19 March 2009
General Assembly
HR/CT/705

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Human Rights Committee

Ninety-fifth Session

2604th Meeting (AM)


RWANDA’S HISTORY STAINED BY MASSIVE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, BUT RULE OF LAW SYSTEM


PAINSTAKINGLY CONSTRUCTED TO TACKLE FORCES SEEKING TO SOW DIVISION, COMMITTEE TOLD


Human Rights Experts Conclude Consideration of Rwanda’s Report

With Concerns Raised on Press Freedoms, Treatment of Batwa People


While Rwanda’s recent history was stained by “massive violations of civil and political rights”, a system based on the rule of law had been painstakingly constructed to tackle forces seeking to sow division, Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana said today, responding to a panel of experts concerned by persistent reports of the lack of political space and press freedom in that country, as well as the Governments’ marginalization of minority groups.


As the 18-member Human Rights Committee wrapped up its two-day examination of the third periodic report on Rwanda’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mr. Nsengimana said that, since the horrific 1994 genocide, his country was steadily becoming more politically aware and, as with any political system, some fine tuning would be necessary.


Nevertheless, and contrary to lingering misconceptions about Rwanda, a power-sharing Government of both Hutus and Tutsis was indeed in place.  “ Rwanda wants the rule of law,” he said, adding that it was determined to build a State governed by those rules, aimed at ensuring fundamental civil and political rights for all.  The Government wanted to allow as much press freedom as possible, but it was ever watchful, especially since the forces that had sparked the genocide were hovering close by in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even inside Rwanda.


Krister Thelin, expert from Sweden, said the international community was aware of Rwanda’s sad history and that the call for “never again” had been reverberating since the end of the Second World War.  In order not to repeat another tragedy in Rwanda, however, he urged the delegation to pay particular attention to Covenant articles 14 (right to fair trial/independent judiciary) and 19 (freedom of expression).  It was incumbent upon the Government to ensure and monitor such freedoms.


For her part, Ruth Wedgwood, expert from the United States, said there appeared to be a different view of freedom of expression inside and outside the Rwandan Government.  Free expression was considered a fundamental right by most societies, and the press, “however annoying they are”, was a check on Governments.  Further, it appeared virtually impossible to set up a political party in Rwanda.  If that were true, she reminded the delegation that the reason Hutu factions had been able to foment the 1994 genocide had precisely been because they had fed the supposed fear that the Hutu population would be oppressed and marginalized.


Similarly, Zonke Zanele Majodina, expert from South Africa, was concerned that the compliance report did not mention the Batwa people by name, only citing “minority groups”.  She was familiar with the situation of the Batwa, even though they were nearly extinct in Southern Africa.  They were still disadvantaged and poorly integrated into society.  That being the case, the Batwa people were less likely to be aware of their human rights in general and the tenets of the Covenant in particular.  She was concerned the Rwandan Government had been “pretty repressive” when it came to the Batwa and its refusal to recognize them as a minority group or indigenous group might create, rather than solve, problems.


Responding to some of those comments, Mr. Nsengimana said that, as a member of an opposition party, he had never felt that he had been denied free expression.  Rather, he believed such accusations were often a way to sow divisions.  Nevertheless, as Rwanda could attest, the media could be used to undermine national unity, and he stressed that, through education and raising awareness, a nation could harness the power of the press to promote reconciliation.


Regarding the political situation, he said the problem was in the comparison of systems; democracy had “many colours and flags”, and Rwanda’s way of managing democracy was different than that of other democracies.  The press was a strong pillar in society, and that proved democracy was working.  “We have to hear noise,” he said.  But, there was also a law.


He recalled that the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR) party in 1972 had encouraged systematic division in Rwanda.  The single-party system had been dismantled in 1991, and that party had participated in the genocide.  He stressed the need for first-hand knowledge, to know whether to “build your country with new bricks or with old bricks”.


The Human Rights Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., Monday, 23 March, when it will consider the fifth periodic report of Australia on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Background


The Human Rights Committee met this morning to continue and conclude its consideration of the third periodic report of Rwanda (document CCPR/C/RWA/3) on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The Committee’s experts began their examination yesterday (see Press Release HR/CT/704), with the Rwandan delegation responding to questions on implementation of Covenant articles 2 (constitutional framework); 6 and 7 (right to life and prohibition of torture); 9 (security of person); 4 (state of emergency); and 3 and 26 (gender equality).


The Rwandan delegation, headed by Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana, also included Hope Tumukunde, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission; Eugene Rusanganwa, Human Rights Officer in the Ministry of Justice; Etienne Nkerabigiwi, Legal Adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Coordinator on the Treaty Reporting Task Force; and Moses Bugingo Rugema, Second Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations.


Delegation’s Response


Starting with questions related to reports that Rwanda “was the source of numerous cases of human trafficking, particularly of children” (article 8), Mr. NSENGIMANA said Rwanda did not have much information on that phenomenon.  He would like to have the opportunity to examine the source of those reports.  The Government would move quickly to follow up and, if the information was available, would like to receive it.  He added that the Government had adequate legislation in place to monitor the welfare and well-being of its women and children.


On the country’s prison situation (article 10), he admitted that through the mid to late 1990s detention facilities had been “deplorable”.  A formal prison system had to be built from scratch and that system was immediately overwhelmed by large numbers of detainees.  But, as the country stabilized and civil unrest ebbed in the years following the genocide, “considerable improvements” had been made.  Prisons were clean and inmates had access to medical facilities.


Continuing, Mr. RUSANGANWA said that several laws were either on the books or nearing completion, to help speed up the release of prisoners.  Those laws also aimed to maintain cleanliness and good health in all detention centres.  He added that innovative plans were under way to begin waste and wastewater recycling in prisons.


Turning to question 17 on the use of community service as an alternative to imprisonment, Mr. NSENGIMANA said there indeed were alternative sentences whereby prisoners performed community service.


Adding to that, Mr. RUSANGANWA said community service had started in 2005 as a way to empty out overcrowded prisons.  Today, prisoners worked on roads, laid out “terracing” on hills, built houses for vulnerable groups -- including genocide survivors -- built bridges and drained marshes.  Since its inception, the programme had “involved” 14 billion Rwandan francs, an important financial contribution to the country.  Those in the programme became more integrated into communities, which, in turn, created dialogue and mutual acceptance -- and added to national reconciliation efforts.  Generally, such work was appreciated.


Addressing question 18 on the right to fair trial in the Gacaca system, Mr. NSENGIMANA said the system was a combination of traditional conflict settlement and traditional justice.  Contrary to conventional procedure, it allowed a criminal to be inserted into a community.  Though there were no new cases being brought before the Gacaca courts, at one point there had been more than 9,000 courts in use throughout the country.


He said those courts had taken place in the context of “people who knew each other” -- people elected those who they thought were moral to lead the debate.  He urged experts to understand that Rwanda had been faced with a tough question in 1994 and 1995; what methods to use.  The country had asked legal experts how to solve the problem.  However, none of the proposals took into account the scope of the situation.  In four years, the Gacaca courts had rendered justice to more than 1 million people, an impossible task for a conventional justice system.  At the end of that exercise, “we wanted people to be reconciled”.


While he admitted there had been mistakes among the 9,000 courts, he said professional judges had been elected by their peers.  Itinerant experts checked on those judges and the system brought about corrections when they were necessary.  There was a court of first instance and an appeals procedure.  At the community level, there was a sanctions system for those who had become corrupt, and judges were often “sacked” by the assembly.  In four or five years, most of the 1 million judged had received justice and been reintegrated into their communities.


Regarding question 19, which requested statistics on persons tried, or being tried, for genocide, Mr. RUSANGANWA said that, since the introduction of the Gacaca system, judgment had been passed in 992,434 of the 1 million cases, and Rwanda hoped to finish the remainder by the end of July.  By years-end, the Gacaca system should have completed its work.  He described various categories of crimes, including for rape, and crimes other than rape, and provided statistics on such cases.


