Since April, the Rwandan government has initiated a review process of the country’s “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws in an attempt to make them more specific and highlight, especially for foreigners, what is punishable under each law.
It is no secret internally and abroad that the Rwanda government has ardently attempted to combat what it describes as “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” in its society. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, it became a priority for the government to eradicate any potential for divisions between Hutus and Tutsis, the country’s two main ethnic groups. Rwandans were told that these ethnic categories no longer existed; the nation was comprised of Rwandans only.
When, in 2002, the government went so far to promulgate prohibitions against “divisionism” and “sectarianism”, members of the press and political parties were the targets. But the broad nature of the charges eventually led to the prosecution and conviction of many other citizens. According to a 2007-2008 government report on justice in Rwanda, there were 1,034 trials connected to “genocide ideology” during this time.
Between 2003 and 2008 these prohibitions were cemented and expanded through a series of four parliamentary commissions.
In September 2009, Amnesty International, the internationally recognised human rights organisation, descended on Kigali to speak to government officials to assess the Rwanda justice sector and review the application of the “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws.
Amnesty was openly greeted by officials such as the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor General and was even given access to individuals in Rwandan prisons who had been convicted of these crimes. However, by the time Amnesty was completing their investigations in March 2010, Kigali began interpreting its findings with increased skepticism.
Amnesty was critical of how prosecutions for “genocide ideology” and so-called “genocide ideology-related” offences were brought even before the law defining this offence was promulgated and how people continue to be prosecuted for “divisionism”, under “sectarianism” laws, even though “divisionism” is not defined in law.
In its August 2010 report, “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s Laws on ‘Genocide Ideology’ and ‘Sectarianism”, Amnesty argues that although prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, the Rwandan government’s approach and vague wording of the laws they employed violated international human rights law and the country’s obligations on freedom of expression.
Moreover, their report claimed, due to their ambiguous nature, many Rwandan judges and lawyers were themselves confused on the interpretation of the law.
|Genocide ideology and sectarianism laws|
The infraction is defined in articles 2 and 3 of Law No 18/2008 relating to the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology. For clarity, the definition is reproduced in full below:
Article 2: Definition of ‘genocide ideology’; The genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterized by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people basing (sic) on ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, color, physical appearance, sex, language, religion or political opinion, committed in normal periods or during war.
Article 3. Characteristics of the Crime of Genocide Ideology
The crime of genocide ideology is characterized by behaviors that manifest themselves through the facts to dehumanize a person or group of individuals having a common bond between them as:
1. Threatening, intimidating and degrading treatment by words, writings or actions which aim to spread wickedness or incite hatred;
2. Marginalize utter sarcasm, denigrate, insult, offend, confuse to deny the genocide that occurred, to sow discord, revenge, alter the testimony or evidence on the genocide that occurred;
3. Kill, planning to kill or attempt to kill someone on the basis of ideology of genocide.
Sectarianism related to divisionism and for clarity, the definition of both statements can are reproduced in full below:
According to Article 1 of Law No 47/2001,
1. Discrimination is any speech, writing, or actions based on ethnicity, region or country of origin, the colour of the skin, physical features, sex, language, religion or ideas aimed at depriving a person or group of persons of their rights as provided by Rwandan law and by International Conventions to which Rwanda is a party;
2. Sectarianism means the use of any speech, written statement or action that divides people, that is likely to spark conflicts among people, or that causes an uprising which might degenerate into strife among people based on discrimination mentioned in article one (first point).
3. Deprivation of a person of his/her rights is the denial of rights provided by Rwanda (sic) Law and by International Conventions to which Rwanda is party.
Charles Kaliwabo, a spokesman of the Rwandan judiciary says, however, that genocide ideology has never been a problem to the Rwandan judicial authorities.
“The judgments made by the amnesty report are insulting. The Amnesty international always thinks that they know laws better than anyone in this world,” he says. “How can lawyers and judges be unable to define these laws and go on to convict and acquit Rwandans who have been engaged in denying the genocide? Being able to have acquittals is clear evidence that we understand these laws.”
Kaliwabo disagrees with claims that these two laws are aimed at repressing the opposition and denying freedom of expression. “This is not true because if you are to see the different cases that have been handled, the majority is peasant citizens who are not even linked to any political parties,” he says. “But when a political figure like Ingabire and Ntaganda is convicted of such a vice, they relate it to the whole nation.”
Augustin Nkusi, spokesman from the national prosecutor’s office, affirms that these laws are designed to protect, not punish, Rwandans. “A nation is like a home. If you don’t take good responsibility of your family and leave everyone to do what he or she likes, then you will find your family in shambles,” he says.
“Both “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws are aimed at saving Rwandans from taking back the nation into the era of the 1994 genocide which claimed a million lives of her citizens,” he says defiantly.
