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 2017 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. In the September 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 except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and the 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces including asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats to and violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation.
The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving 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. For example, according to media reports, on April 13, Kigali attorney Donat Mutunzi disappeared after leaving for work. His family made repeated inquiries of police but was unable to confirm his arrest until April 18. At that time a police officer reportedly told them that Mutunzi was suspected of having defamed President Kagame by circulating false information on the internet. On April 22, prosecutors told an attorney and friend of the Mutunzi family that Mutunzi had been accused of rape. On April 23, police reported Mutunzi had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. An examination of the body revealed severe wounds on the face and temples. Mutunzi’s family members told human rights advocates they believed Mutunzi had been beaten and strangled while in custody.
As of September 14, the government had not completed its investigation into 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations that police or other security forces had killed 37 individuals between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of petty crimes, including theft of bananas, fishing with illegal nets, and unlawful border crossings. In 2017 Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye publicly called the HRW report “fake news.”
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On October 7, United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) Vice President Boniface Twagirimana disappeared from Mpanga prison. A government spokesperson told press that Twagirimana and another prisoner had escaped by climbing over the prison wall. The FDU-Inkingi disputed this account and alleged foul play by government authorities, noting that authorities had transferred Twagirimana to Mpanga prison just five days earlier. The party released a press statement saying reliable sources inside the prison had indicated that security agents had taken Twagirimana away in a vehicle. As of November 6, Twagirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Domestic organizations 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 by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.
On September 27, the government enacted an updated penal code that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.
As of September 14, the government had not conducted an investigation into 104 cases of illegally detained individuals who were in many cases reportedly tortured in unofficial military detention centers between 2010 and 2016, as documented by a 2017 HRW report. 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 the Kami and the 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 was “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.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at prisons and unofficial military detention centers ranged from harsh and life-threatening to meeting international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.
Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) were generally considered adequate. There were no major concerns regarding inmate abuse. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. Overcrowding was common in police stations and detention centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. According to the 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. There were reports that prison overcrowding remained an issue.
In contrast, conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial military detention centers, according to a 2017 HRW report. HRW reported that in addition to experiencing torture, individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.
Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. According to HRW, officials held children together with adults in the Muhanga, Mudende, and Gikondo transit centers.
The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.
The government held five 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.
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. At times, however, it restricted access to specific prisoners and did not permit monitors to visit undeclared detention centers and certain military intelligence facilities. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) had transferred to Rwandan national jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the MICT.
In June the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) formally cancelled its visit to the country. In October 2017 the visit originally was suspended due to obstructions imposed by the government such as limiting access to places of detention. On June 1, the UN assistant secretary-general wrote to the government concerning the lack of assurances given to the SPT that those interviewed or contacted during the visit would not face intimidation or reprisals.
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: Observers credited the RCS with continuing to take steps to improve prison conditions and eradicate abuses in formal detention facilities. In July the government closed the Kigali Central “1930” Prison, the oldest prison in the country, and moved remaining prisoners to a newer facility in Mageragere. The updated penal code removed provisions allowing solitary confinement of prisoners.
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 in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, 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 2017 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.
Human rights advocates also reported that police officers killed suspects while making arrests. In May police shot and killed a motorcyclist in Kigali during a traffic stop. Eyewitnesses reported police handcuffed the motorcyclist and began kicking him when the motorcyclist argued with officers. The motorcyclist fled and was pursued by the officer, who proceeded to catch and shoot the motorcyclist. A police spokesperson told press the officer fired because the motorcyclist had attempted to seize the officer’s weapon. Human rights advocates cast doubt on the police’s version of events, noting that eyewitnesses said the motorcyclist was handcuffed and had his hands raised when he was shot.
Domestic observers and local media reported the Rwanda National Police (RNP) continued the practice of systematically rounding up and arbitrarily detaining 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.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The RNP, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force (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 April the recently created Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) assumed some of the functions formerly performed by the RNP, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions.
Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the RNP and the RDF, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The RNP’s Inspectorate General generally disciplined police for excessive use of force and prosecuted acts of corruption, but there were some instances of impunity. 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 unofficial detention centers.