Mr. NSENGIMANA added that category 1, which related to question 19, covered people who had conceived of and planned genocide, those who committed rape and torture, and those who used rape as a weapon, which was classified by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as a “war crime”.


Regarding question 20, on legal aid for those without means, Mr. RUSANGANWA said legal aid was not provided in “100 per cent” of cases, but the Government was searching for funds to help those in need.  His Ministry had set up legal offices for those who could not prepare their own cases.  In addition, he hoped to have a legal aid fund, and a draft bill had been created to establish that.  The Government was ready to work with civil society organizations to provide legal assistance.  A non-governmental organization forum provided legal aid to those without means.  However, there was not enough money to provide such aid to all those requesting it.


Turning next to freedom of expression (articles 19 and 20) and the experts’ concerns about reports that some media professionals and journalists in Rwanda were harassed or illegally detained and that some journalists had been accused of inciting inter-ethnic hatred, Mr. NSENGIMANA said that such incitement was forbidden under the Constitution.


People had said that he, as a member of an opposition party, had been denied free expression, but he had never felt that way.  Indeed, he believed that such accusations were often a way to sow divisions.  Nevertheless, as Rwanda could attest, the media could be used to undermine national unity, and he stressed that through education and raising awareness, a nation could harness the power of the press to promote reconciliation.


The Government wanted to allow as much press freedom as possible, but it was ever watchful, especially since the forces that had sparked the genocide were hovering close by in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even inside Rwanda.  Still, he stressed that political criticism was widely evident in Rwanda’s newspapers and radio programming.


On measures taken to stop such incitement to hatred, he again underscored formal education programmes and civic-led initiatives to raise awareness.  He noted that Rwanda had an independent institute that researched and monitored freedom and democracy.  At the regional level, an Education Centre for Peace and Human Rights in the Great Lakes region was also being set up.  All those measures aimed to end racial hatred and bring the region’s people together.


Answering next the Committee’s queries on child protection (article 24), he referred to the report, which detailed the statistics on school enrolment for Rwandan girls and boys.  More specifically, he said that the Government had taken several affirmative action measures to ensure that school-age girls were on an equal footing with boys.  Measures such as providing single-sex restrooms or giving academic prizes for excellence –- things that might seem trivial to some outside Africa -– had proven quite helpful to that end.


On efforts to reintegrate young people who had participated in the genocide, Mr. RUSANGANWA said such juveniles were sent to “solidarity camp” and were taught about social reintegration and given professional training for when they left.  At the end of the training they were provided with a “tool kit” to help ease their reintegration.  The youngest were encouraged to actually enjoy lives like normal children, he added.


Turning to participation in public life (article 24) Mr. NSENGIMANA said that an equal right of everyone to such participation was guaranteed.  Specifically, article 9 of the Constitution had special provisions for minorities and others marginalized by social history, to ensure broad participation.  The Government had also set up an autonomous electoral monitoring body that ensured broad participation in elections.  Further, Rwanda had ratified the African Charter for Democracy and Good Governance.  He added that the courts had examined all reports and allegations of irregularities in the 2003 elections.


On participation of the Batwa indigenous group in political life, he reiterated that article 9 of the Constitution paid particular attention to marginalized and excluded groups.  As that was the case, the Batwa were allowed to stand for election and participate in all aspects of public and political life.  They held district-level offices, and the President had the power to appoint certain members of the Senate to ensure that all indigenous groups could participate in the highest legal and judicial bodies.  Indeed, the Senate had a Batwa representative.


On dissemination of the Covenant and the Committee’s concluding observations (article 27), Mr. RUSANGANWA said the Covenant had been translated into national languages and training on the tenets of the instrument was being carried out throughout the Government.  Such training was also being carried out in the military, national police, reconciliation committees, religious organizations, judiciary and even prisons.


Continuing, he said the National Commission on Human Rights and United Nations and civil society groups, such as Lawyers without Borders, also organized training and awareness sessions.  For the long term, a task force had been set up to monitor training on implementation, especially for officials and authorities charged with applying Covenant-based laws.  He was a member of that task force and noted that it would disseminate information on the outcome of the Committee’s consideration of Rwanda’s compliance report.  He added that the Ministry of Justice had a radio broadcast every week that addressed Covenant-related and other human rights issues.


