1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: There were some positive developments in Rwanda in 2018 which could be the first signs of an opening of political space. This included the acquittal of an opposition figure and presidential pardon for another, who had been serving a lengthy prison sentence, as well as for thousands of other prisoners, among them some genocide convicts. Four members of parliament from two new opposition parties were elected in a peaceful election in September. The debate on social media continued to expand the space for political discussions. Meanwhile the group of people belonging to an unregistered opposition party who were arrested in August 2017 remained in prison awaiting trial for terrorism charges and alleged links to armed groups in DRC. In July the UN’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (UNSPT) terminated its visit, without completing it. Overall, the human rights situation remained largely unchanged with continued reports of serious violations of civil and political rights and continued progress on social and economic rights.
2. EU action – key focus areas: The EU and its Member States continued to focus their attention on two main priority areas: (i) the area of the most serious violations of human rights – i.e. enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatments in detention facilities, and ii) the area with the most significant restrictions of human rights – i.e. the politically related rights and freedoms such as the freedom of expression/freedom of media, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU continued to engage on human rights and democracy with Rwanda and it continues to monitor the human rights situation closely, including by following relevant court cases. The EU Delegation and EU Member States in Rwanda have also promoted human rights through public diplomacy. Examples were bringing visibility to LGBTI issues on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR@70) at the annual European Street Fair and organising of a public discussion on the topic of Freedom of Information featuring panellists from civil society, government and media. For International Human Rights Day, the EU hosted a symposium jointly with UN OHCHR and local NGOs for experience sharing on reporting and monitoring.
4. EU financial engagement: In 2018, three projects were launched under the 2017 call for proposals related to priorities identified in the EU Human Rights strategy. The projects targeted three main issues, namely i) prevention of torture, rehabilitation of victims and access to justice ii) monitoring and upholding international human rights obligations with regards to the right to health and non-discrimination for the LGBTI individuals and sex workers, and iii) strengthening the capacity of CSOs, human rights defenders (HRDs) and the media to effectively challenge discrimination and advocate for greater respect and promotion of the rights of historically marginalised peoples. An additional project on prevention of torture, rehabilitation of victims and access to justice has also received support via global European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) call for proposals. The EU Delegation has also launched five new projects in 2018 through the CSO budget line, relating to strengthening the capacity of CSOs and citizens to hold public authorities to account at national and local levels and promoting more inclusive, responsive and transparent governance in Rwanda. Two of these projects focus on accountable governance in the agricultural sector.
5. Multilateral context: 2018 was Rwanda's last year of its two year term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). It held vice-presidency of the bureau in 2018. The country continued to vote largely together with the EU, to abstain from voting on politically sensitive issues, and to remain a good partner in the African group within the UN rights system.
Rwanda has accepted 50 out of 229 recommendations in the UPR Cycle 2015-19. In January 2018, the Civil Society Coalition on UPR submitted an in-depth and rather critical Mid-Term Assessment Report to the UN HRC, while also admitting that many of the issues raised in their alternative report during the second review have been addressed or are being implemented.
The termination of the visit of the UNSPT in July was the first such full termination of a visit in the 11 years that the UNSPT has exercised its mandate globally. The visit had been suspended in October 2017. The Subcommittee cited a lack of cooperation from the government, whereas the Rwandan government referred to human error and expressed hope for a renewed visit. Concrete steps have been undertaken by the authorities to move forward with the implementation of a national prevention mechanism as foreseen by OPCAT. Rwanda is signatory to almost all core human rights instruments, but is yet to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Read the full EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2018 here: