Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted these rights. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical on sensitive topics.
The Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body, sometimes intervened on journalists’ behalf, as it did in the August disappearance of journalist John Ndabarasa. The RMC also remonstrated against the attack on a foreign journalist, who was injured by a DASSO officer while covering a DASSO operation in May. Journalists also reported the RMC lost its independence following the May 2015 ouster and subsequent exile of its elected chairperson Fred Muvunyi.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals’ right to criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and other issues. Nonetheless, the government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security and other matters that were deemed sensitive. For example, in February the RNP detained two journalists who were preparing a report on tax evasion involving the country’s main stone quarry. After their release, the journalists recounted how members of the RMC accompanied the RNP officers who searched and confiscated computers and various files before detaining them.
Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial discouraged citizens from expressing viewpoints some might construe as promoting societal divisions. The law prohibits the propagation of ideas based on “ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics.” Conviction of public incitement to “genocide ideology” or “divisionism,” including discrimination and sectarianism, is punishable by five to nine years’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($123 to $1,234). Authorities applied the laws broadly, including to silence political dissent and to shut down investigative journalism.
The 2012 penal code expanded former provisions that prohibited the display of contempt for the head of state or other high-level public officials to include administrative authorities or other public servants, with sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($61 to $617). Other changes included revising the crime of “spreading rumors aimed at inciting the population to rise against the regime” to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state,” with much more severe penalties, including life in prison for conviction for acts committed during wartime and seven to 10 years’ imprisonment for acts committed in peacetime. Slander and libel of foreign and international officials and dignitaries are illegal, with sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment.
In 2013 the government signed into law a revised genocide ideology law that introduced international definitions for genocide and narrowed the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offenses to a more specific range of actions and statements. Specifically, the law states that “genocidal ideology” must be clearly linked to specific acts or statements, rather than the broader “aggregate of thoughts” standard defined in the 2008 law. Nevertheless, authorities applied the statute broadly, and there were numerous reports of its use to silence persons critical of government policy.
The government investigated and prosecuted individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology, which the law defines as dehumanizing an individual or a group with the same characteristics by threatening, intimidating, defaming, inciting hatred, denying the genocide, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence, killing, planning to kill, or attempting to kill someone.
Prosecutions for genocide ideology and genocide denial rose from 20 reported cases between October 2014 and September 2015 to 78 cases from October 2015 to September; however, it still fell well short of the nearly 800 cases handled by the NPPA in 2012-13. According to the NPPA, 69 cases were prosecuted to completion, two were dropped, and seven remained pending at year’s end.
Press and Media Freedoms: Vendors sold both private and government-owned newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. There were 53 newspapers, journals, and other publications registered with the government, although fewer than 10 published regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions both in support of and contrary to or critical of the government. There were 33 radio stations (six government-owned and 27 independent), one government-run television station, and five independent television stations. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government, leading one such station to suspend operations. An independently published newspaper that was sometimes critical of the government cited similar reasons in announcing its closure in December.
A set of five media laws passed in 2013 provide for greater press freedoms but had no discernable effect on those freedoms. Despite the reforms, media professionals reported government officials sought to influence reporting and warned journalists against reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government. The board of the RMC was reconstituted following the May 2015 resignation of Chairman Fred Muvunyi. Journalists reported all positions on the RMC board were filled in close consultation with the government and the board hewed closely to RPF orthodoxy. Journalists also said the December election of the new RMC board violated the RMC’s bylaws.
The laws provide journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” The law explicitly prohibits censorship of information, but censorship occurred. The laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” Authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs but only if a court orders it. Authorities sometimes seized journalists’ material without a court order. Courts may compel journalists to reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.
Violence and Harassment: There were reports police and the SSF at times detained and harassed journalists. In January police arrested reporter John Williams Ntwari and charged him with raping a minor. Prior to the arrest, Ntwari reported receiving threats for his coverage of the Rwigara death and expropriation case. Officials released Ntwari after 10 days when other journalists interviewed the alleged victim and discovered that she was not a minor and there was no evidence of use of force.
Several journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country, including former RMC chairman Fred Muvunyi, who went into self-exile after arguing against the government’s call to ban the BBC’s Kinyarwanda service following the broadcast of a BBC documentary, which was controversial in the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements deemed to constitute defamation. Journalists reported editorial boards for major print and broadcast media companies censored information deemed critical of the RPF or government policies.
