Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party leads a governing coalition that includes four smaller parties. In 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the 2018 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the Rwandan Patriotic Front coalition and two other parties supporting Rwandan Patriotic Front policies won all but four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and the Social Party Imberakuri winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In 2019, 12 new senators were elected to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Faculty at public and private universities elected two other senators. President Kagame appointed another four senators, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two, in accordance with the constitution. In September 2020 the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two new senators, including a member of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.
The Rwanda National Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force, under the Ministry of Defense, also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the Rwanda National Police. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau is responsible for many of the investigative functions formerly performed by the Rwanda National Police, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations.
The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses and acts of corruption, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the state security forces was a problem.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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 10 years’ to life imprisonment with substantial monetary fines. Penalties for conviction of committing physical and sexual violence against one’s spouse range from three to five years’ imprisonment.
Domestic violence against women and children remained common. Civil society organizations and NGOs reported this trend appeared to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, although precise data was unavailable. Authorities encouraged 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 gender-based violence hotlines. Each of the 78 police stations nationwide had its own gender desk, an average of three officers trained in handling domestic violence and gender-based violence cases, and a public outreach program. The government operated 44 one-stop centers throughout the country, providing free medical, psychological, legal, and police assistance to survivors of domestic violence.
The government continued its whole-of-government, multistakeholder campaign against gender-based violence, child abuse, and other types of domestic violence. Gender-based violence was a required training module for police and military at all levels and was included for all troops and police preparing for deployment to peacekeeping missions abroad. In September the president made remarks to judicial officials calling for tougher treatment of gender-based violence offenders.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for penalties of six months’ to one year’s imprisonment and monetary fines. The penalties are increased when the offender is an employer or other person of authority and the victim is a subordinate. Nevertheless, advocacy organizations reported sexual harassment remained common, and enforcement was lax.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
According to the United Nations, the estimated maternal mortality ratio decreased from 373 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 248 in 2017, with a lifetime risk of maternal death of one in 94. The most recent domestic surveys from 2020 put the ratio at 210 deaths per 100,000 live births. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included low clinical capacity of health providers, absence of equipment and commodities, and patients delaying seeking timely care. UN reporting indicated that 94 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel.
The UN Population Fund estimated 70 percent of girls and women ages 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, the use of contraception, and whether to engage in sexual activity. The United Nations reported 53 percent of women had access to modern family planning methods, whereas the most recent domestic surveys of 2020 reported 58 percent had access. Parental consent is required for minors (individuals younger than 18 years of age) to access family planning services. The country’s adolescent birth rate was 41 births per 1,000 women between 15 and 19 years of age, according to UN sustainable development goal datasets. While there is no policy restricting reproductive health service access for LGBTQI+ persons, there are no protections, and LGBTQI+ persons and organizations reported societal discrimination as a barrier when seeking services.
In some households, there were cultural and social barriers to conversations regarding adolescents seeking reproductive health services.
Some women and girls missed classes at school due to economic factors that made it difficult for them to access menstruation hygiene products. By law schools are required to ensure pregnant girls continue their education, and the government enforced the law. Nonetheless, some pregnant girls stopped attending school due to social stigma.
The government provides sexual and reproductive health services (including emergency contraceptives) for survivors of gender-based violence via the country’s network of Isange One Stop Centers.
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 gender-based violence. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions. There are no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries as men. Studies in previous years indicated few persons reported gender-based discrimination in workplaces, and most individuals were either unaware of it or unwilling to discuss it. Experts concluded gender-based discrimination remained underreported, in part because victims of discrimination feared losing their employment.
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. The law governing matrimonial regimes stipulates joint land title ownership for a husband and wife who are legally married. 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.
The constitution provides for the eradication of ethnic, regional, and other divisions in society and the promotion of national unity. Long-standing tensions in the country culminated in the 1994 state-orchestrated genocide that killed between 750,000 and one million citizens, approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. 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 except for references to the genocide, which was officially termed “the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda” in the country and at the United Nations, and eliminated ethnic quotas for education, training, and government employment.
The law protects all citizens regardless of ethnic affiliation, and the government does not recognize any ethnic affiliation. Genocide denial and divisionism statutes criminalize efforts to minimize or deny genocide crimes against the Tutsi population in 1994. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on ethnicity or country of origin or otherwise create fissures in the society along ethnic lines.
Some individuals said the government’s reconciliation policies and programs failed to recognize Hutu victims of violence during the genocide or crimes committed by the RPF after the end of the genocide, whereas others noted the government focused positive attention on Hutus who risked their lives to save Tutsis or members of mixed families during 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 during the year numbered approximately 34,000, lost their official designation as an ethnic group, and the government no longer recognized groups advocating specifically for Twa needs. Some Twa believed this government policy denied them their rights as an indigenous ethnic group in that it failed to provide them with adequate economic and social protections (access to higher education opportunities, for example) commensurate with their historically marginalized status in society dating back to the precolonial period.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Children born to at least one citizen parent automatically receive citizenship. Children born in the country to unknown or stateless parents automatically receive citizenship. Minor children adopted by citizens, irrespective of nationality or statelessness, automatically receive citizenship. Children retain their citizenship in the event of dissolution of the parents’ marriage. Birth registrations were generally performed immediately at hospitals and birth centers. If a birth occurred elsewhere, the birth could be registered upon the presentation of a medical birth certificate at the sector level. The government cooperated with humanitarian organizations to conduct birth registration in refugee camps. There were no reports of unregistered births leading to denial of public services.
