|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2602nd & 2603rd Meetings* (AM & PM)
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE EXPERTS COMMEND RWANDA FOR STRIDES TAKEN TOWARDS CIVIL,
POLITICAL REFORM SINCE 1994 GENOCIDE, WHILE HIGHLIGHTING AREAS OF CONCERN
Ambassador Says Transition to Country Where Rule of Law Prevails Not Easy,
But with 2003 Constitution, Strengthened Legal Framework, Prospects Are Good
While commending Rwanda for pursuing needed civil and political reforms in the arduous aftermath of its 1994 genocide, Human Rights Committee experts today expressed concern over reports of forced disappearances, excessive prison detentions, persistence of discriminatory law and “troubling” cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that hampered its independence.
As the 18-member body charged with monitoring States’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights began its consideration of Rwanda’s third periodic report, experts posed questions to the Government delegation on issues ranging from prison overcrowding to the recruitment of child soldiers.
Ruth Wedgwood, expert from the United States, said the Covenant was “a summoning to arms” that allowed States parties to show that even past trauma could not deter their efforts to protect and promote fundamental rights. While she appreciated that article 190 in Rwanda’s Constitution prioritized the integration of the Covenant in national legislation, she worried that it was “just a formality”. Further, Covenant articles on freedom of the press meant little, when, apparently, journalists were afraid to report, because they could be charged with “divisionism”.
Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, congratulated Rwanda for abolishing the death penalty ‑‑ a “very positive development”, given that the Covenant did not require abolition. But, while he understood the move towards life imprisonment as an alternative, he shared experts’ concern at the absolute isolation of those who had been sentenced.
José Luis Perez Sanchez-Cerro, expert from Peru, said Rwanda’s Constitution guaranteed accused persons of their right to a legal adviser; however, that did not happen with those accused before the Gacaca jurisdictions. Judges in those courts were uneducated. How could such issues be corrected?
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana said it had not been easy for Rwanda to transition from a State in which civil and political rights were completely denied, to one where the rule of law prevailed. Its institutions had been characterized by massive human rights violations since its independence.
Nonetheless, its prospects were good, he said. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been in force since 1976, and most provisions had been introduced into national legislation since its ratification. Rwanda’s institutional and legal framework had improved with the creation of a new Constitution on 4 June 2003, and establishment of democratic institutions that carried full legislative, executive and judicial powers. That framework had produced “remarkable” results.
Moreover, he said the Government understood that comprehensive development in Rwanda required reconciliation, unity and dialogue among all its peoples. With that in mind, programmes on unity and national reconciliation had been prioritized in specific articles of the Constitution. Rwanda had taken particular care to promote its “national identity”, especially since the genocide had been characterized by radio and media campaigns pitting ethnic groups against one another.
In later remarks, he pointed out that the Gacaca system was based on customary methods of settling disputes and bringing about reconciliation. It had not been possible for the classic legal channels to resolve the country’s unique problems. It was not a perfect system ‑‑ neither was traditional justice ‑‑ but it had worked. Today there was peace in Rwanda.
He went on to say that the Government had and would continue to contribute to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, such cooperation did not mean the Government would “submit blindly” to the will of that court. He was concerned that the Tribunal’s completion date was rapidly approaching, and urged the Security Council to perhaps consider some sort of follow-up mechanism that would allow the conclusion of all cases before the Tribunal closed its doors.
As for general prison conditions, Rwanda was constantly striving to make improvements. He admitted that, immediately following the genocide, it had been difficult to adequately address the prison situation, but as the country’s economy stabilized, “improvements are being made to prisons ever day”.
The Committee on Human Rights will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 19 March, to continue its consideration of Rwanda’s third periodic report, and begin consideration of the initial report of Chad.
The Human Rights Committee met today to consider the third periodic report of Rwanda (document CCPR/C/RWA/3), which is a consolidated survey containing the third periodic report due on 10 April 1992; the special report due on 31 January 1995; the fourth periodic report due on 10 April 1997; and the fifth periodic report due on 10 April 2002.
With regard to the status of the Covenant and international instruments generally vis-à-vis Rwandan legislation, according to the Constitution such instruments are directly applicable provided that they are duly ratified and applied by the other party. As those instruments have primacy over domestic laws, except for the Constitution and referendum laws, the right to invoke them before the domestic courts is guaranteed.
Since the submission of Rwanda’s previous report, institutional and legal frameworks have been developed to guarantee and safeguard the civil and political rights of all persons in Rwanda. Among others, the current report mentions the new Rwandan Constitution, adopted in June 2003, which gives prominence to fundamental human rights and freedoms and provides for the establishment of institutions to support democracy and of specialized commissions to deal with particular issues, as well as for legal and judicial reforms. The report calls the Constitution a “milestone marking the end of the country’s political transition”.