The RDF normally displayed a high level of military professionalism and discipline, and it took action to investigate and punish misconduct. In August an RDF soldier was immediately arrested after he shot three individuals during a dispute at a bar in Rubavu, killing one. On December 4, a military court sentenced the soldier to life in prison and fined him 6.1 million Rwandan francs ($6,930).
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.
To address reports of theft and abuse of street vendors by District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) employees, authorities expanded training for DASSO. For example, in April, 515 DASSO community-security-officer trainees participated in instruction designed to promote professionalism and discipline.
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. Police and prosecutors often 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 issuing charges.
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, or in unofficial or intelligence-related detention facilities. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice. 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-Inkingi leaders, were detained much longer than one week. For example, the 11 members of the FDU-Inkingi Party arrested in September 2017 and charged with membership in a terrorist organization remained in custody as of September 14. In a July 30 court appearance, the attorney for the defense argued the arrests were politically motivated and asked the court to dismiss the case because prosecutors employed improper and illegal procedures in authorizing a communications intercept after the fact. On September 14, the Kigali High Court ruled that because the defendants stood accused of maintaining links to terrorist groups outside the country, the case ought to be transferred to the High Court’s special chamber for international crimes and cross-border matters, which would resume the trial at a later date. HRW reported these arrests were government efforts to crush dissent and silence the opposition.
Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (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.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for months without arraignment, in large part due to administrative delays caused by case backlogs. 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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. 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. Despite the National Public Prosecution Authority’s assertion that its prosecutors handled all cases without significant undue delay, defense lawyers 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, including monitoring of their communications 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.
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.
The SSF continued to coerce 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. 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.
In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the MICT. It continued to pursue eight genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments.
On September 3, authorities arrested five individuals wanted by the MICT for contempt of court and transferred them to the MICT offices in Tanzania.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were numerous reports that local officials and the SSF 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. Occasionally 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 Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.
On September 15, the government released FDU-Inkingi president and former 2010 presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire from prison after President Kagame commuted the remainder of her sentence. Ingabire had been 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. The FDU-Inkingi issued a statement saying the party hoped Ingabire’s release represented a sincere democratic opening. Minister of Justice Busingye, on the other hand, told press there was nothing political about her release since there was nothing political about her imprisonment. On October 9, the RIB summoned Ingabire for questioning and informed her that she could face legal action if she continued to characterize her conviction as political and to refer to other political prisoners. As of September 13, the government had not responded to a November 2017 ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights that the government violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of expression and that her 2012 conviction in a flawed judicial process violated her right to defense. The court ordered the government to take all necessary measures to restore Ingabire’s rights and to submit to the court a report on the measures taken within six months.
In addition to Ingabire, on September 14, the government granted early release to 2,139 other prisoners. Among them was Kizito Mihigo, a popular musician who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of conspiracy to kill President Kagame and other government officials.
On December 6, a court acquitted presidential aspirant and vocal Kagame critic Diane Rwigara of forgery and inciting insurrection after ruling that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges, which human rights organizations described as politically motivated. Diane Rwigara’s mother, Adeline Rwigara, arrested at the same time, was also acquitted of all charges. The two women were detained for more than one year before they were released on bail on October 5. Associates of Diane Rwigara also reportedly experienced harassment during the year, with some denied diplomas, fired from jobs, or taken into police custody for days at a time before being released. Rwigara’s sister, Anne Rwigara, was released in 2017.
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 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 National Commission for Human Rights (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. In one instance residents refused to vacate their land and took the government to court to contest the expropriation. The case was pending at year’s end.
The government continued harassment of the family of Assinapol Rwigara whose death, the family claimed, was a politically motivated killing by SSF members via an automobile accident in 2015. After Assinapol’s daughter, Diane, was disqualified from running in the 2017 presidential election, the government initiated criminal proceedings against the family for alleged nonpayment of taxes. In March, June, and October, authorities auctioned off assets belonging to the Rwigaras worth 2.2 billion Rwandan francs ($2.5 million) because of the alleged arrears.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government continued to monitor homes, movements, telephone calls, email, other private communications, and personal and institutional data. Government informants continued to work 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 enforce these provisions during the year.