Radio stations broadcast criticism of government policies, including on popular citizen call-in shows; however, journalists reported self-censorship and were careful to distance themselves from opinions expressed by call-in guests that could be deemed controversial. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. Several radio stations hosted live debates on sensitive topics, such as power sharing after the 2017 presidential elections.
Libel/Slander Laws: Conviction of defamation (libel and slander) is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. There were no reports of slander and libel laws being used to suppress freedom of speech or the publication of material that criticized government policies or government officials.
National Security: Under the 2013 media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” Authorities invoked these laws to arrest and intimidate journalists covering politically sensitive topics and matters under government investigation.
The media law includes the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of the media laws apply to web-based publications. Restrictions such as website blocking remained in place, however. There were numerous reports the government monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail and social media, but were subject to monitoring. As in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports monitoring led to detention or interrogation of individuals by the SSF. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 18 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.
Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government.
The government blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies. Such sites included websites of the Rwandan diaspora such as Umuvugizi and Le Profete and online newspapers such as Ireme.com.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events, but because academic officials frequently suspended outspoken secondary and university students for divisionism or engaging in genocide ideology, students and professors practiced self-censorship. Local think tanks deferred to government officials in selecting subjects for research, and authorities sometimes prevented the publication of studies that cast the government in a negative light. The government requires visiting academics to receive official permission to conduct research; academics reported occasional harassment and denial of permission to conduct research on political issues, refugees, or the genocide.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2014 the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, Maina Kiai, reported, “peaceful protests voicing dissent and criticizing government policies are reportedly not allowed.”
Authorities may legally require advance notice for public meetings and demonstrations and must respond to notification within one week or 15 days, depending on the type of event. Even with prior written authorization, public meetings were subject to disruption or arbitrary closure. For example, during the July AU Summit, police prevented local human rights organizations from organizing a press conference with their regional counterparts. The conference organizers obtained authorization from relevant ministries well in advance of the event, but RNP officers forcefully dispersed the participants and prevented the event from taking place.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the government limited the right. The law requires private organizations to register. Although the government generally granted licenses, it impeded the formation of new political parties, restricted political party activities, and delayed or denied registration to local and international NGOs seeking to work on human rights, media freedom, or political advocacy (see section 3). In addition the government imposed difficult and burdensome NGO registration and renewal requirements, especially on international NGOs, as well as time-consuming requirements for annual financial and activity reports (see section 5).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government granted prima facie refugee status to Burundian refugees fleeing instability after Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. In 2015 to November 7, more than 81,600 Burundian refugees entered the country, joining approximately 74,000 Congolese refugees who had sought refuge between 1994 and 2015.
UNHCR administered Mahama camp for Burundian refugees and five camps primarily for Congolese refugees with international NGOs, providing for basic health, water, sanitation, housing, feeding, and educational needs. Authorities sometimes restricted access to the camps. In June the government issued new instructions on camp management clarifying procedures for requesting access to the camps. Following the promulgation of these instructions, UNHCR reported excellent cooperation with the government and local community. In addition to increasing integration of refugees into the national education and health-care systems, the government also cooperated with UNHCR to launch a livelihoods strategy in September focused on increasing refugees’ economic integration.
UNHCR recommended that countries invoke the “ceased circumstances” clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998. During the year UNHCR extended the agreement with African states hosting Rwandan refugees that refugees are to be assisted in returning to Rwanda or obtaining legal permanent residency in host countries by December 31, 2017. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and may be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. Both UNHCR and the government agreed that since the end of the civil war and the 1994 genocide, the country had been peaceful, and more than three million exiled Rwandans had returned, including 5,082 during the year.
Foreign Travel: The law allows a judge to deprive convicted persons of the right to travel abroad as a stand-alone punishment or as punishment following imprisonment. Government officials must obtain written permission from the Office of the Prime Minister or the president before traveling abroad for official or personal reasons. The government restricted the travel of serving and former security-sector officials and arrested those who traveled abroad without authorization.
Members of the unregistered FDU-Inkingi party stated that authorities denied the issuance of or confiscated the passports of party members and their relatives.
Exile: The law prohibits forced exile. Some political dissidents, journalists, social activists, and former “security” detainees who claimed harassment and intimidation by the government left the country in previous years and remained in self-imposed exile. Some diplomatic personnel out of favor with the government failed to return upon conclusion of their assignments abroad.