Experts Comments and Questions


ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, focusing on question 15, wondered whether the new Criminal Code would be adopted soon.


Regarding question 22, on incitement to violence or racial hatred, he said the Covenant’s article 20 prohibited war propaganda, and paragraph 2 outlined that the State was obliged to adopt laws to impede that phenomenon.  He emphasized that all those provisions must be met.


Also, he could not overlook the contribution of educators at the 2008 Madrid Conference on religious intolerance.  The general problem was that some educators were excessively marked by events or their own background.  There were encouraging signs for girls’ education.  However, success seemed to drop in secondary schools.  More could be done, particularly with families, to keep girls in education.


On question 24, he said reintegrating children who had participated in genocide back into society was a very difficult issue.  While it was true that they were perpetrators, it was also true they needed to learn a profession.  Was there any psychological assistance provided to help them overcome their experiences?  Were any of them now in the army?


RUTH WEDGWOOD, expert from the United States, following up on prison conditions, said she appreciated that “things have gotten better”, as one would expect.  The Committee often urged countries to think about more use of community release, because, ultimately, confinement in an inhuman environment, even if done out of necessity, was a form of inhuman and degrading behaviour.  Prisons, by nature, were violent, but there was no excuse for the State to be a source of mistreatment.  Some non-governmental organizations had characterized the prisons as “extremely harsh”.  She believed that, in light of work by the World Food Programme (WFP), there ought to be attention to food rations.  “You can’t starve someone to death”, she said, which was also an issue that had cropped up in her own country.  She also stressed that the practice of mixing pre-trial detainees with convicted persons was prohibited by the Covenant and should be rethought.


On question 21 on freedom of expression, which was considered a fundamental right by most societies, she said there was a different view of that issue inside and outside the Rwandan Government.  Every Government could be corrupted and battle problems of “solipsism”.  But the press, “however annoying they are”, nonetheless, was a check on the Government.  That was a major issue for Rwanda that required urgent attention.  To reinforce that point, she cited a study by United States-based Freedom House, founded by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which ranked Rwanda among the bottom 15 in press freedom of 195 countries in the world.


While she noted that “everyone has sympathy with Rwanda”, she worried about the vagueness of the word “divisionism”, because it could mean anything -- criticism of President, or of the Press Council.  There was no confidence given to journalists that they would not be exiled.  It was an impermissibly vague term.


Noting that hundreds of people had been denounced by name for being “divisionist”, she said that, for those who had lived through the cold war, the term sounded “Stalinist” and was contrary to the right of an individual to hold his or her own views.  Citing specific cases, she said Jean Bosco Gasasirra, editor of the Umuvigizi newspaper, allegedly had been beaten with bars.  In February 2007, according to her information, the director of Radio Rwanda and the President of the High Press Council had threatened the editor of Umuco newspaper on Radio Rwanda.  That type of behaviour was not in compliance with the Covenant.  Moreover, independent newspaper reporters had been excluded from celebrations of World Press Day in 2008.  Congolese law professor Idesbald Byabrize Katabaruka, who had been in Kigali to teach, was arrested for writing an article critical of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.  Former Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu had been arrested for citing civil disobedience.  The Government had an obligation not only to tolerate -- but value -- that type of criticism.  Governments needed such a feedback loop.  To make the ship of State sail right, there must be tolerance of criticism, without calling it “divisionism”.


On the right of conscientious objection -- the right to not be involved in military service, if that was what one’s god wished -- she said that was a privilege the Committee urged countries to respect, as it spoke to freedom of conscience.


Regarding the Batwa indigenous peoples, she said their suffering had begun because they were associated with the Tutsi, and they had thus lost their place in the forest homelands.  Today, they were itinerant.  She conceded that many countries were reluctant to suppose that they had minorities, but there now was increased interest in making reparations to indigenous groups.  It would be “forthcoming” for Rwanda to ensure that those peoples were able to take part in society -- and to restore their traditional way of life.


CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, focusing on article 190 of the Constitution and the direct implementation of the Covenant, said she was perplexed by the Covenant’s implementation.  She was “rather astonished” by the Gacaca courts, and their compatibility with article 14 of the Covenant.


She also asked about “proximity justice”, which could be explained when used in minor cases, but in such cases in the Gacaca system it gave rise to problems.  The delegation had said nothing about those courts’ compatibility with article 14, notably on the issue of impartiality -- that a judge not be too close to those accused.  She said the delegation’s discussion of judges’ training had been rather brief.  In addition, on the rights of the accused, she wondered, if so many people had been judged in so little time, how was a person informed of the charges against him?  It was a person’s right, under a-rticle 14, to prepare a defence and to have a lawyer; yet, in the Gacaca system, legal representation appeared to be a sort of “zombie” that was not very present at trial.  She also had information from non-governmental organizations that a person would have higher sentence if he refused to say he was guilty.


Regarding community service work, she wondered who had that right, and whether it constituted forced labour.  The service listed was “hard work” -- was there any health monitoring or time limit on it?


Next, ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa, said she was concerned that Rwanda’s compliance report did not mention the Batwa people by name, only citing “minority groups”.  She was familiar with the situation of the Batwa, even though they were nearly extinct in Southern Africa.  They were still disadvantaged and poorly integrated into society.


That being the case, the Batwa people were less likely to be aware of their human rights in general and the tenets of the Covenant in particular.  In all this, she was afraid the Rwandan Government had been “pretty repressive” when it came to the Batwa and its refusal to recognize them as a minority group or indigenous group would tend to create rather than solve problems.  She asked the delegation to further clarify the Government’s position on the status of the Batwa in Rwanda and whether they were indeed allowed to participate fully in all aspects of Rwandan society.


IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, was also concerned about the situation of the Batwa and asked the Rwandan delegation to clarify the Government’s position on indigenous groups.  She also asked for further information on human rights training programmes for judges and other judicial officials.


Next, BOUZIB LAZHARI, expert from Algeria, asked about the Government’s characterization in the report of “political groupings”, rather than “political parties”.  What was the reasoning behind that?  He also asked for more information on the country’s electoral commission.


PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, was also concerned about pre-appointment and in-service human rights training for judges.  Did such training extend to all levels of the judiciary?  On legal aid, he said that Rwanda was a poor country and, as such, many people would not have access to legal literacy.  What measures were being undertaken to provide such information?  Were there programmes or funds set aside to ensure easy access to legal aid or other administration of justice mechanisms?


Next, KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, said the Committee, and indeed the entire international community, was aware of Rwanda’s sad history.  The call for “never again” had been reverberating since the end of the Second World War.  In order not to repeat another horrific incident in Rwanda, he urged the delegation to pay particular attention to Covenant articles 14 (right to fair trial/independent judiciary) and 19 (freedom of expression).  It was incumbent upon the Government to ensure and monitor such freedoms.


Delegation’s Response


Mr. NSENGIMANA, taking up questions about conscientious objectors, said there was a “problem of information”, as some of it was not in line with reality and that given by non-governmental organizations was “quite contradictory”.


On the question of “divisionism”, he stressed that Rwanda was not referring to Stalin.  There had been genocide in Rwanda -- that was not Stalinist theory -- and unless the Government was careful, it could return.  Indeed, the State had responsibility for ensuring that such events never happened again, and it had to be vigilant in that regard.  There was an army “just outside our country”, and if the Government authorized ethnic propaganda, that would not be constructive.  He urged experts to visit the country; the press was free, and to address criticisms of corruption against the ruling class there was an anti-corruption law.  “We have zero tolerance for corruption”, he said, noting that civil servants had been arrested for that.  There was also an awareness that the country had to build unity.  Hate campaigns were intolerable.


Regarding the political situation, he noted that he was not a member of the main party, he was member of the liberal party.  The problem was in the comparison of systems; democracy had “many colours and flags”, and Rwanda’s way of managing democracy was different than that of other democracies.  The press was a strong pillar in society that proved democracy was working.  “We have to hear noise,” he said.  But, there was also a law.  He recalled that the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR) party in 1972 had encouraged systematic division in Rwanda.  The single-party system had been dismantled in 1991, and that party had participated in the genocide.  He stressed the need for first-hand knowledge, to know whether to “build your country with new bricks or with old bricks”.


