Rwanda will in November appear before the UN Human Rights Council to defend its human rights record as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and it is particularly expected to give an update on the recommendations made in the previous review.
UPR is a state-driven process that involves a review of the human rights record of all UN member states.
In 2011, Rwanda accepted to implement 67 UNHRC recommendations relating to human rights practices in the country and, according to Justice Minister Johnston Busingye, much progress has been made.
“Today, we are happy to be at over 80 per cent of implementation of the recommendations. We don’t count the UPR process as simply a submission of report or as implementation of recommendation; we count it as something which Rwandans need, a public good for Rwandans, so when we are doing this, we are not looking at satisfying anyone in Geneva,” said Busingye referring to the UNHRC headquarters.
Although Rwanda accepted to take on the recommendations in 2011, the country started the review in June last year and, as of today, according to the justice minister, 55 of the recommendations have been fully implemented.
“Twelve of them are in the process; among these include nine that will be fully implemented by April 30 and three recommendations might remain work in progress even after we have submitted our report,” Busingye, who is also the Attorney-General, said.
Some of the implemented recommendations include the smooth winding up of the Gacaca court system and having in place a mechanism for dispute resolution on the cases of Genocide after Gacaca had closed.
“We also have a set of new laws that advance freedoms of expression and association, access to information, organisation of political parties’ functions and several laws that have made strategic inroads along these areas,” the minister said.
The Penal Code
Among other key achievements include the legal aid and justice for children policies, which are currently being transformed into Bills, he said.
However, government may need to amend some major legal instruments like the Penal Code to pave way for full implementation of the recommendations.
One of the reasons that may necessitate amendment of the Penal Code is the possible deletion of the life sentence in solitary confinement, which was introduced after the country repealed the death penalty.
“My experience and discussions with people working with Rwanda Correctional Services is that this kind of punishment is in the documents more than it is in practice because we don’t have any individual in solitary confinement,” Busingye said.
Rwanda will also be required to have a national human rights policy before November.
The review process involves several stakeholders including the One UN office and the civil society, who believe Rwanda has made tremendous progress in delivering on the UPR but still has some unfinished business.
According to Nadine Rugwe, the head of the democratic governance and peace consolidation unit at One-UN Rwanda, the country ratified most core human rights treaties except for the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
“There is also need to accelerate the revision of the law relating to the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology and awareness of national policy on elimination of worst forms of child labour,” she said.
Key areas to address
Among other key areas that she pointed out which the government needs to address before November, include refugees in Rwanda who have no access to Ubudehe Social Stratification Scheme, which affect their rights to access to some basic services.
The Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum, Andrews Kananga, headed a team of civil society organisations that assessed Rwanda’s UPR performance.
Among the key observations that the civil society brought to table include the need for an amendment of the law on political organisations and politicians where Rwanda removed mandatory membership to the Consultative Forum of Political Parties.
However, Kananga criticised Article 20 of the law governing political parties that requires parties wishing to hold a demonstration to inform and request authorisation of the relevant authorities at least five working days before the event, saying the clause hinders the right to assembly as required by the constitution.
Minister Busingye said Rwanda needs cooperation with all stakeholders to deliver on its promises.