The report concludes, among other things that, while Rwanda is determined to abide by its international commitments, “implementation of the Covenant has not been easy especially in the initial stages of the democratization process, including the lengthy period of time overshadowed by a regime characterized by massive violations of human rights and a situation of impunity which culminated in the 1994 genocide ‑‑ a complete negation of human rights”.
Committed Rwandans did not take long to react and to find a solution to that situation, and the Transitional Government established after the genocide and the institutions set up in the post-transition phase were given the crucial task of establishing a State governed by the rule of law and guarantees of respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights.
Whatever the difficulties in implementing the Covenant, Rwanda is committed to protecting and promoting human rights in general, as enshrined in regional and international instruments, and civil and political rights in particular. The report stresses that, while the Government is proud of its achievements, it intends to do more, so the rights enshrined in the Covenant will be “more effective and accessible to all”.
Consideration of Report
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.
Presenting his country’s report, Mr. NSENGIMANA said that, in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide that destroyed the national economy, Rwanda was determined to establish genuine rule of law through measures that protected people’s civil and political rights. Rwanda was establishing institutions dedicated to promoting democracy and protecting human rights.
By way of introduction, he said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been in force since March 1976, and was included in Rwanda’s national institutions by Decree-Law No. 8/75 (1975). Since ratification of the treaty, most provisions had been introduced into national legislation. Treaties and international agreements were published in the “official journal”, and superseded regular laws, depending on the treaty being implemented.
Since submission of its last report, Rwanda’s institutional and legal framework had made progress, he said, notably with the establishment of the new constitution on 4 June 2003, which reserved a “special place” for the fundamental rights for the human person. Comments resulting from Rwanda’s last report in 1998 did not correspond to that progress. The present report was the result of work from all institutions that implemented the Covenant. Civil society played an important role in implementation.
Rwanda was located in Eastern Africa, he said, and since independence its institutions had been characterized by massive human rights violations. The political transition ended in 2003 with the adoption of the new Constitution, which established a new institutional framework and the rule of law.
The country had consolidated the rule of law and created democratic, independent institutions that had full legislative, executive and judicial powers. State organizations dealt with important questions, he said, highlighting, in particular, a national commission for the rights of human persons, a national commission to fight against genocide, an electoral commission, a gender observatory, and a national council of youth. That framework had produced “remarkable” results, which corresponded to the International Covenant.
In closing, he said it had not been easy for Rwanda to move from a situation of complete denial of civil and political rights, to build a State with the rule of law. Nonetheless, prospects were good. While Rwanda was proud of the achievements outlined in its report on the implementation of the International Covenant, the country planned to make those rights more effective and accessible to all.
Replies to Expert’s Questions
On article 2 of the Covenant ‑‑ integrating the elements of the instruments into national laws ‑‑ Mr. RUSANGANWA said Rwanda’s Constitution required that all legal and juridical bodies place a priority on “direct applicability” of the Covenant. He said that, while there had been no nationwide survey on cases of such application, as required by the Committee, the Government had done an in‑depth investigation to root out laws and practices that ran counter to the Covenant.
At the same time, he noted that, in a case concerning equality between men and women, the Rwandan Supreme Court had explicitly mentioned relevant articles of the Covenant in rendering its decision. Further, national jurisprudence in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide had also drawn language from the Covenant on “the right to life” or “the right to liberty” and other fundamental freedoms. He added that the Rwandan Parliament also regularly invoked the principles of the Covenant.
Turning to reconciliation and measures to implement Covenant tenets on equality, Mr. NSENGIMANA said that the Government understood that comprehensive development in Rwanda required reconciliation, unity and dialogue among all its peoples. With that in mind, programmes on unity and national reconciliation had been prioritized in specific articles of the Constitution. Rwanda had also taken particular care to address and promote its “national identity”, especially since the genocide had been characterized by radio and media campaigns pitting ethnic groups against one another.
Continuing, he said the Committee on National Unity and Reconciliation was focused on, among others, reintegrating marginalized groups, and rehabilitating victims and former combatants. The Government had established an Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and a National Council for Refugees, as well as other commissions and bodies.
He said Rwanda was also working hard to reduce poverty and ensure economic rights under the Covenant. The Poverty Reduction Strategy was entering its second phase, and the Government had set up specific socio-economic programmes for vulnerable groups, such as disabled and displaced persons. For instance, he noted that persons that fled the country during the genocide had been helped to return and had had their property returned to them.
Rwanda had been pleased with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, though it had been “somewhat of a delayed response” to the horrific genocide. The Government cooperated fully with the Tribunal, especially in locating fugitives and providing evidence. It had also cooperated in the transfer of files and prisoners. At the same time, the Government was concerned about “residual cases” that might remain unsettled when the Tribunal concludes its mandate next year. To that end, the Government was working with the Tribunal to ensure smooth transfer of such cases to national courts. It was also stepping up its judicial training, for both students and working jurists.
