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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 with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Rwanda remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims, repatriating trafficking victims from overseas, and convicting more traffickers.  For the first time in recent years, the government awarded restitution in one trafficking case.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government continued to lack specialized SOPs to adequately screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations and did not refer any victims to services.  The government provided support to and coordinated with the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group, which forcibly recruited and used children.

  • Cease support to and coordination with armed groups recruiting or using child soldiers.
  • Systematically and proactively screen and identify trafficking victims, especially among vulnerable populations, including among gender-based violence (GBV) victims, persons in commercial sex, LGBTQI+ individuals, children experiencing homelessness, and migrants residing at government transit centers.
  • Increase and institutionalize training for front-line officials on victim identification and referral standard operating procedures (SOPs) and develop specialized SOPs to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations.
  • Implement and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of the labor sector, including training labor inspectors to identify and report trafficking crimes and holding employers or labor recruiters criminally accountable for crimes committed.
  • Expand victim and shelter services, including for male victims.
  • Expand trafficking victim identification and protection measures for Rwanda’s refugee population.
  • Conduct additional training and capacity building for law enforcement agencies on recognizing and combating internal forms of trafficking.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Ensure underserved communities are provided with adequate victim identification and protection measures.
  • Develop and implement a centralized data system to track the government’s efforts to combat trafficking crimes, with data disaggregated by type of trafficking, and train law enforcement and immigration officials in relevant ministries on its use.

The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. 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 ($9,430 to $14,150), which increased to 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 20 million to 25 million Rwandan francs ($18,870 to $23,580) if the crime was transnational in nature.  The law prescribed penalties of five to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5 million to 10 million Rwandan francs ($4,720 to $9,430) for labor trafficking crimes.  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, sexual intercourse for the purpose of exploitation, as well as the sale of organs and other body parts.

The government initiated during the year 74 trafficking investigations involving 115 defendants (19 sex trafficking cases, 35 labor trafficking cases, and 20 unspecified forms of trafficking) and continued two investigations from previous reporting periods.  This compared with 142 investigations in the previous reporting period.  The government prosecuted nine defendants in six cases compared with prosecution of 12 defendants in 12 cases in 2021.  The government convicted six traffickers (five defendants under the 2018 anti-trafficking law and one defendant under organic law No 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 instituting the Penal Code), compared with zero convictions in the previous reporting period.  The government did not report sentences issued for these convictions.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.  The government provided material support to and coordinated with M23, a non-state armed group that forcibly recruited and used children.  Scarce resources, lack of training, limited capacity, and conflation of human trafficking with other crimes hindered law enforcement efforts.  Observers reported a need for Rwanda’s law enforcement agencies to conduct additional training and capacity building on recognizing and combating internal forms of trafficking.  The government disproportionally focused on transnational trafficking cases, which were more easily identified at border crossings, while it faced challenges investigating internal trafficking crimes.  The government collaborated with foreign governments on potential trafficking cases; however, cooperation remained limited in jurisdictions where Rwanda lacked a diplomatic presence or law enforcement mutual assistance agreements.  The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) collaborated with INTERPOL on a child sex trafficking case.  Media reported authorities in Uganda intercepted 14 potential Rwandan labor trafficking victims; the government did not report whether it collaborated with Ugandan officials to investigate the suspects or repatriate the potential victims.

The government trained 66 judges on combating human trafficking and money laundering, and trained investigators on combating human trafficking and migrant smuggling.  The government in partnership with an NGO trained and certified 38 police officers on the prevention and protection of children in armed conflict.  The government provided routine trainings and professional development for police, investigators, prosecutors, or social workers assigned to counter GBV, which incorporated components on anti-trafficking laws and procedures.  NGOs reported a need for gender-specific identification protocols as well as guidance for law enforcement officials on how to collect evidence for use in prosecuting cases.  The government did not have a central repository of trafficking data from all law enforcement agencies, which hindered coordination on trafficking cases.

The government made mixed protection efforts.  The government identified 263 trafficking victims (39 for sex trafficking, 177 for labor trafficking, and 47 for unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with 110 victims identified in the previous reporting period.  The government did not report referring any victims to services compared with one victim referred in the previous reporting period.  The government provided repatriation assistance (including consular, legal, and transportation assistance and providing travel documents when necessary) to facilitate the return of 19 labor trafficking victims from overseas.  The government intercepted 27 potential victims of trafficking planning to travel to the Middle East for domestic work.  The government had formal SOPs for victim identification and referral to care.  Nonetheless, NGOs reported a lack of specialized SOPs to identify and refer potential trafficking victims from underserved communities hindered victim identification efforts.

