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RWANDA: Tier 2

The Government of Rwanda does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Rwanda remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more victims, developing a national referral mechanism, drafting and dispersing a directory of service providers for victims, and increasing national awareness campaigns. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated fewer trafficking crimes and prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers compared to the previous year. The government did not convict any traffickers for sex trafficking, despite the crime’s presence in the country. The government did not operate long-term care facilities for referred victims. The government detained thousands of potential victims in district transit centers without conducting adequate screening or referring them to proper care and assistance.

Systematically and proactively screen and identify trafficking victims, especially among vulnerable populations, including persons in commercial sex, children experiencing homelessness, and those at government transit centers.Coordinate with civil society to provide all foreign and Rwandan trafficking victims with appropriate long-term protection services, including shelter and psycho-social care.Develop and implement a victim-witness support program and expand training for prosecutors working with victim-witnesses.Finalize and implement the national referral mechanism and train officials on its use.Expand victim and shelter services, including for male and victims with disabilities.Increase effective trafficking investigations and prosecutions, particularly domestic forced labor and sex trafficking cases while respecting the rule of law and human rights and administer adequate prison sentences to convicted traffickers.Adopt and implement an updated national anti-trafficking action plan.Continue to implement trafficking protection measures for Rwanda’s refugee population.Develop and implement a centralized data system of disaggregated trafficking crimes and train law enforcement and immigrations officials in relevant ministries on its use.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking crimes. The 2018 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million to 15 million Rwandan francs ($10,810 to $16,220), which increased to 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 20 million to 25 million Rwandan francs ($21,620 to $27,030) if the offense was transnational in nature. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. The fact that the government did not publish disaggregated data on trafficking crimes made year-to-year comparisons difficult. The government initiated 63 trafficking investigations—22 sex trafficking and 41 transnational forced labor—compared to 86 investigations in 2018. The government prosecuted and convicted the fewest number of alleged perpetrators of trafficking in the past five years. The government prosecuted nine alleged traffickers in 11 cases during 2019, compared to 53 cases in 2018. Courts convicted two traffickers for forced labor crimes and sentenced them to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 20 million Rwandan francs ($21,620) each. Comparatively, in 2018 the government convicted 13 traffickers. The government did not report any prosecutions and convictions of sex traffickers, despite the documented presence of sex trafficking in the country. The government did not report any cases in which appellate courts affirmed or reversed convictions by lower courts. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking. NGOs reported finding no evidence of official complicity in trafficking crimes.

The government continued to collaborate with other governments to extradite suspected traffickers and engaged in joint investigations by facilitating the exchange of information, knowledge, and capacity building. The government negotiated extradition treaties with Ghana and Angola during the reporting period. Although the government reported sharing information with other governments, it reported difficulty obtaining evidence for domestic and transnational investigations and prosecutions due to inadequate data management systems for trafficking crimes, lack of victim testimonies, and absent cooperative standard operating reporting mechanisms with other governments. An international organization reported immigration officials at border posts had proactive standard operating procedures (SOPs) for identifying trafficking victims; however, officials lacked gender-specific identification protocols and training on how to collect sufficient evidence. Another NGO reported gaps in communication and data sharing between investigators in rural areas and police at one-stop centers, which may have impeded the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes.

Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) continued to operate a 15-officer anti-trafficking unit in its criminal investigations division. The Rwanda National Police (RNP) directorate for anti-gender-based violence (GBV) had three officers in each of the country’s 78 police stations who served as points of contact for trafficking victims. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking training as part of its professional development curricula and standard training for immigration officers, police, labor inspectors, judicial officials, social workers, and other relevant officials several times throughout the reporting period. In addition, the government trained 308 law enforcement officials and one-stop center personnel, as well as 22 service providers from various government institutions, civil society organizations, and NGOs on the identification, treatment, and referral of victims of trafficking. The government collaborated with an international organization to develop a training handbook for the investigation and prosecution of migration-related crimes and a legal guide for law practitioners that outlined the trafficking legal framework and applicable case law.

