Rwanda taken to task over its human rights record

Rwanda’s human-rights record is once again under debate after a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report, released at the ongoing session in Geneva, cited restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. The session runs until November 13.

The Geneva-based watchdog expressed concern about reports of surveillance, harassment, and delays in registration of human-rights organisations in the country. The report acknowledges the progress Kigali has made in combating trafficking in persons and preventing violence against women.

The Rwandan delegation, led by the country’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye, said the government has undertaken reforms and is committed to addressing the concerns raised.

“When we comply with these human-rights standards and recommendations, it is not because someone is watching us, or because in four years we will com to be held to account. It’s because we want to be accountable to our people,” he said.

The UPR, which was set up in 2008, examines each UN member’s human-rights record. Countries are reviewed every four and a half years. Rwanda was reviewed for the first time in January 2011.

According to the report, Rwanda accepted 67 out of 73 recommendations from the 2011 UPR.

The UPR team expressed concern about reports that Burundian refugees in Rwanda have been recruited into armed groups. They called on the government to investigate the reports and ensure that the refugee camps are civilian.

“We recommend that Rwanda conduct a thorough, transparent investigation into reports of missing persons related to the extensive 2014 security operation, holding accountable the individuals responsible,” said Eric Richardson, deputy political counsellor US mission based in Geneva during the 23rd Session of the HRC Universal Periodic Review held on November 4.

READ: Rwanda MPs voice concern over rights abuses

Kigali has yet to account for the whereabouts of people reported missing during an operation in 2014 conducted by Rwandan security forces.

Rwanda has denied the allegations, describing them as baseless.

The UPR team also urged the Rwandan government to implement the June 2014 recommendations of the special rapporteur to allow for peaceful political opposition, and for civil society and journalists to register and participate in civic life freely.

While the government has dismissed some of the allegations, it maintains that it has embarked on reforms since 2011, paving the way for political space, media freedom and civil society promotion.

Luxemburg told the Rwandan delegation that it is concerned about persistent regional inequalities and discrimination that hinder equal enjoyment of economic and social rights of vulnerable persons in Rwanda.

Hungary, Mexico and Kenya recommended that Rwanda strengthen the independence of its justice system and refrain from political interference in the judicial processes.

“Despite legal and administrative reforms, unfair trials are still reported in a number of politically sensitive judicial cases,” Hungary’s representative said, adding that his country is concerned that human rights defenders in Rwanda continue to face harassment, intimidation, and reprisals in the course and as a consequence of their work.

Similar recommendations were echoed by Italy, which urged Rwanda to investigate allegations of torture during interrogations in some detention facilities by the police and security forces.

Member states also urged Rwanda to ratify the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance.

In addition, they expressed concern about the country not having ratified the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court.

Mr Busingye said the country has not ratified the Rome Statute due to concerns over the Hague-based court’s independence and impartiality.

“We encourage the court to become more colour-blind and region-blind. Otherwise the parliament of Rwanda will find it difficult to support a judicial organ whose practices we have difficulties explaining,” he said.