months after Assinapol’s daughter, Diane, was disqualified from running in the August 4 presidential election, the government initiated criminal proceedings against the family for alleged nonpayment of taxes. The Rwigaras reported the government closed and garnished their bank accounts. Police also confirmed the seizure of large sums of money during two raids on the Rwigara residence on August 29 and September 4. In November the government threatened to seize and auction off the family’s properties to settle alleged tax arrears amounting to 5 billion Rwandan francs ($6 million).
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were numerous reports that the government monitored homes, movements, telephone calls, email, other private communications, and personal and institutional data. There were reports of government informants working within international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions.
The law requires police to obtain authorization from a state prosecutor prior to entering and searching citizens’ homes. According to human rights organizations, the SSF at times entered homes without obtaining the required authorization.
The penal code provides legal protection against unauthorized use of personal data by private entities, although officials did not invoke these provisions during the year.
RPF members regularly visited citizens’ homes pressuring citizens to contribute to the ruling party and the government’s Agaciro Development Fund, established by the government in 2012 with the expressed goal of accelerating the country’s independence from international aid. Following citizen complaints concerning aggressive fund-raising efforts by the ruling party in the period preceding the August 4 presidential election, Minister of Local Government Francis Kaboneka issued a directive to local leaders to stop collecting “forced” contributions, noting that the RPF had sufficient funds for the elections.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but government restrictions on the formation of opposition parties and harassment of critics and political dissidents limited that ability. The law provides for voting by secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary–but not local–elections. The RPF and allied parties fully controlled the government and legislature, and RPF candidates dominated elections at all levels
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In August voters re-elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term reportedly with 99 percent of the vote. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) reported that 98 percent of the population participated in the election. Observers’ confidence in the integrity of electoral results was undermined by irregularities and instances of ballot stuffing. Officials denied observers access to vote tabulation at polling stations as well as vote consolidation at the sector-, district-, and national-level. Ballots were not numbered or adequately controlled and accounted for either at the individual polling station or at the sector-, district-, or national-level. Observers noted that reported results in some polling rooms exceeded the number of registered voters, the number of voters observed throughout the day, and the number of physical ballots counted by election officials in the presence of observers. Independent aspirants experienced difficulties in registering their candidacies ahead of the elections. The NEC disqualified three independent aspirants, reportedly for failing to meet registration requirements, such as obtaining the required number of supporters’ signatures. Observers noted considerable ambiguity regarding the registration requirements and approval process and the lack of an appeals process for those candidates who were disqualified. One independent candidate and one opposition party candidate did run in the election. The NEC initially issued restrictive guidelines on social media use during the presidential campaign that were rescinded following a public outcry. Observers noted that the compressed three-week campaign timeline and the prohibition on fundraising prior to the NEC’s certification of candidacies severely hampered candidates’ ability to challenge the incumbent. In July, at the beginning of the campaign, presidential candidates reported harassment by local officials that prompted government authorities to arrest one district mayor and several local leaders, after which harassment of official candidates stopped.
In 2015 the government held a constitutional referendum on a set of amendments that included provisions that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office. The NEC reported 98 percent of registered voters participated, and 98 percent endorsed a set of amendments that retained term limits and included provisions that shorten the terms in office of the president and prime minister from seven years to five years but also provided an exception that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office (one seven-year term and up to two five-year terms). The text of the amendments was not generally available to voters for review prior to the referendum, and political parties opposed to the amendments were not permitted to hold rallies or public meetings to express their opposition to the amendments. Independent international observers did not monitor or report on the conduct of the referendum.
Elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, in 2013 were peaceful and orderly, but according to international observers, they did not meet the generally recognized standards for free and fair elections.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system but provides few rights for parties and their candidates. There were some reports the RPF pressured youth into joining the party during mandatory “ingando” civic and military training camps after completing secondary school and the “itorero” cultural school that promoted patriotism in addition to inculcating national customs. There were also reports RPF members pressured teachers, clergy, and businesspersons to join the party and coerced political donations from both party members and nonmembers. Political parties allied to the RPF were largely able to operate freely, but members faced legal sanctions if found guilty of engaging in divisive acts, destabilizing national unity, threatening territorial integrity, or undermining national security. Officials for the DGPR reported that DGPR members were harassed and threatened by local officials and compelled to contribute financially to the RPF.