While the government did not report referring or assisting any victims, it dedicated 306 million Rwandan francs ($288,680) for services for victims of crime, including trafficking, compared to 181.3 million Rwandan francs ($171,040) in 2021.  The government continued to operate its network of 44 Isange one-stop centers, located in district capitals and hospitals, to assist GBV and trafficking victims.  The centers offered short-term shelter and psycho-social, medical, and legal services; the government did not report how many trafficking victims it assisted at these centers.  The government reported victims would generally stay at the centers for three days, after which victims could choose between longer-term shelter or independent living options.  The government continued its collaboration with an international organization to train protection actors and counselors at the centers on the identification of trafficking victims and their referral to services.  NGOs reported the centers would primarily focus on the needs of female victims, negatively affecting readiness to assist male victims.

Observers reported four shelters affiliated with NGOs and 17 government-affiliated safe houses could also offer services to trafficking victims.  The long-term government shelters provided up to six months of services for trafficking and GBV victims.  The extent and quality of services varied between locations and social workers did not always screen to identify trafficking victims among GBV victims.  The government and NGOs reported adult victims who resided at shelters would have freedom of movement.  Temporary shelter services were available to foreign national victims, and foreign victims had the same access to services as Rwandans.  The government reported providing counseling services, medical care, education, and vocational training for former child soldiers and children who experienced homelessness; the government did not report how many children received services.  NGOs offered general assistance and support in refugee camps, but a lack of capacity and resources inhibited the implementation of effective procedures, screening, and assistance to trafficking victims in refugee camps.

The anti-trafficking law stated trafficking victims should not be penalized for their involvement in any unlawful activity that was a direct consequence of being trafficked.  However, due to inconsistent use of identification procedures, authorities may have arrested or detained some unidentified trafficking victims, especially among underserved communities such as individuals in commercial sex, adults and children experiencing homelessness, and children in forced begging.  The government continued operating transit centers that advocacy groups and NGOs reported detained vulnerable persons and potential trafficking victims – including individuals in commercial sex, adults and children experiencing homelessness, members of the LGBTQI+ community, foreign nationals, and children in street vending and forced begging – and did not adequately screen for trafficking indicators among them.  The government held many potential victims of trafficking in these centers, which functioned as de facto detention facilities, for up to six months.  Observers further noted authorities often released detainees back on the streets abruptly and without notice, thereby exposing them to possible revictimization.  While some centers provided detainees and identified victims with psychological counseling, education, vocational training, and reintegration services, not all transit centers offered the same services.  Observers reported officials did not follow victim referral procedures with respect to the LGBTQI+ community and individuals in commercial sex due to widespread cultural prejudice.  Officials were less likely to refer LGBTQI+ trafficking victims for services, if at all.   

The anti-trafficking law required the government to provide support to identified Rwandan trafficking victims abroad by providing consular, legal assistance, and covering the cost of repatriation, including transportation.   The government reported having a dedicated budget to repatriate Rwandans overseas, and diplomats and immigration officials worked to facilitate 19 repatriations.  However, observers noted Rwanda’s relatively limited diplomatic presence often made it difficult for Rwandan officials abroad to provide assistance to trafficking victims.  Media and NGOs reported victims could receive support packages of 250,000 Rwandan francs ($236) upon reintegration into their home communities; however, the government did not report providing this assistance to any victims.  The government reported 48 victims participated in investigations and prosecutions.  The government could provide victim-witness assistance to support participation in the criminal justice process and the 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 if any victims received this assistance.  The law also protected the identity of victims by allowing court proceedings to be conducted by camera and permitting the use of a video link.  The government, in coordination with an international organization, continued operation of a child-friendly space, which could provide assistance to trafficking victims participating in court proceedings.  Observers reported the government planned to establish several more of these spaces, funding permitting.  Foreign national victims were eligible to obtain employment and remain in Rwanda during trial proceedings.  The government did not report whether it granted this immigration relief to any victims during the reporting period.  The law allowed victims to obtain restitution in criminal prosecutions, file civil suits against traffickers for civil damages, and stated victims were exempt from paying any associated filing fees.  The government reported the Rusizi Intermediate Court awarded criminal restitution and civil damages to one trafficking victim during the reporting period.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The inter-agency anti-trafficking technical committee continued to lead national anti-trafficking efforts and convened at least once.  The government maintained its 2021 NAP.  The government conducted awareness-raising campaigns and continued to use media and radio programs to increase community awareness of trafficking, particularly among youth, vulnerable communities, and in border areas.   The Ministry of Justice reported conducting awareness raising campaigns in 111 schools and RIB conducted awareness activities using mobile stations and Isange One Stop Center vans.  The RIB, Rwanda National Police, and other government agencies continued to operate national hotlines for reporting crimes and received 34 calls related to trafficking.  These hotlines accommodated speakers in English, French, Kinyarwanda, and Kiswahili; were advertised in public awareness campaigns on TV, radio, and social media; and were available 24 hours a day.  The government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by raising awareness of human trafficking among potential buyers.