Taking up articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant, on the right to life and prohibition of torture, Mr. RUSANGANWA said extrajudicial executions were prohibited by law. Describing one case, he said a revolt had taken place at the Mulindi prison over the fact that the prison head would not allow drug trafficking. The prison head had taken effective measures to prevent the trafficking, and prisoners revolted. Guards tried to prevent the revolt, and there were three deaths. The military police and military courts made an inquiry, and the case was filed. There could be no prosecutions, because the shootings were in self-defence, although victims could ask for compensation for the casualties. Administrative measures also were taken, as the prison head could have prevented the revolt. He was removed. The response was good; some were suspended, others were fired. The State did its best.
Mr. NSENGIMANA added that the National Commission for Human Rights had followed that case and reported on it. Its conclusions noted that inquiries were made by the military court, and disciplinary measures had been taken. The Commission proposed that, in similar cases of strike, rubber bullets be used instead of real bullets.
Turning to question 5 ‑‑ which asked for comments on the compatibility of the sentence of solitary confinement for life with article 7 of the Covenant ‑‑ Mr. RUSANGANWA said the punishment of imprisonment in isolation existed. When one heard of that, it was perceived as “ill treatment”, but that was not the intention. Article 5 of a bill that would soon be promulgated stipulated that anyone sentenced to life imprisonment must be treated with dignity and with respect for human rights, and be protected from any cruel treatment or torture. In other words, that person should have all rights. The only difference was that the person would, at times, be left in solitary confinement so as to not harm others. As to why that provision had not been established in 2007, he said it had taken time to be ratified.
Regarding question 6, which focused on reports of the use of excessive and illegal force by Local Defence Forces (LDF), Mr. RUSANGANWA said those who committed extrajudicial violations could be prosecuted, irrespective of whether they were part of the police or defence forces. Even the head of the Army was subject to that law. Article 42 of the law stated that the police would accomplish their mission without resorting to firearms. They could use clubs, grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Firearms were used in self-defence. Any policeman could be prosecuted and sentenced if that was not followed. Article 27 stated that members of the LDF must comply with the law. If they were guilty of violations, even arbitrary arrest, they could not be exonerated from criminal prosecution.
Responding to question 7, which concerned the Covenant’s article 9, on personal security of persons and protection against arbitrary arrest, Mr. Rusanganwa said the Constitution stipulated fundamental human rights principles, particularly article 18, which stipulated that personal freedom was protected by the State. Law 13 (2004) stipulated strict arrest conditions, and called for a detention timeline that could not be exceeded by an officer. Judges followed such arrests closely. Those officers that exceeded the timeline were required to release the detainee.
Prior to that reform, such conditions had not been imposed, he said. Today, a judge could not extend the detention period more than twice. After the second time, the detainee had to be released. Other administrative measures had been taken, he said, noting that every police captain each morning had to ensure that timelines and other conditions had been respected by officers. In addition, a study had been carried out to determine whether proper conditions had been met. When the detention period had been exceeded and nothing done, the detainee must be released.
Adding to that, Ms. TUMUKUNDE said cases involving detainees that stayed extra time, for example, had been documented by the Commission in a 2007 report. Measures had been taken to ensure that there were no more such cases in the future. Prison heads had been instructed to monitor prisoners’ files, and write to the Office of the Prosecutor General. A department in the Office of the Prosecutor General also monitored prisoners’ files. Courts had been instructed to send copies of judgements immediately to the prisons, to ensure there was no case of someone being held after a detention period.
Specifically on reports that, in Kigali, street children, beggars and sex workers were regularly arrested for “vagrancy” and detained without charge, Mr. NSENGIMANA said the situation was very often exaggerated and did not reflect reality on the ground. Still, vagrancy and begging were offences under the Rwandan Criminal Code. For security reasons, especially after the genocide, such persons arrested in Kigali were first processed at transit centres. Street children were then transferred to their families or to rehabilitation centres.
He noted that authorities followed up to ensure such children and families had access to counselling. The Government was aware that it must do more to address the issue of street children, especially orphans or those whose families forced them to live and work on the streets for socio-economic reasons. The Government’s strategic plan addressed all aspects of the phenomenon, including poverty alleviation, education, paid employment and rehabilitation. The Government was also searching for life alternatives for sex workers, he added.
On the reportedly high numbers of prisoners being held without trial, especially those linked to the genocide, Mr. RUSANGANAWA said that, immediately following that tragedy, the country had found itself facing an unprecedented number of detainees, perhaps some 120,000 or more. The Government had moved swiftly to ensure that legal proceedings were carried out and had set up the Gacaca courts to take care of backlogged cases. Without such a move, it had been estimated that it might have taken 100 years to examine and try all those cases.
