1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: During 2020, the overall human rights situation in Rwanda remained unchanged. The Rwandan government reacted with foresight and effectiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic, declaring and implementing the first lockdown in Sub-Saharan Africa and adjusting measures regularly. A number of incidents were reported, most notably: the killing of three persons by police, physical abuse of citizens by local authorities, as well as arrest and (mostly) short-term detention of 12 media practitioners for violating lockdown measures. The pandemic had a massive impact on the enjoyment of social and economic rights (food, housing, education) by many Rwandans. The government adopted a Social Protection Response and Recovery Plan, providing a large-scale extension of its social assistance programmes, delivering food assistance to vulnerable urban populations, cash transfers or public works programmes. While the Rwandan government continues to show its strong developmental ambition and performance in the areas of economic and social rights, it also continues to face allegations of serious human rights violations – excessive use of force, suspicious deaths in custody, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. Human rights advocates continue to report arbitrary detentions and use of inhuman or degrading treatment in detention facilities and in ‘transit’ centres where destitute individuals, including minors, are allegedly held without due process. 141 Freedom of expression remains limited, but room for debate is expanding through online media. In particular, vague wording of the Genocide Ideology Law has been exploited to stifle public dissent or criticism creating an environment of self-censorship for journalists, bloggers and citizens fearing reprisal and prosecution. Freedom of association remains stifled by burdensome registration procedures. While the legal framework addressing women’s rights in Rwanda is good (as is the women’s representation in the National Assembly), weak implementation of laws and policies coupled with discriminatory social norms hamper the realisation of women’s rights. Exacerbated by restrictions of movement and the closing of schools for the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda experienced an increase of gender-based violence, sexual abuse against children, and a surge in teenage pregnancies. On LGBTI issues, Rwanda remains the only country in East Africa that does not criminalise consensual same-sex relations, but it has no provisions in its legal code to protect LGBTI individuals from discrimination, nor does it recognise unions and partnerships between same-sex individuals. Rwanda continues to host about 145,000 refugees from DRC and Burundi, and hosts the Emergency Transfer Mechanism to evacuate refugees from Libya to ensure their safety during status determination and resettlement.
2. EU action – key focus areas: The EU and its Member States have continued to focus on two main priority areas: the most serious violations of human rights - enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment in detention facilities; and the area with the most significant restrictions of human rights - political rights, freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Belgium and Germany support capacity building of the National Commission of Human Rights (acting as National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT) to conduct visits to detention facilities with a view to preventing torture. The EU delegation and EU Member States in Rwanda carried out a number of public diplomacy activities with the aim of promoting specific issues related to human rights. For instance, the EU, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden promoted the rights of LGBTI persons or advocated against gender-based violence through various initiatives.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU continued to engage on human rights and democracy with Rwanda within the framework of regular political contacts as well as on other occasions. General concerns regarding the length of pre-trial detention, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings were raised with government and relevant authorities, as were specific individual cases. During 2020, the EU and Member States’ missions have had several exchanges with authorities on human rights-related issues, particularly with respect to the Human Rights Council agenda and in preparation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2021.
4. EU financial engagement: The EU delegation and EU Member States supported projects or initiatives that work towards the achievement of EU human rights priorities for Rwanda. Following a call for proposals in 2019 and the award of contracts, four projects started implementation related to freedom of expression and the rights of journalists, the reintegration of prisoners as well as the rights of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities. In 2020, five Rwandan journalists participated in a series of webinars on access to 142 Information during a pandemic, offered by the EU facility ‘Media4Democracy’. The EU also provided emergency funding to protect one human rights defender.
5. Multilateral context: Rwanda signed all UN human rights conventions, with the exception of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearances, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and most Optional Protocols. Rwanda showed strong commitment to the UPR process, in particular by engaging with civil society and diplomats. Rwanda’s third UPR took place in January 2021. In preparation, the government organised meetings to provide stakeholders, including EU delegation and Member States involved in cooperation in the sector, with an opportunity to comment on the report before this was submitted to the Cabinet for validation. The final draft was amended taking account of comments made by development partners in this consultation