Proponents of the laws like Nkusi and Kaliwabo have some encouraging news. A report compiled by the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Fighting against Genocide revealed that cases of divisionism and discrimination decreased from 50 in 2008 to 32 in 2009 to 17 this year.
One sector of society where instances of genocide ideology have markedly declined is in schools. In 2009, after a damning parliamentary report that exposed significant tensions in schools, the Ministry of Education began training teachers nationwide on how to handle cases of genocide ideology. Many schools, such as Kagarama Secondary School, have created “Never Again Clubs”.
“This club is basically to offer counseling to some students who lost their loved ones during the 1994 Tutsi genocide,” says Emmanuel Ndayishimiye, the Assistant Disciplinary Officer at Kagarama. “It is through this club that other students are taught to desist from the habits of divisionism and genocide ideologies.”
Innocent Ninsima, who finished his advanced education at Riviera High School last year, said that at Riviera he was part of a “Never Again Club”.
“We encouraged young people to come and talk about genocide,” Ninsima recounts. “Students would express their feelings and we could at the end discuss and show our colleagues different methodologies of combating these ideologies.”
The Ministry of Education has supplied schools with a History and General Paper curriculum designed “to enable Rwandan students to address the past and prepare for the future”. The General Paper syllabus, in addition to chapters on HIV & AIDS, environment, includes chapters on relations and laws, social interaction, human rights, unity and reconciliation and genocide ideology.
As laudable as these initiatives are they have not proven sufficient to deflect criticism from how the government is attempting to apply “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws in the spheres of politics and media.
Critics, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, argue this was especially apparent in the lead up to the Aug. 9 presidential elections.
One well publicised and contentious case involved Victoire Ingabire, an opposition politician and presidential aspirant. She was charged under the “genocide ideology” laws when, during a visit to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali on April 21, she raised the issue of prosecuting members of the Rwanda Patriotic Forces for war crimes.
Amnesty argues that although this was an inappropriate time to raise such claims, the charges did not amount to hate speech. But Rwandan officials say the charges against Ingabire did not stem from her words but from what her words implied.
“The issue is the philosophy behind it. It is not one of criminality, it’s one of philosophy,” says Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga. “The insistence [on accountability for RPF war crimes] is not based on the concern that this is a group that will be forgotten. No, it is based on an attempt to play down the bigger project of the genocide.”
Ingabire was charged with “genocide ideology”, “minimising the genocide” and “divisionism”, as well as an additional charge which falls outside the scope of this report, “collaboration with a terrorist group”, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). She was also barred from running in the presidential elections.
Until today, Ingabire believes she is being targeted for having a different opinion about the genocide. “My statements were not aimed at creating divisionism like people say,” Ingabire told The Independent. “I wanted us all Rwandans to sit and discuss about what happened, understand these kinds of laws such that we could have a better Rwanda tomorrow. In Rwanda, people can only talk about the Tutsi genocide and it is a taboo to talk about Hutu victims and especially to discuss war crimes committed by the ruling party and its armed wing during and after the war and genocide.”
On April 25, 2009, the BBC Kinyarwanda Service also felt the enveloping sensitivity around this issue when they aired a trailer for a programme discussing forgiveness after the 1994 genocide. The trailer included Faustin Twagiramungu, a former presidential candidate, opposing attempts to have all Hutus apologise for the genocide because not all Hutus had participated in it. It also contained a statement from a man of mixed ethnicity reflecting on why the government had not allowed relatives of those killed by the RPF to grieve.
The government argued that the broadcast incited “divisionism” and constituted genocide denial and suspended the BBC’s broadcast. Rwanda’s then Information Minister and current Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, accused the programme of containing “coded messages”. In an interview with the East African, she said, the speakers “won’t deny the genocide outright. But we know the hidden messages, and they know exactly what they are doing.”
The government’s handling of not only those that speak “genocide ideology” but even those suspected of implying it through “codes” or insinuations has left some Rwandans confused.
“So if you don’t want to be accused of genocide ideology, you don’t talk about the Tutsi and Hutus because you may say something from your mind which may put you in trouble,” said Innocent Gahonzire, a Kigali resident.
The government’s review of the “genocide ideology” laws is complicated by a perception in the public that revisiting Hutu crimes against Tutsis is permitted under “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws but any attempt to question previous RPF crimes is taboo.
“If one accuses Hutus of killing Tutsis, this is not genocide ideology,” says Pierre Habyarimana from Western Province. “But if you say that Tutsis killed Hutus, this is a genocide ideology.”Jean Damascene Havugimana from Karongi district feels similarly: “If you say that in 1994, Tutsis were killed because they were Tutsis, this is not a genocide ideology, but if you dare say that Hutus were killed because they were Hutus, this is genocide ideology.”