Meanwhile, the Government had issued a communiqué urging all judges and judicial institutions to review pending cases where detainees were believed to have spent more time in prisons than their alleged offences had called for. Thanks to that effort, in 2006, some 59,000 people had been released. Another important measure aimed at decreasing the number of detainees had been mandating community work for some, so that, for instance, a 10-year sentence might be split ‑‑ five years served in prison and five years outside.
Here, Mr. NSENGIMANA stressed Rwanda’s “special” situation during and immediately following the genocide. Indeed, everyone must remember that a huge number of people participated in that event. The country, therefore, had to manage recovery, reconciliation and provision of justice practically simultaneously and on a massive scale. To that end, the Gacaca jurisdictions had been set up to provide justice and promote reconciliation and had subsequently judged more than 1 million people. That had allowed the prisons to be emptied out and, as one positive by-product, put hundreds of thousands of able-bodied citizens back to work.
Turning next to accessibility of rights during a state of emergency, he said the Constitution guaranteed such recourse under the law. Indeed, even the state of emergency itself must respect national legal norms.
Ms. TUMUKUNDE, focusing on questions pertaining to articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant, which examined equality between men and women, and equal protection under the law, said the Human Rights Commission was part of a team that was examining all pieces of legislation that discriminated against women. Soon, there would be a review that gave women full rights. The remaining pieces of legislation to be reviewed were small, compared to the rights that Rwandan women enjoyed, particularly in the civil and political spheres. There were areas that needed revision, particularly in the Family Code and the Penal Code. Penalties for women in cases of adultery had been changed by a Supreme Court provision.
Turning to question 12, on whether the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the National Women’s Council had adequate budgets to carry out their missions, among other things, she said both those institutions were constitutional entities. They were entitled to a proportion of the Government’s annual budget. That might not be enough. However, they were free to solicit funding from additional partners. For example, the National Women’s Council had benefited from projects administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), among other partner organizations. On criteria for elections in the Women’s Council, she said the election criteria were open. There were no limitations.
Regarding question 13, on measures taken by the State party to punish rape and provide information on prosecutions of those accused of rape, including those in prison, Mr. RUSANGANWA said there were not many rapes committed in prisons. Wherever rape was committed, it was punished by law. The Penal Code punished rape. Men and women were punished differently, but the act was punished according to the law. In addition, a gender law was about to be published, while a law against domestic violence was covered in the new Penal Code. There was also a law, initiated by the Ministry of Gender, to punish acts of trafficking in women and children.
He said that, if rape caused the death of a person, a life sentence would be imposed, as the death penalty had been abolished. On administrative measures, he said rape violations were given priority in hospitals, among other places. Another measure involved conducting hearings “on the ground” where the rape was committed, to intimidate the perpetrator and eradicate the scourge. After the genocide, cases of violence against children had become worse, and in rape cases, it was important that hearings be carried out on-site. Also, gender desks had been created in police stations, and specialized police members would hear complaints of violence. In cases involving HIV/AIDS, he said special centres had been set up to address such cases.
Turning to question 14 ‑‑ which requested information on the extent of the problem of violence against women and girls ‑‑ Mr. NSENGIMANA said the Government had set up, in the police, a structure to inspect the crime of sexual violence. Often, the courts asked for a medical report. As such, the structure worked with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to hasten the medical verification of violence against women. Regarding sexual and domestic violence, he said special centres provided support to victims, and counselling services were available. “An entire set of tools and measures” had been taken to control the problem.
Experts Comments and Questions
Opening the discussion of the report, RUTH WEDGWOOD, expert from the United States, said that she certainly understood the challenges Rwanda faced in the aftermath of the genocide, especially in light of what she believed was a huge failure of policy and political will on the part of the United Nations, her own country and other powerful nations. At the same time, she believed the Covenant was “a summoning to arms” allowing States parties to show that even past trauma could not deter their efforts to protect and promote fundamental rights.
To that end, the Committee always urged reporting delegations to provide as much empirical data as possible. It was easy to read the laws that were on the books, she said, but it was much more important for Governments to show how they were being implemented on the ground. That said, while she appreciated that the delegation had emphasized article 190 in Rwanda’s Constitution, which prioritized the integration of the Covenant in national legislation, she was worried that it was “just a formality”.
“Article 190 doesn’t get you anywhere”, she said, if in the Gacaca system, there was no right to council and no access to good fact-finding. She was equally concerned by reports of extreme prison overcrowding and excessive detention. There were also reports that persons in solitary confinement were not allowed any sort of visitation during their sentence. Further, Covenant articles on freedom of the press meant little, when, apparently, journalists were afraid to report, because they could be charged with “divisionism”. “We’re not here for legal formalities, we’re here for sociology,” she said, suggesting, among other things, that perhaps in the future, Rwanda could expand its delegation to include those officials charged with the actually implementing the laws and programmes based on the Covenant.