The DGPR was registered officially as a political party in 2013, after the government blocked its attempts to register in 2009 and 2010. DGPR president Frank Habineza was successful in registering his candidacy for the August presidential election, the first election in which the DGPR participated. DGPR leaders reported that, despite some harassment from local officials, the party was permitted to publish policy proposals as alternatives to RPF policy and hold small meetings with party supporters.
The government no longer required but strongly encouraged all registered political parties to join the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations. The consultative forum sought to promote consensus among political parties and required member parties to support publicly policy positions developed through dialogue. At year’s end, all 11 registered parties were members of the organization. Government officials praised it for promoting political unity, while critics argued it stifled political competition and public debate.
Opposition leaders reported police arbitrarily arrested and beat some members of the unregistered Social Party-Imberakuri (Bernard Ntaganda faction), Democratic Pact of the Imanzi People (PDP-Imanzi), and FDU-Inkingi parties. Party members reported receiving threats because of their association with those parties. On September 6, the RNP raided the FDU’s Kigali office and detained 10 party members. The party’s top leaders were subsequently charged with membership in a terrorist organization (see section 1.). Jean Marie Vianney Kayumba, the highest-ranking member of the PDP, was also detained on September 6. After his September 8 release, he reported being held incommunicado in various RNP “safe houses” where he said he was beaten and threatened with death. He was not charged with a crime.
In accordance with the constitution, which states a majority party in the Chamber of Deputies may not fill more than 50 percent of cabinet positions, independents and members of other political parties allied with the RPF held key positions in government, including that of prime minister and foreign minister. The Social Party-Imberakuri and the DGPR were not represented in the cabinet.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. In the cabinet announced on August 28, women held 42 percent of the positions, and continued to hold 64 percent of seats in Parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and private persons transacting business with the government that include imprisonment and fines. The law also provides for citizens who report requests for bribes by government officials to receive financial rewards when officials are prosecuted; however, there were no reported cases of such rewards being given. While the government implemented anticorruption laws and encouraged citizens to report requests for bribes, corruption remained a problem.
Corruption: Transparency International Rwanda and other NGOs reported the government investigated and prosecuted reports of corruption among police and government officials. Police frequently conducted internal investigations of police corruption, including sting operations, and punished offenders. During the year the vice rector of the University of Rwanda and the managing directors of the Water and Sanitation Agency and the Energy Utility Corporation were arrested on corruption charges. Additionally, 12 sector- and district-level leaders and their administrative staff members were charged with corruption and embezzlement during the year.
Embezzlement is a criminal offense that is litigated separately from other corruption-related crimes. The NPPA reported 203 convictions stemming from 234 cases of embezzlement between September 2016 and August. A total of 117 individuals were either acquitted of embezzlement or had charges dropped due to insufficient evidence during the year.
International and domestic investors reported the government strongly supported the establishment of businesses, including through one-stop business licensing efforts that generally resulted in business registration within 72 hours. Nevertheless, investors reported contract disputes with the government, late payments for services, pressure to renegotiate existing contracts, and arbitrary enforcement of tax, immigration, and investment rules hindered their ability to run and expand their businesses.
The NPPA prosecuted civil servants, police, and other officials for fraud, petty corruption, awarding of public tenders illegally, and mismanagement of public assets. Under the Ministry of Justice, the NPPA is also responsible for prosecuting police abuse cases. The RNP Inspectorate of Services investigated cases of police misconduct. The RNP dismissed 90 staff members, including 17 officers, for indiscipline, corruption, misconduct, and abuse of power during the year. The RNP advertised a toll-free hotline number on local radio and in the press and provided deposit boxes in many communities to encourage citizens to report both positive and negative police and DASSO behavior.
The government utilized a “bagging and tagging” system to aid companies with regional and international due diligence requirements related to conflict minerals. The government maintained a ban on the purchase or sale of undocumented minerals from neighboring countries. Observers and government officials reported smugglers trafficked an unknown amount of undocumented minerals through the country.
Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require annual reporting of income and assets by public officials as well as reporting them upon entering and leaving office. There is no requirement for public disclosure of those assets, except in cases where irregularities are discovered. The Office of the Ombudsman, which monitors and verifies disclosures, reported 99 percent of officials complied with the requirement. In cases of noncompliance, the Office of the Ombudsman has the power to garnish wages and impose administrative sanctions that often involved loss of position or prosecution.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women and spousal rape, and the government handled rape cases as a judicial priority. Penalties for conviction of rape range from five years’ to life imprisonment with fines of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($592 to $1,183). Penalties for conviction of spousal rape range from two months’ to life imprisonment with fines of 100,000 to 300,000 Rwandan francs ($118 to $355).
The law provides for imprisonment of three to six months for threatening, harassing, or beating one’s spouse. Domestic violence against women and children was common. Authorities encouraged the reporting of domestic violence cases, although most incidents remained within the extended family and were not reported or prosecuted.
Police headquarters in Kigali had a hotline for domestic violence. Several other ministries also had free GBV hotlines. Each of the 78 police stations nationwide had its own gender desk, an average of three officers trained in handling domestic violence and GBV cases, and a public outreach program. The government operated 44 one-stop centers throughout the country, providing medical, psychological, legal, and police assistance at no cost to victims of domestic violence.
The government continued its whole-of-government, multistakeholder campaign against GBV, child abuse, and other types of domestic violence. GBV was a required training module for police and military at all levels and was included as a module for all troops and police deploying to peacekeeping missions abroad.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment by employers or any other person and provides for penalties for conviction of two months’ to two years’ imprisonment and fines from 100,000 to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($118 to $592). Nevertheless, advocacy organizations reported sexual harassment remained common.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and are entitled to the same rights as men, including under family, labor, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law allows women to inherit property from their fathers and husbands, and couples may make their own legal property arrangements. Women experienced some difficulties pursuing property claims due to lack of knowledge, procedural bias against women in inheritance matters, multiple spousal claims due to polygyny, and the threat of GBV. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions.
After the 1994 genocide that left many women as heads of households, women assumed a larger role in the formal sector, and many operated their own businesses. Nevertheless, men owned the major assets of most households, particularly those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, making bank credit inaccessible to many women and rendering it difficult to start or expand a business.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Children born to two Rwandan parents automatically receive citizenship. Children with one Rwandan parent must apply for citizenship before turning 18. Children born in the country to unknown or stateless parents automatically receive citizenship. Minor children adopted by Rwandans, irrespective of nationality or statelessness, automatically receive citizenship. Children retain their citizenship in the event of dissolution of the parents’ marriage. Births were registered at the sector level upon presentation of a medical birth certificate. There were no reports of unregistered births leading to denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The government implemented a 12-year basic education program in 2012 that extended tuition-free universal public education to six years of primary and six years of secondary education. Education through grade nine is compulsory. Parents were not required to pay tuition fees, although domestic observers reported that “in practice parents have to pay high education fees for teachers’ incentives and meal expenses.”
According to the 2015 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, 88 percent of children attended primary school and 23 percent attended secondary school in the 2013-14 academic year.
Child Abuse: While statistics on child abuse were unreliable, such abuse was common within the family, in the village, and at school. The government conducted a high-profile public awareness campaign against GBV and child abuse. The government supported a network of one-stop centers and hospital facilities that offered integrated police, legal, medical, and counseling services to victims of GBV and child abuse. The National Commission for Children (NCC) also partnered with UNICEF to establish a corps of 29,674 community-based “Friends of the Family” volunteers (two per village) to help address GBV and child protection concerns at the village level.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 21. Anecdotal evidence suggested child marriage was more common in rural areas and refugee camps than in urban areas. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual relations with a child under age 18 constitutes child defilement for which conviction is punishable by life in prison and a fine of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($118 to $1,183).
The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, which are punishable by penalties if convicted of six months to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 20 million Rwandan francs ($592 to $23,670). Conviction statistics were not available. The government, however, reported investigating 24 human trafficking cases through August. Of these, six led to criminal charges, 10 were dropped due to lack of evidence, two were reclassified, and six remained pending. Local media reports indicated victims in some of these cases were minors.
Child Soldiers: The government supported the Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center in Northern Province that provided care and social reintegration preparation for children who previously served in armed groups in the DRC (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement). The center provided education, psychosocial support, recreational and cultural activities, medical care, and agricultural vocational training.
Displaced Children: There were numerous street children throughout the country. Authorities gathered street children in district transit centers and placed them in rehabilitation centers. Conditions and practices varied at 29 privately run rehabilitation centers for street children.