Emigration and Repatriation: According to UNHCR, approximately 2,000 nationals returned from other countries during the year; most resettled in their districts of origin. The government worked with UNHCR and other aid organizations to assist the returnees.
The government interned former Congolese March 23 Movement combatants in a detention facility in Ngoma, but many former combatants continued to depart the facility during the year (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
The government accepted former Rwandan combatants who returned from the DRC. The Rwandan Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, with international support, placed adult former combatants in a three-month re-education program at Mutobo Demobilization Center in Northern Province. After completion, each adult former combatant was enrolled automatically in the RDF Reserve Force and received 60,000 Rwandan francs ($74) and permission to return home. After two months each former combatant received an additional 120,000 Rwandan francs ($148). In November, 54 former combatants graduated from Mutobo, bringing the total number of reintegrated ex-combatants to approximately 200 for the year. The Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center, relocated in 2015 from Muhazi, Eastern Province, treated former child combatants in Northern Province.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Authorities generally provided adequate security and physical protection within refugee camps. The RNP worked with UNHCR to build police posts on the edge of and station police officers in refugee camps. Refugees were free to file complaints at both camp and area police stations. Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) was a problem, although formal reports of GBV in the camps declined precipitously during the year. UNHCR attributed the sharp decrease in reported GBV cases to a combination of increased GBV training of RNP officers at refugee camps, expanded NGO-run prevention and protection programs, and a pervasive culture of silence among refugee communities, who tended to underreport incidents of GBV.
In contrast to the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of recruitment of refugees into armed groups, and the government adopted stronger measures to protect vulnerable refugee populations residing in the country. The government, however, did not conduct a public investigation into credible allegations of recruitment of Burundian refugees, including children, from Mahama refugee camp between May and September 2015, and some refugees reported facing continued harassment and intimidation from authorities for their whistleblowing role in reporting recruitment.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, with government and donor support, assisted approximately 165,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Burundi and the DRC. Of these, approximately 9,000 were Congolese asylum seekers who faced protracted delays in the adjudication of their asylum claims.
Human rights organizations reported that the government accepted asylum seekers of Eritrean and Sudanese origin deported from Israel to Rwanda and that many of the deportees subsequently were transported to Uganda. During the visit in July of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president confirmed continuing discussions regarding cooperation between the two governments on this issue, but government officials declined to disclose the terms of any agreement.
Freedom of Movement: The law does not place restrictions on freedom of movement of asylum seekers, but refugees stated that delays in the issuance of identity cards and Convention Travel Documents (CTDs) restricted their ability to travel within and outside the country. The government committed to issuing all refugees identification cards and machine-readable CTDs upon the conclusion of a joint verification exercise with UNHCR. Verification was scheduled for October but had not commenced by year’s end.
Employment: No laws restrict refugee employment, and in September the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs jointly launched a livelihoods strategy with UNHCR aimed at increasing the ability of refugees to work in the local economy. Officials acknowledged very few refugees were able to find local employment and offered periodic job training and livelihood programs to assist refugees in finding or creating income-generating opportunities. Refugees cited lack of government-issued identity documents as one of their main obstacles to employment.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees had access to public education through grade 10, public health care, housing within the refugee camps, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Refugees who arrived prior to 2013 were registered and provided with biometric identification cards similar to the national identity cards; however, there were significant delays in the issuance of identity documents to refugees who entered the country in 2013 and after. Refugees in the camps received basic health care and free treatment for more complicated cases through the national health insurance scheme. There were, however, approximately 30,000 Burundi-origin urban refugees residing in Kigali and Huye who could not access the national health insurance scheme. UNHCR and the government expanded access to secondary education beyond ninth grade and collaborated on increasing integrated learning opportunities. For example, UNHCR constructed a 112-classroom school in the village outside of Mahama camp–now the largest school in the country–that served more than 8,000 refugee students and 3,000 children from the host community in an integrated setting. Nevertheless, distance of some refugee camps from secondary schools and the cost of required school materials hindered access for some refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their countries and sought to improve local integration of refugees in protracted stays by permitting them to accept local employment and move freely in the country, and by establishing markets to facilitate trade between refugees and local citizens. The government did not facilitate the naturalization of refugees resident in the country.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individual asylum seekers who might not qualify as refugees.