Rwanda remains one of the most restrictive environments for HRDS in the sub-region, with little or no independent media and human rights organisations. Opposition parties continue to face great difficulty in registering, and journalists critical of the regime routinely self-censor or flee the country. In the past six months, authorities detained people unlawfully in unofficial detention centres; some were held incommunicado and tortured.
The presidential election scheduled for August 2017, in which President Paul Kagame is using a constitutional amendment to seek another term, could easily expose HRDs and the media to renewed tension.
Freedom of Association
Although a multiparty system is guaranteed by the Rwandan Constitution and protected by Article 2 the Law governing Political Organisations and Politicians (2003), opposition parties continue to experience extreme difficulties and harassment as they attempt to register and operate. The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, founded in August 2009, was unable to register until August 2013 – too late to contest in that year’s parliamentary elections. During this time its members were harassed and threatened and in July 2014, a month before Rwanda’s Presidential elections, the Green Party’s vice-president André Kagwa Rwisereka was found beheaded. The Forces Democratiques Unifiées (FDU) have tried since 2010 to obtain registration but failed until now.
Illuminée Iragena, a FDU member, went missing on 26 March 2016, and sources close to the case believe she died in detention as a result of torture. Despite the repeated requests by the FDU, her family, and calls by international CSOs, the Rwandan Government has not provided any official information regarding her fate.
Members of opposition parties have been jailed, harassed, threatened, or disappeared. FDU President Umuhoza Victoire Ingabire was convicted in 2012 to eight year imprisonment, a sentence that was later increased by Rwanda’s Supreme Court to 15 years. She appealed to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the case is in progress.
Seven members of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, including Secretary General Sylvain Sibomana, and Léonille Gasengayire, the party’s treasurer, have been arrested and sentenced to prison lengthy prison terms. On 7 April 2017, FDU-Inkingi issued a press release where it alleged that Sibomana had been tortured soon after being transferred to from Gasabo Prison to Rubavu Prison.
Gasengayire was initially arrested and sentenced to two years in the case of Sibomana. In a second stage, she disappeared before reappearing. On 26 March 2016, she was abducted and forced to board a vehicle while in the compound of Kigali prison when she brought food to Victoire Ingabire. The abduction took place on the same day of the kidnapping and disappearance of Iragena. She reappeared a few days later but was finally arrested and detained irregularly since 23 August 2016. She was tried and released in March 2017.
Members of other of opposition parties founded in exile have been attempting since November 2016 to return and register their party ahead of the August 2017 Presidential elections. Nahimana Thomas, Secretary General of the opposition party Ishema was first blocked from boarding a flight in Nairobi on 23 November 2016 when he tried to return to Rwanda with two colleagues to submit his candidacy for the presidential elections. After a few days in transit, they returned to Europe and tried to take a direct flight to Kigali on 23 January 2017. However, they were presented an order from the Rwandan government instructing all airlines serving Kigali to prevent them from boarding.
On 14 February 2017, Violette Uwamahoro, a Rwandan national with a British citizenship, was reportedly abducted and detained in an unknown location by the police. She is married to Faustin Rukundo, a member of the Rwanda National Congress representing exiled opposition parties, and went to Rwanda for her father’s funeral. The Rwandan government initially denied her kidnapping and detention. After two weeks and increasing condemnation of her disappearance, the police confirmed her arrest on 3 March 2017 after more than two weeks of illegal detention. The court ruled on her current detention and ordered a provisional release on 27 March 2017. She was pregnant at the time of her detention. As of April 12, she was back in the United Kingdom.
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) has frequently interfered with the appointment of the members of the political committees and national NGOs, disregarding their freedom of association. This interference has significantly weakened the independence, freedom of expression, and credibility of NGOs. As result of this interference, combined with other forms of harassment, the activities of human rights NGOs who are dependent on external funding have significantly diminished. Despite attracting widespread criticism for their complexity and non-transparency, the Rwandan government has still not amended its laws regulating the registration of NGOs.
In an emblematic case, authorities renewed the registration of the Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des grands lacs (LDGL), after administrative obstructions and harassment of staff had delayed the process for more than two years. However, former staff allege that authorities have tried to stifle LDGL’s regional organisation through the appointment of members, the steering committee, and the executive secretary. According to the former secretary of the LDGL, the organisation has been seized by the police following the internal appointment and is now controlled by people loyal to the government.
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution of Rwanda, the Law on Media (2003), and other regional and international treaties signed and ratified by Rwanda. However, civil society in Rwanda is severely weakened and has not been able to express itself on noteworthy questions such as the upcoming presidential elections or other important political, economic, and social issues. The few media that report on these issues are very careful or self-censor, and will therefore try to avoid investigating sensitive cases. A general situation of fear and repression has caused a collective silence on issues deemed controversial by, or critical of, authorities.
On 6 March 2017, John Karasira, a journalist who disappeared in August 2016, resurfaced in Kigali. Although he told media he fled the country and returned voluntarily, the details of his disappearance remain unclear, and Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in Rwanda where former detainees were forced to make false claims during months of detention and torture.
Oscar Hakundimana and other residents of Nyamyumba and Rubavu were threatened, beaten and arrested for expressing their disapproval in December 2016 of a decision by the local authority forcing families to leave their lands. Their trial is currently ongoing.
On 15 March 2017, 44 Muslims, including minors, accused of setting up a terrorist group and criminal association, were brought to the High Court of Kigali for the opening of their trial which was then delayed until 4 April 2017. On 20 April, the court announced that the trial would be heard on 2 May in camera so as to not compromise national security. Most of the suspects denounced their arrest and detention in secret locations for several months.
Reports of illegal practices during the investigation of alleged crimes during detentions are widespread, and carried out by police officers with impunity. The events mentioned above took place after speeches by officials at public meetings. Officially, there has been no investigation into these cases of extra-judicial killings.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Although the freedom to peacefully assemble and protest is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Rwandan Constitution, the reality is that permission for a protest or demonstration is never granted and few defy this for fear of police repression.
 The Organic Law N0 10/2013/OL of 11/07/2013 governing Political Organisations and Politicians
 The Guardian, “Rwandan opposition leader found dead”, 14 July 2010, Accessed 4 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/14/rwanda-opposition-politician-found-dead
 Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Come clean about fate of missing activist Illuminée Iragena”, 26 March 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/rwanda-come-clean-about-fate-of-missing-activist-illuminee-iragena/, Accessed 27 April 2017.
 Great Lakes Post, “SYLVAIN SIBOMANA, 1st SECRETARY-GENERAL OF FDU-INKINGI TORTURED BY RWANDAN SECURITY SERVICES”, 7 April 2017, http://glpost.com/sylvain-sibomana-1st-secretary-general-of-fdu-inkingi-tortured-by-rwandan-security-services/, Accessed 3 May 2017.
 Human Right Watch, “Rwanda: Opposition Activist Missing”, 29 September 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/29/rwanda-opposition-activist-missing, Accessed 27 April 2017.
In an oral statement, Executive Director Hassan Shire updates the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on the situation in the East and Horn of Africa, and calls to end the climate of impunity that has prevails in many countries across the sub-region.
On the opening day of its 60th Ordinary Session, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) called on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to urge the African Union to establish accountability mechanisms to bring justice to protracted human rights...
A joint report with contributions from DefendDefenders' Technology team assesses Internet freedom and the digital resilience of civil society.
DefendDefenders examines the situation of HRDs living and working in exile, and provides a resource guide of the various support mechanisms available to them.
On 27th October 2015, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) celebrated ten years of defending human right activists throughout the East and Horn of Africa. To mark this occasion, EHAHRDP has produced an anniversary publication.