UNHCR reported that approximately 1,750 unaccompanied and separated children entered the country as part of an influx of more than 87,000 refugees from Burundi since 2015. UNHCR accommodated unaccompanied minors in the Mahama refugee camp and camp staff provided additional protection measures for them.
Institutionalized Children: In May the NCC reported that 2,691 children were transferred from private orphanages and government-run child-care institutions into family-based rehabilitation with the assistance of UNICEF between 2012 and 2017. The joint government-UNICEF program prevented approximately 2,500 children from being separated from their families. The government estimated approximately 1,200 children remained in 15 child-care institutions across the country.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was a very small Jewish community, consisting entirely of foreigners, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to public facilities, accommodations for taking national examinations, provision of medical care by the government, and monitoring of implementation by the NCHR. Despite a continuing campaign to create a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, accessibility remained a problem throughout the country, including in public buildings.
There were no legal restrictions or extra registration steps to vote for citizens with disabilities, and registration could be completed online. The NEC provided sign language interpreters during the presidential campaign, although not for opposition candidates. Observers noted that some polling stations remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities and that some election volunteers appeared untrained on how to assist voters with disabilities. Observers, however, also reported significant improvements compared with previous electoral cycles, including the country’s first use of braille ballots and other accommodations for elderly persons and voters with disabilities.
Many children with disabilities did not attend primary or secondary school. Few students with disabilities reached the university level because many primary and secondary schools were unable to accommodate their disabilities.
There was one government psychiatric referral hospital in Kigali, with district hospitals providing limited psychiatric services. All other mental health facilities were nongovernmental.
Some citizens viewed disability as a curse or punishment that could result in social exclusion and sometimes abandoned or hid children with disabilities from the community.
The constitution provides for the eradication of ethnic, regional, and other divisions in society and the promotion of national unity. Longstanding tensions in the country culminated in the 1994 state-orchestrated genocide that killed between 750,000 and one million citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. Following the killing of the president in 1994, an extremist interim government directed the Hutu-dominated national army, militia groups, and ordinary citizens to kill resident Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The genocide ended later in 1994 when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating from Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias and established an RPF-led government of national unity that included members of eight political parties.
Since 1994 the government has called for national reconciliation and abolished the policies of the former government that created and deepened ethnic cleavages. The government removed all references to ethnicity in official discourse–with the exception of references to the genocide that is officially termed “the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi”–and eliminated ethnic quotas for education, training, and government employment.
Some individuals stated the government’s reconciliation policies and programs failed to recognize Hutu victims of the genocide or crimes committed by the RPF after the end of the genocide.
After the genocide the government banned identity card references to Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa ethnicity and prohibited social or political organizations based on ethnic affiliation. As a result the Twa, who numbered approximately 34,000, lost their official designation as an ethnic group. The government no longer recognizes groups advocating specifically for Twa needs, and some Twa believed this government policy denied them their rights as an indigenous ethnic group.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There are no laws that criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and cabinet-level government officials expressed support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. LGBTI persons reported societal discrimination and abuse, and LGBTI rights groups reported occasional harassment by neighbors and police.
There were sporadic reports of physical attacks against LGBTI persons. Activists reported that two LGBTI individuals fled the country due to social media harassment from community members that they said was endorsed by local community leaders.
In May, Ugandan LGBTI activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was arrested on arrival at the Kigali airport and returned to Uganda. According to an RNP statement, Nabagesera had been detained for drunkenness and misconduct.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The penal code provides for imprisonment of up to six months for persons convicted of stigmatizing an individual who suffers from an incurable infection. There were no reports of prosecutions under this statute. Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred, although such incidents remained rare. The government actively supported relevant public education campaigns, including establishing HIV/AIDS awareness clubs in secondary schools and making public pronouncements against stigmatization of those with the disease.
The penal code also provides stiffer penalties for conviction of rape and defilement in cases of transmission of an incurable illness. In most cases of sexual violence, the victim and alleged perpetrator both undergo HIV testing.
According to RDF policy and in keeping with UN guidelines, the military did not permit its members with HIV/AIDS to participate in peacekeeping missions abroad but allowed them to remain in the RDF.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that “every worker in every enterprise,” except for certain senior public servants, police, and soldiers, has the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law also permits informal-sector workers to join unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively, but informal workers are exempt from other protections of the law. Most provisions of the law generally do not protect unregistered small businesses, cooperatives, and informal-sector workers.
