Justice minister Johnston Busingye has called on civil society organisations and other players involved in advocating for human rights in the country to engage constructively for the benefit of all citizens.
Busingye was speaking, yesterday, at a workshop that brought together civil society organisations and other rights stakeholders in Kigali to analyse and propose follow-up and implementation strategies of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations given to Rwanda during the 23rd session of UN Human Rights Council.
The workshop was organised by the One-UN and Rwanda Civil Society Platform.
The minister said promoting and respecting human rights is a core value and a central priority for the Government of Rwanda, and welcomed the opportunity of UPR to engage in Rwanda’s human rights work with interested partners.
“Ensuring respect for our international human rights obligations is a continuous process. Dialogue, as well as periodic and constructive scrutiny, contributes to furthering the values which our society is based on,” Busingye said.
Rwanda has been part of UPR since its inception in 2006 and has since successfully implemented various recommendations presented during the first cycle.
In the second phase, 50 recommendations were accepted by Rwanda and the minister was confident they would be implemented before the next review scheduled for 2019.
The optimism is based on a jointly crafted national roadmap and reporting taskforce which brings together government and civil society organisations.
“Our focus is, first and foremost, on our people who put their trust in the government to protect and promote their rights,” Busingye said, adding that the human rights in Rwanda is a full-time affair and that the Government does not wait for activists or their reports to make it a priority.
“We believe it would be an abdication of duty to sit and wait for human rights activists or lectures from friends and partners. They should find us on the way and travel with us,” Busingye said.
“I am glad that many civil society organisations individually and collectively took part in the previous process by producing their own alternative reports and putting forward particular issues concerning different fields.”
Minister Busignye also pointed to the important role played by civil society organisations.
“The work of engaged and constructive civil society organisations results into benefits for the Government, the citizens and civil society. Our view is that these reports should be frank and accurate,” he said.
However, Busingye cautioned civil society players who fabricate stories claiming harassment toward organisations that hold views different from the Government’s.
“This is untrue. The Ministry of Justice is the government agency responsible for UPR, we have not and we do not engage with partners, even those we disagree with, in such fashion. This again is wrong and mischievous,” the minister said.
“I have raised this issue because we believe that if we all work and engage frankly, Rwanda will not be found wanting.”
Busingye emphasised the importance of putting into context the tragic history that Rwanda has been through.
“We should not ignore history. For example, when we discuss freedoms of press, speech, expression or association, we should always pay attention to the limitations Parliament has placed on them,” he said, adding that Rwanda had to pay a high price 22 years ago for “reckless enjoyment of the same freedoms.”
In 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi saw Rwandans pick machetes against fellow compatriots, leaving more than a million dead.
Busingye reminded the members of the civil society that the bottom line is about the Rwandan people.
“UPR is not a four-year sports tournament with finals in Geneva, it is about real lives of real people in our Villages.” Busingye said.
“It is about their hopes, aspirations, fears and doubts. It is part of Rwanda’s unity and reconciliation and the whole resurrection and healing process, not separated or divorced from it. It is not a standalone project.”
Over the last two decades, Rwanda has registered remarkable progress in various sectors, including economic, social and political rights. These feats, Busingye said, do not take place in isolation.
“They do not happen at midnight. They evolve and each reinforces the other. The UPR is part of this whole process. Any attempt to isolate it is energy lost,” the minister said.
Lamin Manneh, the UN resident coordinator, said many conflicts the world is facing today can be traced directly or indirectly into governance, at the heart of which is the issue of human rights.
He lauded the government and civil society for the good results in the 2015 UPR and called for more efforts and working together among both as he pledged UN support to human rights promotion.
Andrews Kananga, the executive director of Legal Aid Forum, said civil society will work hand in hand with the government to sensitise Rwandans and make them aware of what they ought to do in order to achieve successful implementation of the recommendations.