Remarks by the Delegation of the United States of America
UPR Working Group Intervention for Rwanda, 10th Session
Monday, January 24, 2011
Delivered by John C. Mariz
The United States warmly welcomes the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, His Excellency Mr. Tharicisse Karugarama and the Rwandan delegation to the UPR Working Group and commends Rwanda on the completion of its national report and its participation today. We have carefully reviewed the content of the report and closely followed the delegation’s presentation, and would like to raise the following issues and question.
We note that Rwanda has addressed freedom of expression in its national report and its presentation today. We acknowledge Rwanda’s painful history of the misuse of media to foment violence, but we note that the suppression of legitimate free speech also has led to bloodshed and violence. We have taken careful note of the delegation’s remarks regarding the ideology law and Rwanda’s planned review. However, we remain concerned with the lack of progress in allowing media organs to speak freely without fear of punishment. Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial, in the interest of promoting racial harmony continue to be interpreted in ways that restrict the freedom of expression, contrary to Rwanda’s international legal obligations. We also remain concerned about the 2009 media law, including the high registration and licensing fees imposed on media that impedes economic growth as well as the development of a free media.
The United States welcomes Rwanda’s efforts, as noted in the OHCHR compilation report, to adopt a formal human rights policy as well as a national action plan for the protection and the promotion of human rights. However, as noted in the stakeholders’ report, the government has engaged in ongoing harassment, including arbitrary arrest, of both human rights defenders and journalists, as well as imposing burdensome NGO registration requirements that prevent civil society from becoming a strong partner for development. We would like to ask the delegation how Rwanda will seek to address the harassment of civil society and the media sectors.
As noted in Rwanda’s country report, there have been a number of positive reforms in the judicial sector in the last several years. The government has rebuilt the infrastructure of the judicial system that had been largely destroyed by the genocide. However, the United States remains concerned over reports of political interference with the judiciary, particularly in trials of political interest and in cases where there were accusations of “divisionism”. We also have concerns about unfair trials, the abuse of the genocide ideology law to deter witnesses and lawyers’ participation, other pressure on and intimidation of witnesses, corruption, and lack of judicial independence.
While Rwanda generally respects religious freedom, we have concerns regarding the treatment of some minority religious groups. For example, local authorities continued to arrest and detain Jehovah’s Witnesses who declined, for religious reasons, to participate in night patrols. In another incident, school officials temporarily expelled Jehovah’s Witnesses students for refusing to sing the national anthem.
Bearing in mind these concerns, the United States would like to make the following four recommendations:
1. That Rwanda decriminalize press offenses and reform or repeal the Law on Media, which limits the freedom of press.
2. That Rwanda reduce burdensome registration and renewal processes for NGOs in the country.
3. That Rwanda adopt measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, and guard against corruption and political interference.
4. Finally, that Rwanda further ensure that the country’s religious minorities are able to freely practice their respective beliefs without interference or discrimination.