Continuing, she said her observation had been that Rwanda’s’ cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had been troubling. In the Bariagwaza case, for instance, the Government had, in her view, overstepped and threatened the Tribunal’s independence. She understood that the country had been flooded with defendants, but she was concerned because war crimes prosecutions must be even-handed. Moreover, as Tutsi defendants and members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army had been sent back to Kigali to be tried at the national level, the Government now had a moral and, indeed, historical duty, to handle those cases fairly and in a timely manner. However, she did not see any structured process for addressing many of the serious allegations against such persons. The Tribunal had not been able to bring Tutsi cases because of political restraints, so the burden fell to the Government and it must undertake that duty in an even-handed manner, she reiterated, reminding the delegation that in Bosnia, Serbs, Croats and Muslims had all been prosecuted.
On the right to life and extrajudicial executions, she reminded the delegation that the Government had a duty to investigate reports of forced disappearance and detention. She was also concerned about reports that hundreds of children were being held in a warehouse in “poor conditions”, that pre-trial detainees were being held in the same facilities as convicted criminals, and the “dire and inhumane conditions” of some prisons. She also was concerned that specific cases of high-level Government and judicial disappeared had not been addressed, including Lieutenant Colonel Augustin Cylza, Leonard Hitimana, Jean‑Marie Vianney and Damian Musayidiz.
Finally, she believed the recent changes in the Gacaca system had been “for the worse”. Indeed, as the International Tribunal wrapped up its work, Gacaca courts would be taking up more and more cases and, as those courts were currently constructed, defendants were being sentenced to 30 years or more by poorly trained judges and with no access to legal counsel. That should not be the case, she said, stressing that such incidents clearly contravened article 14 of the Covenant and must be examined urgently. Further on that point, she refereed the delegation to the Committee’s comment on “customary legal institutions”.
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, congratulated the delegation, and said that, given everything that Rwanda had experienced, it had created an excellent Constitution. The status of women was particularly interesting. At the same time, he regretted that the report was “rather formal” and the facts limited. Factual evidence was practically non-existent in the written answers.
He had reservations about the composition of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, and the limited participation by civil society. He wondered what the delegation meant by “civil society”, a question that occurred to him after reading note 6 in the report. That Commission faced many problems, including a degree of impunity, prosecution handicapped by the Gacaca courts, and “witch hunts” for the settlement of accounts. All of that was unlikely to help the reconciliation process. Also, there was still considerable tension in and among certain groups, including the majority group.
As to the excessive and illegal use of force when arresting suspects, he wondered if the Local Defence Forces were “trigger happy”, given reports at one location of three extrajudicial executions. He also highlighted the case of a 20‑year‑old and a 23‑year‑old who had raped an eight-year-old girl, resisted police, and were immediately shot and killed. Were there any inquiries into such cases? If so, what were the results? In addition, he wondered about the definition of “vagrancy”. What had led vagrants to be vagrants? He doubted it was the choice of sex workers to work in that area. The treatment of such people was not appropriate, and led to violations of the Covenant. He asked for figures on vagrancy, street children and sex workers, and information on any treatment extended to them.
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa, said it was unfortunate that no written replies had been provided in English to the questions. The report was limited in its coverage of Rwanda’s compliance with the Covenant. She had expected more, and hoped that it would be more detailed the next time around. In addition, she drew attention to the presence of a member of the Human Rights Commission on the delegation, expressing surprise that a member of an independent body was part of the Government delegation. That Commission, in complying with the Paris principles, should have provided a shadow report that assessed the adequacy of the Government’s report.
Taking up question 5, she said article 15 of the Constitution supported the absolute prohibition of torture. Other pieces of legislation, including provisions in the Criminal Code, prohibited torture. Rwanda’s response to the question justified the Supreme Court finding that life imprisonment in solitary confinement was constitutional. While the delegation noted that those persons were provided with protection from torture, she found that “thin” on the ground. Prolonged solitary confinement was cruel and inhuman, and prevented by article 7 of the Covenant.
Regarding equality between men and women outlined in question 11, she highlighted constitutional provisions that stipulated that 30 per cent of posts in all decision-making organs were to go to women. Despite such provisions, “elements” of discriminatory laws persisted. She hoped attention would be paid to articles 206 and 213 of the Family Code, the latter of which prohibited women from engaging in commercial activity without their husband’s consent. Also, the Criminal Code handed down more severe penalties to women than men found guilty of adultery.
