With the new beginning in Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, the activities of almost all civil society organizations have for years been limited to emergency aid. The main target groups included a wide variety of genocidal social groups such as widows, orphans, traumatized people, etc.
While the country has made a significant recovery in the socio-economic area in the meantime, the development of civil society is still in its infancy. The background to this deficit is formed by a number of factors: For the overwhelming majority of the population, the supply of basic needs is not sufficiently guaranteed. The struggle to cope with everyday life is a priority for many, and there is usually little room for social commitment. The elite alone has a participatory role. The involvement of citizens is also hindered by various post-conflict phenomena such as the prevailing distrust within society, the ongoing process of coming to terms with the genocide, and the fear of a possible relapse into the climate of violence and other traumatic conditions. In addition, the necessary access to information is made more difficult by the existing inadequate level of education with the low literacy rate of the population (approx. 70%).
The political framework of recent years has been unfavorable for the development of civil society. The authoritarian regime tends to have comprehensive control over all social activities. The state enforces its clear political line with strict security measures. There is hardly any room for divergent initiatives.
Since 2008, however, the legal framework for civil society in Rwanda has undergone extensive reform.
New legal regulations for national and international NGOs and religious organizations have been in force since 2012. This shows a turning away from the trend observed in large parts of Africa of wanting to restrict civil society organizations and their activities. Instead, a new attempt can be seen to involve citizens more intensively in political processes through civil society and thus enable them to participate more in the development of the country. For a final assessment of this observation, the actual implementation of the new provisions must be awaited.
Positive news is the complete abolition of the death penalty in July 2007. This was decided solely out of political interest. In doing so, the government wanted to remove the greatest obstacle to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s referral of defendants to the judiciary in Rwanda.
According to constructmaterials, the human rights situation in Rwanda in general remains critical. However, improvements can be observed in some areas. The situation in prisons, for example, was problematic. Inmates often did not have to wait for years for court hearings to come up with regular files or concrete evidence. Many of them have been penalized with nonprofit working hours in gacaca lawsuits. This then led to improved prison conditions for the overcrowded prisons.
A 2008 law criminalizing divisionism, denial of genocide and spreading genocide ideology has been used several times to arrest journalists, for example. The lack of precise formulations of the law were criticized, as this allowed the possibility of justifying various court decisions with this so-called “anti-genocide law”.
In the meantime, the aforementioned law was revised in 2013. The revised version contains several improvements, including a more precise definition of the offense and a significant reduction in the maximum prison sentence from 25 to 9 years.
Foreigners are also at risk of arrest if they are suspected of denying the genocide. In June 2010, the US lawyer Peter Erlinder was arrested in Kigali. He was accused of systematically denying the genocide in Rwanda through his publications.
Former President Bizimungu, arrested in April 2002, was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in June 2004 for illegal political activities and stirring up ethnic differences, but has since been released through an amnesty by the President.
A national human rights commission, founded in 1999, has investigative and intervention powers, but there has been criticism of the efficiency of the commission and its independence from government.
The umbrella organization CLADHO (Collectif des Ligues et Associations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme) brings together five non-governmental human rights organizations. LIPRODHOR (Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l’Homme) acts in the judiciary as well as the LDGL (Ligue pour les droits de l’Homme dans la region des Grands Lacs) as an independent organization critical of the government. IBUKA (Association des rescapés du Génocide) takes on the advocacy of genocide survivors.