The law restricts voluntary collective bargaining by requiring prior authorization or approval by authorities and requiring binding arbitration in cases of nonconciliation. The law allows unions to negotiate with employers for an industry-level minimum wage in certain sectors, but these agreements were not enforced.
The law provides some workers the right to conduct strikes, subject to numerous restrictions. Public servants, soldiers, and employees providing “essential services” as defined by the Ministry of Public Service and Labor generally are not permitted to strike, and participation in unauthorized demonstrations may result in employee dismissal, nonpayment of wages, and civil action against the union. A union’s executive committee must approve any strike, and the union must first try to resolve its differences with management through complex compulsory arbitration, conciliation, and mediation processes prescribed by the ministry.
Other provisions of the law frequently abrogated these rights. For example, a ministerial order that broadly defines essential services to include public transportation, security, education (during national exams), water and sanitation, and telecommunications severely restricts the right to strike in these fields.
Ministerial orders define the implementation of the labor law; there are no significant inconsistencies between the law and ministerial orders. All unions must register with the Ministry of Labor. The application process was cumbersome, lengthy, and costly, and it required unions to disclose their membership and property.
The law allows unions to conduct activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination, and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity. Conviction of antiunion interference and discrimination are subject to penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations.
There were 29 labor unions organized into three confederations: 15 unions were represented by the Rwanda Confederation of Trade Unions (CESTRAR), seven by the Labor and Worker’s Brotherhood Congress (COTRAF), and seven by the National Council of Free Trade Union Organizations in Rwanda. All three federations ostensibly were independent, but CESTRAR had close links to the government and the ruling RPF party.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining generally were not respected. The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively and restricted these rights.
The government severely limited the right to collective bargaining, and legal mechanisms were inadequate to protect this right. Labor union officials commented that many private-sector businesses controlled by the RPF or the RDF were off limits to collective bargaining negotiations. The government also controlled collective bargaining with cooperatives and mandatory arbitration. No labor union had an established collective bargaining agreement with the government.
Collective bargaining occasionally was practiced in the private sector. For example, in 2015 an international tea exporter renewed its 2012 collective bargaining agreement with its employees. CESTRAR, COTRAF, and the Ministry of Labor participated in the negotiations.
There were neither registered strikes nor anecdotal reports of unlawful strikes during the year; the most recent recorded strike was by textile workers in 2013.
National elections for trade union representatives were held in 2015. Trade union leaders stated the government interfered in the elections and pressured some candidates not to run.
There were no functioning labor courts or other formal mechanisms to resolve antiunion discrimination complaints, and COTRAF reported it could take four to five years for labor disputes to be resolved through the civil courts. According to several trade unions, employers in small companies frequently used transfers, demotions, and dismissals to intimidate union members.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law. In 2014 the government issued a national trafficking in persons action plan that included programs to address forced labor. Various articles of the penal code criminalize human trafficking. The law prescribes penalties for conviction of imprisonment or fines. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Child trafficking convictions are subject to a minimum five-year prison term, while slavery convictions carry three- to 12-year prison terms. Statistics on the number of victims removed from forced labor were not available.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for full-time employment is 16. The law prohibits children under age 18 from participating in hazardous work, including night work from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.; the worst forms of child labor as defined by International Labor Organization Convention 182; or any work deemed difficult, unsanitary, or dangerous by the Ministry of Labor. Prohibited sectors include work in industrial institutions, domestic service, mining and quarrying, construction, brick making, or applying fertilizers and pesticides. The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor by children; children in military service, prostitution, or pornography; and child trafficking and slavery. The law provides for working children to have at least 12 hours of rest between work periods and also applies to minors employed outside the formal work sector. In 2016 the Ministry of Labor approved additional protections for children, including putting a cap on the number of hours minors may be employed at 20 per week, identifying additional categories of work “harmful to the health and development of children” that are proscribed for minors, and expanding application of the guidelines’ protections. In 2016 the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor approved separate guidelines outlining sanctions for individuals who prevent children from attending school.
The law applies to contractual employment but not to noncontractual employment, such as subsistence family farming or casual labor in agricultural cooperatives, and thus leaves many working children unprotected. In addition to national law, some districts enforced local regulations against hazardous child labor and sanctioned employers and parents for violations. Police, immigration officials, local government officials, and labor inspectors received training on identifying victims of trafficking.
