Rwanda Human Rights

Human Rights Concerns

Rwandan engagements in the East Congo continue to perpetuate violence in the region. In January General Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Congolese Tutsi militia (CNDP) was arrested and held in Rwanda. Meanwhile, the Rwandan government came to an agreement with the Congolese government to collaborate in attacking the Rwandan Hutu militia (FDLR). Roughly 7,000 Rwandan troops entered the Democratic Republic of Congo in late January 2009 to begin military operations. Amnesty International was concerned that the increase in military activity endangered the civilian population, especially after the end of the operation.

It is feared that Rwanda’s continuing support of militias is linked to participation in the trade of natural resources that has fueled the arms trade in the region. In Rwanda itself, the Kagame government, which had squelched the political process in its elections, continued to impose strict restrictions and to arrest journalists who voiced criticisms of the government. At the same time, a long held prisoner of conscience, the journalist Dominique Makeli, was released. A prisoner of conscience and journalist detained almost 12 years without trial, he was released by a Gacaca tribunal on Oct 16, 2008.

The restrictions on human rights NGOs eased somewhat, but still continued to prevent them from operating freely. Gacaca trials continued, with reports of witnesses being intimidated, and thousands arrested after their initial releases, increasing the prison population to more than 60,000 — the majority of whom remain incarcerated on charges of participating in the genocide. Many are held without any charges. The Rwandan government continues relatively frequently to charge individuals with participation in the genocide, resulting in the long-term imprisonment of opposition political candidates and the repression of the press and human rights organizations.

Prisoner of Conscience Francois-Xavier Byumba

The case of prisoner of conscience Francois-Xavier Byumba, a long-standing human rights defender and activist for an NGO dealing with children’s rights, involves a judgment of guilty in a trial Amnesty International considers unfair. Byumba, was sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment on  May 27, 2007, after an unfair trial by the gacaca community court in the Bilyogo sector of Kigali. Turengere Abana, the organisation François-Xavier Byuma chairs, had looked into allegations that the judge presiding over the trial had raped a young girl. The judge therefore had a clear conflict of interest in the trial. The Appeals court decided on August 18, 2007 that the first instance verdict should stand, and the sentence of 19 years' imprisonment would remain. The court did not motivate its verdict, and gave no explanation on whether it had considered the question of impartiality of the judge in first instance. This failure by the court amounts to a gross miscarriage of justice. Amnesty International has called for a review of this case in line with international standards of fair trial.