The government had policies to regulate labor recruitment companies.  These policies required their registration with the Rwanda Development Board, licensing from the Ministry of Labor, submission of monthly reports to the government, writing labor contracts in one of the official languages and in a language that both the employee and employer understand, and including salary, date of payment, and dispute settlement procedures in employment contracts.  The government did not report efforts to enforce such policies or provide oversight to labor recruitment companies.  The government did not permit international labor brokers to operate in Rwanda.  The Ministry of Labor conducted labor inspections; however, the government did not report identifying any cases of potential trafficking.  The government reported labor inspectors and local authorities were trained to identify forced labor; however, NGOs reported the limited number of inspectors and insufficient funds hindered the government’s efforts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Rwanda, and traffickers exploit victims from Rwanda abroad.  Traffickers subject Rwandan men, women, and children to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, and in 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 on plantations.  Child labor, including potential trafficking, in Rwanda is most prevalent in agriculture, illegal mining, and construction. Traffickers sometimes exploit Rwandan young adults in sex trafficking in hotels, at times with the cooperation of hotel owners.  Traffickers subject Rwandan adults and children to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, agricultural, industrial, and service sectors abroad, including in East Africa, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  Observers reported Rwandans are exploited in sex trafficking in karaoke bars and nightclubs in Kenya.  NGOs reported cultural norms minimized laborers’ rights and consequently made identifying forced labor difficult.  The free movement of citizens of the East African Community made it easier for traffickers to move victims across borders within the region.  Traffickers transited victims through Uganda and Tanzania before reaching final destinations that included African, East Asian, and Middle Eastern countries.

International organizations reported increased vulnerability to trafficking among Rwandans due to the pandemic’s lasting impact on the economy.  Traffickers target vulnerable populations such as youth experiencing homelessness, orphaned children, children with disabilities, young women and girls, unemployed adults, and internally displaced persons.  International organizations reported traffickers entice young girls into domestic servitude and in some cases force them into sex trafficking.  In October 2020, an NGO reported forced street begging as a new form of trafficking exacerbated by the pandemic.  Observers report some parents receive compensation for allowing traffickers to exploit their children in forced begging.  Observers previously reported children with disabilities were especially vulnerable to trafficking.  In previous years, international organizations reported concerns that children in refugee camps were vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and noted Rwandan children were among those demobilized from armed groups in the DRC.  Traffickers in neighboring countries continue to pose as labor recruitment agents to recruit and transport small numbers of victims through the country.  Traffickers deceive parents with false promises of better opportunities but then exploit children in domestic servitude or child sex trafficking.  Traffickers increasingly recruit victims through internet and social media platforms.

Traffickers take advantage of a trilateral immigration agreement to transport trafficking victims across Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.  As of January 31, 2023, Rwanda hosted 126,242 refugees and asylum seekers from the DRC and Burundi.  Refugees fleeing conflict and political violence in Burundi and the DRC remain highly vulnerable to trafficking in Rwanda due to difficulties finding employment, and some are exploited by traffickers in other countries after transiting Rwanda.  Observers reported that refugee children, particularly girls, orphans, and young people were at greater risk of trafficking.  Researchers have reported some parents in refugee camps receive money in exchange for their children’s work in domestic service or in the commercial sex industry.  The Rwandan government provided material support to and coordinated with M23, a non-state armed group operating in the DRC, which forcibly recruited and used children, including children who took a direct part in hostilities.

U.S. Department of State

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