The government maintained mixed protection efforts; the government identified more victims but referred fewer to care and neglected to conduct adequate screening of potential victims detained at government transit and rehabilitation centers. The government identified 96 trafficking victims in 2019, compared with 33 victims in 2018. Officials referred 30 victims for assistance to shelters, compared to 33 during the previous reporting period. The government did not report the number of transnational victims identified and referred to care in 2019, compared to 33 transnational victims in 2018. The government collaborated with an international organization to develop a national referral mechanism to standardize victim referral procedures; however, the government did not validate and implement the mechanism during the reporting period. Law enforcement, immigration officials, and social workers in one-stop centers had victim identification guidelines, but implementation remained limited. Officials also reported lacking knowledge to screen specifically for trafficking among GBV victims who received assistance at government centers. In addition, sources reported challenges distinguishing trafficking from other crimes such as GBV, forced marriage, abduction, commercial sex, migrant smuggling, and rape. The government reported immigration officials screened children crossing the border for trafficking indicators and verified if they were traveling with the permission of their parents.

The government continued to operate its network of 44 one-stop centers to assist GBV and trafficking victims. The government’s one-stop centers—located in hospitals and district capitals—provided short-term shelter and psycho-social, medical, and legal services to victims. The extent and quality of services varied between locations, particularly regarding the provision of adequate psycho-social counseling, and social workers did not always screen and identify trafficking victims as distinct from GBV victims. The government did not report the number of trafficking victims who received assistance at the one-stop centers. NGOs reported the one-stop centers primarily focused on the needs of female victims; assistance for male victims and victims with disabilities remained insufficient; and service providers lacked knowledge on how to prevent further trauma and re-victimization. The government collaborated with an international organization to develop a directory of service providers for trafficking victims and distributed it to all relevant stakeholders, including the one-stop centers. The government and NGOs reported adult victims were free to leave support programs on their own accord. The government generally did not have long-term care facilities for the vast majority of trafficking victims. NGOs reported foreign victims had the same access to services as domestic victims. The government reported providing counseling and funding for the reintegration of identified former child soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the reporting period; however, the government did not report the number of former child combatants who received assistance. NGO service providers offered general assistance and support in refugee camps, but a lack of capacity and resources inhibited the development and implementation of effective procedures, screening, and assistance to victims of trafficking in refugee camps. NGOs reported a lack of coordination and collaboration between the government and civil society inhibited their ability to provide assistance for trafficking victims.

The 2018 anti-trafficking law stated trafficking victims should not be detained, charged, or prosecuted for their involvement in any unlawful activity that was a direct consequence of being exploited. The government continued operating transit centers with the purpose of reintegrating people with “deviant behaviors,” including but not limited to commercial sex, drug use, begging, vagrancy, and informal street vending. Government officials stated these centers provided detainees with psychological counseling, education, vocational training, and reintegration services. However, advocacy groups and NGOs reported authorities continued to detain thousands of vulnerable persons, including adults and children in commercial sex, children experiencing homelessness, and children exploited in forced begging at these centers. In addition, authorities did not conduct proactive, adequate screening for trafficking indicators or refer potential victims to care. Observers reported the government held many potential victims of trafficking for up to six months in these centers before abruptly releasing them back on the streets, and that this practice exposed them to possible re-victimization. Former detainees often reported being detained and moving through the transit centers a few times a year. NGOs also reported that due to uneven training, law enforcement officials may have arrested potential foreign national trafficking victims on immigration charges and deported them without first conducting adequate screening.

