Laurent Munyandilikirwa paints a bleak picture of Rwanda’s human rights situation

March 18, 2016

During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report of Rwanda at the UN Human Eights Council, Laurent Munyandilikirwa, former President of the Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l’homme, delivered on 16 March 2016 a statement (on behalf of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project):.
Mr President, for the vast majority of my professional and personal life, I have proudly dedicated myself to protecting and promoting fundamental human rights in Rwanda.  As the former President of LIPRODHOR, one of Rwanda’s only independent human rights monitoring organisations, I had the great privilege of supporting my fellow citizens to secure and claim their rights.  However, despite the severe human rights deficits which continue to undermine Rwanda’s democratic consolidation, the important work LIPRODHOR and other human rights groups undertook in Rwanda is now largely untenable and fraught with danger.
Since Rwanda’s last UPR examination in 2011, the government has strengthened its long-term and systematic campaign to completely stifle freedom of association, by replacing the leadership of human rights organisations with those sympathetic to the government. As a result, there are now very few freely functioning and entirely independent human rights organisations left that can meaningfully challenge government policies and advocate for reforms, without well-founded fear of reprisals. In addition, since Rwanda’s last examination, independent civil society organisations, NGOs, and individual human rights defenders have continued to face escalating intimidation and reprisals in the course of their work. A number of defenders, including myself, have either been imprisoned or forced into exile. Increasingly, human rights defenders and the NGOs for which they work have been subjected to administrative harassment smear campaigns and public denouncement in pro-government media.
We therefore strongly urge the Government of Rwanda to take effective and meaningful steps to operationalize the important recommendations put forward during this examination in support of the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders.

This is line with e.g. Front Line Defenders’ report of 10 September 2015 about the Rwandan police disrupting the general assembly organised by LIPRODHOR  . [On 5 September 2015, Rwandan police officers disrupted a general assembly that had gathered several dozen members of the League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights in Rwanda. The purpose of the general assembly was to elect a new independent board of directors.[LIPRODHOR is one of the few human rights organisations in Rwanda, which has continuously endeavoured to hold the government accountable for a wide range of human rights abuses. After numerous human rights groups based in Rwanda were either co-opted or forced into silence, LIPRODHOR stood out as the sole Rwandan organisation committed to being independent. In 2004, the government targeted its leaders and accused them on fabricated charges of “propagating genocide ideology.” The outgoing members of the board of directors of LIPRODHOR have allegedly been acting on behalf of the government.  The general assembly which took place on 5 September 2015 had been convened by the outgoing board, whose term ended in July 2015, in order for a new board to be elected. During the assembly, participants elected three board members, namely the chair, the vice-chair and the secretary general. Following this, a number of participants, led by the chair of the outgoing board, reportedly stood up and caused a commotion as they claimed that the vote had been rigged. Soon after the incident, these participants reportedly called the police, who intervened and disrupted the assembly. A senior police officer informed the participants who had remained inside that he had to put an end to the meeting as it was “causing insecurity”. Members of the organisation have contacted the authorities about the incident, but, to date, no measures have been taken to assure the organisation’s rights to conduct its activities. It remains unclear whether LIPRODHOR’s members will be allowed to convene again and complete the election of the new board which will allow them to carry out their legitimate human rights work without restriction.  

In November 2014, several members of LIPRODHOR attempted to convene a similar assembly in order to address the ongoing problem. However, local authorities thwarted the initiative, informing them that the gathering would be deemed illegal. Thereafter, Messrs Evariste Nsabayezu and Daniel Uwimana, respectively LIPRODHOR’s vice chair and provincial representative at the time, were arrested and detained over allegations that they were involved in organising the assembly using what the police claimed were “falsified documents.” They were later released without trial. Several other members of LIPRODHOR were also reportedly threatened with arrest.]

 

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