The NCC took the lead role in designating responsible agencies and establishing actions to be taken, timelines, and other concrete measures in relation to the integrated child rights policy and various national commissions, plans, and policies related to child protection subsumed therein. At the local level, 149 child labor committees monitored incidents of child labor, and each district was required to establish a steering committee to combat child labor. At the village level, 320 child labor focal point volunteers were appointed, supported by 10 national protection officers appointed by the NCC and 48 social workers. The NCC worked with UNICEF to train a cadre of approximately 30,000 “Friends of the Family” volunteers to address child abuse and prevent child trafficking at the village level.
The Ministry of Labor conducted labor inspections of sectors of the economy known to employ children, focusing on domestic work and the agriculture sector. The RNP operated a Child Protection Unit. District government officials, as part of their performance contracts, enforced child labor reduction and school attendance benchmarks. Observers noted considerable political will to address child labor but also that the government remained sensitive to public attention regarding the extent of child labor in the country. For example, the government continued to refuse to “validate” a 2015 NGO report on the prevalence of child labor in the tea sector.
The government worked with NGOs to raise awareness of the problem and to identify and send to school or vocational training children involved in child labor. The Ministry of Labor invited private-sector businesses to sign a memorandum of understanding committing them to eradicate child labor. The government’s 12-year basic education program aided in reducing the incidence of child labor, although many children who worked also attended school because classes were held in alternating morning or afternoon shifts. The government fined those who illegally employed children or parents who sent their children to work instead of school.
The government did not enforce the law effectively. The majority of child laborers worked in the agricultural sector and as household domestics. Child labor also existed in isolated instances in small companies and light manufacturing, in cross-border transportation, and in the brick making, charcoal, rock crushing, and mining industries. Children received low wages, and abuse was common. In addition forced labor and child sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking, were problems.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination but does not specifically protect sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work.
The government sought to enforce antidiscrimination laws, but there were numerous reports not challenged in court of discrimination based on gender, pregnancy, disability, and political affiliation. Migrant workers enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In 2016 the National Labor Council approved a proposal to increase the national minimum wage, which would have been the first revision to the minimum wage since 1974, when it was set at 100 Rwandan francs ($0.12) per day. The proposal, however, was not approved by the cabinet. The Ministry of Public Service and Labor set industry-specific minimum wages in the small formal sector. Sector minimum wages were not enforced. Minimum wages provided a higher standard of living than that of the approximately 70 percent of the population relying on subsistence farming. As the country’s largest employer, the government effectively set most other formal-sector wage rates.
According to the 2015 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, the percentage of citizens in 2014 living below the national poverty line was 39 percent, and the percentage living in extreme poverty was 16 percent. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of the population in 2013 lived below the international poverty line.
The law provides a standard workweek of 45 hours and 18 to 21 days paid annual leave, in addition to official holidays. The law provides for premium pay for overtime for some salaried employees and sets prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime, but these provisions often were disregarded and rarely enforced. The law provides employers with the right to determine daily rest periods. Most employees received a one-hour lunch break. The law was amended in 2016 to provide for fully paid maternity leave for up to three months.
The law regulates hours of work and occupational health and safety standards in the formal-wage sector. Ministerial orders determine the modalities for establishing and operating occupational safety and health committees, but the committees had not been established. The same labor standards applied to migrant and foreign workers as to citizens.
The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor standards effectively. The many violations reported to labor unions compared to the few actions taken by the government and employers to remedy substandard working conditions suggested penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Some workers accepted less than the minimum wage. Families regularly supplemented their incomes by working in small businesses or subsistence agriculture. Most workers in the formal sector worked six days per week. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common in both the formal and informal sectors. Local media highlighted the common problem of employers violating the law by not registering employees for social security or occupational health insurance and not paying into those benefit systems. Workers in the subcontractor and business process outsourcing sectors were especially vulnerable to hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available, but ministry officials singled out mining as a sector with significant problems in implementing occupational safety and health standards. There were no major industrial accidents during the year.
Workers did not have explicit rights to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their jobs. The Ministry of Labor sought to promote the health and safety of workers by maintaining a list of dangerous professions subject to heightened safety scrutiny.