The government repatriated Rwandan victims identified abroad; however, the government lacked capacity and support to reintegrate trafficking victims into their respective communities. Rwanda’s anti-trafficking law requires the government to provide support to Rwandan trafficking victims abroad by covering the cost of transportation and repatriation to Rwanda. The 2018 anti-trafficking law states that ministerial orders would provide victims with other particular means of support. The government collaborated with an international organization to draft SOPs that would serve as the basis for these ministerial orders; however, the SOPs had yet to be adopted at the end of the reporting period. Local media reported that victims received 250,000 Rwandan francs ($270) upon their return to their home districts; however, the government did not report the number of victims who received these funds. The government’s diplomatic staff occasionally offered assistance to Rwandan trafficking victims overseas. Officials assisted a 40-year-old Rwandan victim who was exploited in Kuwait and escaped to Dubai, where the embassy offered her shelter in a private home and processed her travel documents for repatriation. The 2018 anti-trafficking law called for the government to provide legal assistance and information to victims in a language they understood; however, the government did not report the number of potential victims to whom it disseminated this information. The National Public Prosecution Authority continued to operate two safe houses for witnesses in criminal cases, which were available to trafficking victims; however, the government did not report the number of trafficking victims who used safe houses during the reporting period, compared to six during the previous reporting period. RIB reported 100 victims assisted in investigations during the reporting period. An NGO previously reported that seven of the one-stop centers were equipped with video recording equipment to allow victims the ability to testify via video testimony; however, the government did not report using this option during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law also protected the identity of victims by allowing court proceedings to be conducted in camera and permitting the use of a video link, but the government did not report providing any victims with these protections during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law continued to permit foreign victims to remain in Rwanda for a minimum of six months or until legal proceedings concluded. The government did not report whether it granted this immigration relief to any victims during the reporting period; however, the government did report efforts not to deport foreign victims who faced retribution in their home countries. The anti-trafficking law continued to allow victims to file civil suits against traffickers and stated that victims are exempt from paying any associated filing fees, but the government did not report any suits filed during the reporting period.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government collaborated with international organizations and quasi-government entities to draft an updated national action plan during the reporting period; however, the plan had not yet been adopted at the end of the reporting period. The interagency anti-trafficking technical committee met at least once every two months to coordinate counter-trafficking initiatives; however, international organizations and NGOs reported insufficient coordination among government agencies and resource constraints continued to hinder the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The government reported monitoring its anti-trafficking efforts and incorporating the results into regular public activity reports. During the reporting period, the government conducted national and local awareness raising campaigns at community events, government celebrations, and police departments. The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion collaborated with local-level child labor steering committees to conduct 187 awareness campaigns between July and December 2019, and the government reported 1,000 Muslim leaders received training at an event in November 2019. At a government conference, district representatives shared best practices on how to implement local awareness campaigns. The government reported providing logistical support when collaborating with international organizations to conduct cross-border community dialogue meetings, roundtable discussions, trainings, live radio talk shows, and awareness messaging and campaigns on national news broadcasts and social media across seven districts; these involved community leaders and members, civil society representatives, teachers, parents, and victims. These efforts covered topics regarding the government’s anti-trafficking legal framework, mechanisms for reporting cases of trafficking, and case studies for application; however, researchers reported many initiatives were ad hoc and not embedded in a broad national campaign strategy, which limited their impact. The government participated in an international exchange program where anti-trafficking leaders learned about efforts to combat trafficking in another country. The government included lessons learned from this program in its prevention efforts during the reporting period. RIB and RNP continued to operate national hotlines for reporting crimes, including trafficking. While social workers staffing the hotlines were trained to identify and refer trafficking cases, the government did not report how many calls the hotline received or the number of trafficking victims identified or assisted in 2019 through the hotline. The government continued its efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex by deploying officers to discourage consumers from frequenting commercial sex locations by arresting sex workers and owners of commercial sex establishments.