On question 12, regarding the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the National Women’s Council, she noted that their status as constitutional entities entitled to a portion of the annual budget suggested a strong political will towards gender-budgeting. There were various initiatives aimed at integrating gender equity into Rwanda’s development. She asked if there were adequate mechanisms to coordinate gender-budgeting, and whether gender-disaggregated data, which was critical to such budgeting, existed. Further, were there gender focal points in Government departments, and an institutional framework for gender mainstreaming?
IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, asked about information from non-governmental organizations concerning arbitrary detentions. What happened in detention centres? If the State knew, how was it reacting? She asked particularly about prison cells, “dungeons” run by individuals, and centres previously used by the Government, but that were no longer being monitored. Regarding the protection of women’s rights, she requested more information on the rape cases that the Government was paying attention to. What measures were being taken to punish perpetrators, and to reintegrate victims into society?
In addition, she had received information from the Special Rapporteur on domestic violence. How were the Government’s efforts to handle domestic violence different from those taken in the past?
NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, congratulated Rwanda for abolishing the death penalty, which was a “very positive development”, as the Covenant did not require abolition. Indeed, abolition was a fine example to the region, and the world at large. While he understood the move towards life imprisonment as an alternative, he shared concern at the absolute isolation of those who had been sentenced. The new draft law on the execution of the punishment of life imprisonment would envision visits by family and lawyers. How long would it take to approve the law with that provision? How frequently, how long, and under what conditions would a family be able to visit?
Regarding questions 4 and 6, on potentially arbitrary killings, he was pleased at the delegation’s response that the use of force in repressing the uprising in the Mulindi prison case was in self-defence. Nonetheless, the prison head had been sacked. The use of unnecessary lethal force might raise problems that were more than just “of necessity”, and difficult to reconcile with self-defence. It was not clear why there was no legal liability. Why had prison officials been disciplined? Regarding other uses of force, he noted, in Rwanda’s written response, articles 40 and 42 of a 2000 law permitted armed force, sometimes as a last resort ‑‑ however, much rested on what constituted a legitimate objective.
JOSÉ LUIS PEREZ SANCHEZ-CERRO, expert from Peru, asked about the responsibilities of the national institution for human rights. What procedure did it follow in investigating human rights violations? Did information go to the Attorney General? What was its degree of independence? Regarding the security of persons, he wondered about complaints that children refugees disappeared at night. Was the State investigating such kidnappings? On the question of a fair trial, and article 14 of the Covenant, he said Rwanda’s Constitution guaranteed accused of the right to a legal adviser, but that did not happen with those accused before the Gacaca jurisdictions. The Gacaca courts had jurisdiction for serious crimes and the judges were uneducated. How could those courts be corrected?
AHMAD AMIN FATHALLA, expert from Egypt, focused first on paragraph 4 of the report and wondered why the Constitution was exempt from the stated principle. Focusing on the right to life, he asked if there was now comprehensive environmental legislation that would contribute to the protection of life.
FABIAN OMAR SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina, said gender and women’s rights were very important issues. He asked if there were programmes to train the judiciary in international law, particularly the International Covenant. Also, what was the scope of military jurisdiction, and could a military court try common offences? Regarding the Government’s answer about children born in prison to rape victims, that situation did not appear to be in accordance with paragraph 222 of the report, which stated that male and female prisoners were kept separately. Was that indeed the case? Were there statistics on bringing to justice those who had committed rape in prison?
RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, regarding question 10, said there was no answer to the question about the possibility of appeals brought by citizens so that they could discuss all alleged problems. He wondered if there was any opportunity for decisions to be reviewed, so that individuals could consider that the President’s statement gave rise to unconstitutional, illegal acts.
BOUZID LAZHARI, expert from Algeria, asked if the official travel documents required for leaving the country under normal circumstances were indeed passports and the laissez-passer.
Mr. RUSANGANWA first apologized that Rwanda’s responses had not been translated into English.
Taking up questions posed by Ms. Wedgwood, he explained that international conventions took priority in Rwanda. If international conventions challenged the Constitution, the Government took the necessary time to bring the issue to Parliament, or to the people, if the issue required a referendum. Once a law had been passed, people needed to be made aware of that. Sometimes, judges charged with the task of implementation had to be informed. Rwanda’s situation did not reflect a lack of political will, but rather the time needed to implement change.
Regarding concern over the lack of statistical data, he said that situation was inevitable with the construction of new “infrastructure”. Quantification came secondary to action. However, Rwanda would have more statistics in the future, as the National Statistical Institute was now operational.