He said conscientious objection was an issue for Jehovah’s Witnesses.   Rwanda authorized freedom of conscience under the Constitution.  Jehovah’s Witnesses could not take part in military or semi-military activities, as it was incompatible with their conscience.  They could, however, participate by providing torches to help guard people at night.


Turning to the question on indigenous peoples, he recalled the era when Rwanda had been occupied, and could not say that the Batwa today were among those who had originally occupied the land.  When they said the forests belonged to them -- that did not make sense.  They no longer lived in the forests.  However, because of history, the Government recognized that they were marginalized and needed incentives, like other populations that had problems progressing.


There also was a problem of identity, and over the definition of an ethnic group.  Many peoples qualified as tribes after 1990, as viewed by the “German school”; however, Rwandans had devised different categories to define themselves.   Rwanda was a nation that had been demolished by the classification theories of 1990.  Denominations would continue to exist, but not so as to divide the State.


Regarding the Gacaca jurisdictions, he said it was true they were ready-made systems that had become conventional systems.  At the same time, he pointed out that the common law and Napoleonic systems were not necessarily the same.  The issue was to accept that other systems were equally valid.  As to the witnesses, who knew more about the facts than the community?  Genocide had taken place in the light of day -- it had been televised -- and they could bear witness.


Continuing, Mr. RUSANGANWA said prisoners and detainees were not subjected to forced labour.  Indeed, Rwanda’s Labour Code guaranteed certain rights, and those rights, including rest periods and the provisions of adequate conditions, were extended to prisoners.  On judicial human rights training, he said such instruction was given to all legal officials, not just incoming appointees, and that a training institute had been set up for that purpose.


Turning next to fair representation in the Gacaca system, he said such equality was provided for all persons appearing before those courts.  All defendants had access to legal representation.  On the availability of legal aid to the wider population, he said appointed officials monitored whether poor people had access to legal counsel and assistance.  The Government was working on a programme with Rwanda’s development partners to set up a fund to ensure such aid was more widely available.


Concluding Remarks


Before the session wrapped up, Ms. WEDGWOOD, expert from the United States, said there was no excuse for any person to be attacked with iron bars, whether they were a journalist or a member of an opposition party.  People had told her that it was virtually impossible to set up a political party in Rwanda.  If that were true, she would remind the delegation that the reason Hutu factions had been able to foment the 1994 genocide had precisely been because they could feed on the supposed fear that the Hutu population would be oppressed and marginalized.


So, when the Government could not embrace the Hutu community and would not allow their free political expression, she feared such a stance might force such expression through “subterranean means”.  Finally, on the Gacaca system, she warned that a self-informing jury could be persuaded by fiction mongering and persuasion.   Rwanda must be very careful, because the Gacaca courts were no longer historical, but were now being used to impose very severe sentences.  She, therefore, implored the Government to think again about letting citizens defend themselves in a modern way.  “Modern Rwanda deserved no less.”


In concluding remarks, Ambassador NSENGIMANA said Rwanda was becoming more politically aware and, as with any political system, some fine tuning would be necessary.  All were aware that a power-sharing Government was in place and, indeed, contrary to what many said, there were now more Hutus than Tutsis in that Government. There was a series of myths and misunderstandings that could really only be cleared up by visiting the country, he added.


He thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present Rwanda’s compliance report.  The country’s recent history had been characterized by massive violations of civil and political rights.  It had subsequently and painstakingly constructed a system based on the rule of law to combat those forces that sought to sow further division.  “ Rwanda wants the rule of law,” he said, adding that it was determined to build a State governed by those rules, aimed at ensuring fundamental civil and political rights.  While the report had been admittedly limited, he hoped it had given the Committee a better idea of the major changes the country had undergone since the mid-1990s.  He invited the experts to visit Rwanda to see its positive transformation first-hand.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record