The government had policies to regulate labor recruitment companies, which required their registration with the Rwandan Development Board, licensing from the Ministry of Labor, and submission of monthly reports to the government; however, observers reported the government did not require labor contracts with foreign companies operating in Rwanda and did not specify that labor contracts should be written in a language the employee understands. During the reporting period, researchers encountered workers on construction projects who either did not have labor contracts or were unable to read their contracts because they were in an unfamiliar language. Researchers also identified Chinese road construction companies that delayed payments to workers for months and fired employees who complained. The government reportedly prosecuted fraudulent recruitment companies in the past; however, there were no reports of these efforts during the reporting period nor of efforts to rectify other labor issues the researchers identified. The government coordinated with other governments on transnational labor issues. In June 2019 the government signed a framework agreement with the United Arab Emirates to allow further agreements on labor safety and worker recruitment; implementation of the agreement remained pending at the end of the reporting period. In January 2020, the government participated in a two-day regional workshop organized by an international organization and the Government of Kenya to discuss regional cooperation to combat trafficking, protecting the rights of migrant workers abroad, and strengthening regional cooperation on labor mobility.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Rwanda, and traffickers exploit victims from Rwanda abroad. Traffickers exploit Rwandan children and young adults, some of whom are secondary school students between the ages of 13 to 18 in commercial sex in hotels, at times with the cooperation of hotel owners. Traffickers subject Rwandan men, women, and children to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, and the agricultural, mining, industrial, and service sectors in Rwanda. Traffickers exploit Rwandan women and girls in forced labor, specifically in domestic service, bars, and restaurants, and exploit men and boys in forced labor in mines and plantations. Traffickers subject Rwandan men, women, and children to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, agricultural, industrial, and service sectors abroad including in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Kuwait, India, and parts of East Asia. Traffickers reportedly exploit Rwandan victims in domestic servitude in the Middle East and sex trafficking in China. In 2016, Tanzanian men forced some Rwandan girls into marriages, and these girls may have experienced commercial sexual exploitation through these marriages.

Traffickers target vulnerable populations such as youth experiencing homelessness, children with disabilities, and displaced persons. Local human rights groups reported in 2017 employers of some Rwandan girls in domestic work terminated their employment after the girls became pregnant and were unable to return to their home villages; subsequently, they were exploited in commercial sex. An international organization reported 43 percent of children with disabilities in Rwanda did not attend school, increasing their vulnerability to be targeted by traffickers. An international organization reported a number of adolescents living in refugee camps departed Rwanda for the DRC during the reporting period for unknown reasons. Traffickers in neighboring countries continue to pose as labor recruitment agents to recruit and transport small numbers of victims through and out of Rwanda. In 2018, an international organization reported separating eight Rwandan children from armed groups in the DRC. A study found most victims in Rwanda were Rwandan or Burundian in origin, and traffickers tended to transit victims through Rwanda to Uganda or Tanzania through porous borders. Traffickers deceive guardians and victims with false promises of better opportunities for employment in neighboring countries. Greater access to the internet and social media platforms created new and easier opportunities for traffickers to access and recruit victims.

Sources reported a trilateral agreement among the Governments of Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda that allowed foreign nationals to use national identification in lieu of passport facilitated trafficking of victims across borders. In 2019, sources reported a new migration pattern developed whereby traffickers transported victims through each of these countries on their way to Ethiopia and Kenya before they embark on their journey to the Middle East. Refugees fleeing conflict and political violence in Burundi and the DRC remain highly vulnerable to trafficking in Rwanda due to their inability to secure legitimate employment and stigma within the host country, and some are exploited by traffickers in third countries after transiting Rwanda. An international organization reported that in 2019 there had been an increase in sex trafficking of Burundian male and female teenagers through Rwanda to third countries since 2015. Traffickers exploited female child refugees into sex trafficking in towns near a Rwanda-based DRC refugee camp in 2015, allegedly facilitated by one civilian and three Rwandan Defense Forces soldiers assigned to the camp. An international organization reported seeing female traffickers in addition to the exclusively male traffickers active in previous years. Researchers found some parents in refugee camps received money in exchange for young daughters to work in domestic service or in commercial sex. Between May and September 2015, traffickers recruited Burundian refugees residing in the Rwanda-based Mahama refugee camp into non-state armed groups supporting the Burundian opposition; Rwandan security forces charged to protect the camp population reportedly facilitated or tolerated the recruitment activity. Whistleblower refugees in 2015 alleged that recruiters—including both Rwandan officials and other refugees—threatened, intimidated, harassed, and physically assaulted those who refused recruitment attempts. Most recruits were adult males, but in three verified cases in 2015, Burundian refugee children were also identified as recruits from the Mahama refugee camp. In 2015, refugees reported Rwandan military personnel trained Burundian recruits, including women and children, in weaponry at a training camp in southwestern Rwanda. There were no reports of forcible or coerced recruitment out of the Mahama refugee camp by Rwandan government officials since 2015.

U.S. Department of State

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