Regarding the legal system and the Gacaca system, he said Rwanda faced two imperatives: were people to rot in prison awaiting traditional justice, or should alternative mechanisms be used? The Gacaca system was based on customary methods of settling disputes and bringing about reconciliation. The Gacaca courts had dealt with more than 1 million cases in four years. In the normal course of events, a person would be brought to trial. However, it had not been possible for the classic legal channels to resolve the country’s unique problems. Neighbour had killed neighbour, and a solution had to be devised for the sake of reconstructing a nation. It was not a perfect system ‑‑ neither was traditional justice, but it had worked. Today there was peace in Rwanda. The Government would handle the aftermath in time, by means of a socio-economic approach. “We could not wait for justice,” he said. Justice had to be done. Criticism of the system stemmed from a lack of information about the reality.
Turning next to a question on freedom of expression, particularly in the media, he said the media had played a horrible role ‑‑ even before the genocide ‑‑ in setting fire to divisions among various groups. Today, the media had a great deal of freedom, and often spoke out against people in power.
As for questions about a certain warehouse prison, he said it was not a detention centre ‑‑ it was a transit centre. Minors were sent back to their families or to education centres. Drug sellers were classified as “vagrants”, and were often repeat criminals. As to whether men and women in prison were divided, he said they indeed were separated and he knew of no cases of rape.
Turning next to matters related to prisons and punishment for criminal behaviour, he said Rwanda’s legal system included two categories of life imprisonment. The first provided the option of presidential pardon or early release for good behaviour after 10 years had been served. The second category, in which prisoners were housed in private cells rather than in shared, dormitory-like rooms with other inmates, included the parole option after 20 years of the life sentence had been served. He added that such persons could receive visitors every two weeks, rather than once a week like other prisoners.
As for general prison conditions, Rwanda was constantly striving to make improvements. Mr. NSENGIMANA admitted that, immediately following the genocide, it had been difficult to adequately address the prison situation, but as the country’s economy stabilized, “improvements are being made to prisons ever day”.
He went on to say that the Government had and would continue to contribute to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, such cooperation did not mean the Government would “submit blindly” to the will of that court. Indeed, cooperation required dialogue among stakeholders. He cited an instance in which the Government had expressed concern that witnesses travelling to Arusha ‑‑ the Tribunal’s home base ‑‑ were returning home reporting that they had been mistreated. The Rwandan Government had addressed the matter with the Tribunal and had cooperated with it to seek a solution.
He reiterated the Rwandan Government’s concern that the Tribunal’s completion date was rapidly approaching. Perhaps the Security Council should consider some sort of follow-up mechanism that would allow the conclusion of all cases before the Tribunal closed its doors. It was unfair to compare the situation of Rwanda with that of Bosnia, especially since, during the Balkan wars, an international force had been deployed to stop the fighting. In Rwanda’s case, the forces who had stopped the genocide were from among the population. He urged the Committee to remember the overall context of the 1994 genocide, which had involved millions of people, forced mass population movements and swamped prisons and swamped courts and prisons.
On disappearances, he said the Government looked into all such cases, and generally, those that had been responsible were tried for the crimes that had been committed. In the case of Lieutenant Colonel Augustin Cylza, the Government had followed-up on his whereabouts and investigated leads that he was in the Congo. The trail had gone cold after that, and that was where that investigation had ended.
Responding to other questions, he said the Commission on National Unity and Reconciliation did include representatives from civil society. Indeed, that body’s Vice-President was a local pastor. Civil society was not excluded from the Commission. On national reconciliation, he said, human nature meant that it would take time for total harmony to be restored in a population that had been devastated by genocide, when neighbours had killed neighbours. Deep-seated poverty and unemployment also complicated matters, especially since gainful employment was so critical to reintegrating former combatants into their societies.
Taking the floor next, Ms. TUMUKUNDE responded to a question about her presence on the delegation as a member of the Human Rights Commission, saying that the Commission had a role in all phases of the report’s production, particularly in the preparation stage, through education and advocacy efforts. It provided forums for stakeholders to provide inputs, and reminded relevant ministries ‑‑ including those for justice, labour and women ‑‑ about the timely preparation of inputs. In the present stage of reporting, “we cannot miss out”, she said. Her responsibility was to respond, follow up on recommendations, and be involved in translating concluding remarks into Rwanda’s official language. Had the Commission not been involved in such ways, it could have produced a shadow report.
Regarding gender equality and legal reviews, she said the next report would discuss that issue. She emphasized that gender budgeting was not a responsibility of the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion alone ‑‑ it was the duty of all ministries. On the national level, budgeting was a major responsibility of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. In addition, the Gender Observatory monitored whether institutions adhered to the “big picture” of gender equality.
Responding next, Mr. NSENGIMANA said that, in the hierarchy of legal provisions, international treaties often took their place after the Constitution. That was the case in Rwanda. However, that was a “hotly contested” matter of international law. If a treaty challenged the Constitution, the problem was brought to the Parliament, where both chambers met and, if appropriate, amended the Constitution.