Education: The government provides compulsory and tuition-free universal public education for six years of primary education for boys and girls by law. By policy the government also provides six years of tuition-free secondary education, although only the first three years of secondary education are compulsory. Parents were not required to pay tuition fees, but they often had to pay high fees for teachers’ incentives and meal expenses, according to domestic observers. This at times posed obstacles for members of marginalized groups and others with limited economic resources.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes abuse, including violence against children, child abandonment, and forced begging. Officials enforced the law, and the president made public remarks regarding the importance of prosecuting offenders. While statistics on child abuse were unreliable, such abuse was common within the family, in the village, and at school. The Rwanda Violence against Children and Youth Survey (2018) indicated most sexual abuse perpetrated against women ages 19 to 24 occurred in public urban areas such as on the street (42 percent of cases) or in the victim’s home (32 percent). For men the main locations were the victim’s home (27 percent), urban street areas (23 percent), and rural land areas (17 percent).
As in previous years, the government conducted a high-profile public awareness campaign against gender-based violence 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 gender-based violence and child abuse. In partnership with UNICEF, the National Commission for Children (NCC) maintained a corps of 29,674 community-based “Friends of the Family” volunteers (two for each of the country’s 14,837 villages) to help address gender-based violence and child protection concerns at the village level.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 21; the government strictly enforced this requirement. Anecdotal evidence suggested child marriage sometimes occurred in line with traditional norms in rural areas and refugee camps but rarely in urban areas and not with government recognition.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law, sexual relations with a child younger than 18 constitutes child defilement (statutory rape), which is punishable by 20 years to life in prison, depending on the age of the victim.
The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Conviction statistics were not available. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Displaced Children: There were numerous street children throughout the country. Authorities gathered street children in district transit centers before returning them to their home areas or placing them in rehabilitation centers. In 2020 HRW reported authorities abused street children in the transit centers and held them under harsh conditions (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). Conditions and practices varied at 29 privately run rehabilitation centers for street children.
UNHCR continued to accommodate in the Mahama refugee camp unaccompanied and separated minors who entered the country as part of an influx of refugees from Burundi since 2015. Camp staff provided additional protection measures for these minors.
Institutionalized Children: The country regulated and maintained facilities providing care for children with disabilities when needed. Studies in previous years stated some institutions lacked the capacity to provide adequate care for these children. The government took steps to transfer orphans from institutional settings to host families and to close centers not meeting standards of care for children with disabilities.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html .
There was a very small Jewish population, consisting entirely of foreigners; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/ .
The law affords persons with disabilities the right of access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others, but the government did not always enforce the law. Government information and communication was not usually available in accessible formats.
The law mandates access to public facilities (including schools and transportation services), 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 and public transport, although a limited number of public buses could accommodate persons with disabilities. The National Council on Persons with Disabilities and the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf reported working to compile a sign language dictionary.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.
There were no legal restrictions or extra registration steps for citizens with disabilities to vote, and registration could be completed online. Braille ballots were available for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Observers noted some polling stations were inaccessible to persons with disabilities and that some election volunteers appeared untrained on how to assist voters with disabilities.
Many children with disabilities did not attend primary or secondary school. Those who attended generally did so with peers without disabilities. The Rwanda Education Sector Strategic Plan of 2013-18 confirmed that more children with disabilities had never attended school than those without disabilities (27 percent versus 14 percent). More children with disabilities dropped out of school than children without disabilities (9 percent versus 6 percent). Few students with disabilities reached the university level because many primary and secondary schools did not provide reasonable accommodations.
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 law provides for imprisonment of up to six months or a monetary fine or both for persons convicted of stigmatizing a sick person without the intention to protect the sick person or others. There were no reports of prosecutions under this statute. In 2020 the country completed a survey to assess HIV-related stigma and discrimination and inform advocacy efforts and adjustments to program design. The survey reported discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred, although such incidents remained rare. The government actively supported relevant public education campaigns, including by establishing HIV and AIDS awareness clubs in secondary schools and making public pronouncements against stigmatization of those with the disease.
The law 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 and AIDS to participate in peacekeeping missions abroad but allowed them to remain in the RDF.
Advocates reported law enforcement officials routinely abused LGBTQI+ persons in transit centers, with transgender persons targeted for particularly severe hate speech and violence. The government did not report investigating these cases.
No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care. Cabinet-level government officials expressed support for the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, but LGBTQI+ persons reported societal discrimination and abuse, including problems officially registering NGOs.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Laws protecting persons with disabilities applied to persons with albinism, but persons with albinism continued to experience persistent societal discrimination.