To a question on the environment, he noted Rwanda’s Environmental Agency, and ratification of various treaties, including the Nile Basin Initiative. Rwanda also prohibited the use of plastic bags.
Regarding training in international law, he noted a programme to promote observation of obligations vis-à-vis international treaties. The laissez-passer was used for neighbouring countries, and when one did not have a passport. Every citizen was entitled to a passport, which was more costly.
About training in the judicial sector, he said regular training sessions were provided to all personnel. Human rights training for military agents had been organized after the Covenant was translated into Rwanda’s national language.
Ms. TUMUKUNDE, responding to a question about the independence of her agency, said article 177 of the Constitution defined the responsibilities of the Commission for Human Rights. That body educated the population on human rights, examined violations committed throughout the country, and filed cases in competent courts. It was totally independent ‑‑ it managed its own budget, rather than send it to the Ministry of Finance. It conducted its own planning and staff recruitment, and directed its reports to Parliament, rather than the executive branch. It had the power to investigate prisons unannounced and ask for any document that would help it in its work.
Mr. NSENGIMANA, speaking on Rwanda’s recruitment of children, said that there was either “bad faith or bad will” in the experts’ report. Rwanda had arrested recruiters who were pressing children to join the Army, but the Committee had taken no notice. Moreover, the experts’ report referred to the supply of Rwandan uniforms to the Nkunda army. Not only had Rwanda not done that, but the Government had halted uniform supplies from the United States, and informed the Commission of that. Such a reference was included only in the report’s annexes. The report was partial.
Regarding the President’s declaration of martial law, he said that right was accorded under law, and was generally done after consultation with the Government. The Parliament must react if it disagreed with the reasons for declaring a state of emergency.
Mr. RUSANGANWA, addressing the question of homosexuality, said homosexuality was indeed an offence punished under the new Criminal Code, as had been the case in the former code.
Expert’s Comments and Questions
Opening the second round of expert queries, Ms. WEDGWOOD said that her question had not been why people were detained at the Gikonda facility; rather, she meant to stress that, if people were detained there, especially children, the conditions had to be decent and well administered. On the Gacaca system, she acknowledged that, in the aftermath of the genocide, the Government’s actions had been aimed at bolstering national reconciliation. But now, some 15 years later, to use those same unprepared and undermanned courts to impose severe criminal punishment was simply unfair. The Government must provide adequate representation to all defendants.
On the actions of the media, she said that one could not conflate genocidal radio transmissions in 1994 with ordinary civil disobedience. Media actions during the genocide could not be used as the predicate for shutting down political dissent, she said.
Mr. RODLEY asked for clarifications on his question on the use of force in repressing the uprising in the Mulindi prison case was in self-defence. Again, he asked why prison officials had been disciplined and what were the criteria for such punishment?
Ms. MAJODINA said that she had been concerned about the independence of the national Human Rights Commission. Such bodies, especially when they were funded by Governments, must be constantly on guard to ensure that their independence was not eroded. As a member of South Africa’s Human Rights Commission, she understood the pressure to take over duties charged to Government ministries, or even parliaments. Human rights officials must strive to maintain their independence.
Next, Mr. AMOR said he believed that States parties to the Covenant must constantly monitor the limits of hate speech, while at the same time ensuring freedom of expression. On another concern, he said he did not understand why beggars were arrested in Rwanda, unless they were secretly being controlled by the mafia or a criminal organization. What was the Rwandan Government’s definition of vagrancy?
Mr. NSENGIMANA said, while he understood the concerns about the Gikonda facility, such concern sprang from the belief that it was a prison. Such facilities were actually transfer centres where the children were processed, and most often, sent back to their parents, sent to education centres or prosecuted for crimes of vagrancy. The Government did not consider Gikonda, which was located in central Kigali, to be a prison. He added that, as the countries economy had begun to turn around, plans were under way to build a more formal detention centre.
He went on to say that Rwanda generally classified beggars, drug dealers, street people, pickpockets and prostitutes as “vagrants”. Repeat offenders were prosecuted as vagrants.
Further on the Gacaca system, he said legal advisers regularly reviewed cases before Gacaca courts and often provided assistance to those judges. The delegation would provide answers in writing on cases of disappearance. On the Mulindi prison case, he said that disciplinary measures had been taken because of actions taken by the prison director before the strike. The Government found the situation had not been handled properly; it had spun out of control, and that official had been punished.
He acknowledged that, indeed, there was a risk that the work of the Human Rights Commission could be encroached upon by the Government, but he believed the human rights officials were careful that such infringement did not occur. On vagrancy, he said that in Rwanda, Friday was considered “Beggars’ Day,” when such activities were accepted and expected. But, beggars were often pickpockets and that was what Government authorities were trying to address.
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