FROM NGO NEWS AFRICA For Immediate Release: 24 January 2011
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) member states are set to discuss the human right situation in Rwanda for the first time, at the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR), that will be held on 24 January 2011 in Geneva.
ARTICLE 19’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council in July 2010 highlights three areas of concern which the organisation hopes to see reflected in the upcoming review. These include (1) limits on freedom of expression through restrictive media law and criminal defamation (2) harassment and attacks on journalists; (3) genocide ideology legislation.
“The upcoming review is an opportunity for UN Human Rights Council member states to put pressure on Rwanda to address the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in the country by repealing a number of national legislations relating to criminal defamation, media law and genocide ideology,” said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE19 Executive Director says.
While the need for responsible, professional and ethical journalism in ensuring national cohesion cannot be gainsaid, there is need to allow media diversity and pluralism in Rwanda. The continued control and dominance of the broadcasting sector by the state owned radio and television is detrimental to efforts of good governance, transparency and inclusive citizen participation in development. There is dire need for support to the few independent radio stations and newspapers. The government should also license more private television stations and seek to transform the state controlled Rwanda TV into a public broadcaster.
Criminal defamation provisions in the Penal Code continue to be employed by the state as a tool of silencing those who hold views contrary to the state. This leads to increased cases of self-censorship and long jail terms for accused journalists. For instance, two journalists working for a privately-owned bimonthly, Umarabyo, Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Saidath Mukakibibi, are currently awaiting judgment on 4 February 2011 over criminal defamation charges. The state through the prosecution has asked for cumulative sentences 33 years for Uwimana and 12 years for Mukakibibi respectively.
Similarly, while foreign radio stations remain an important source of independent news but are subject to government censorship.
ARTICLE 19 is also concerned by multiple reports of intimidation of political opponents, and has recorded many instances where political opponents are charged under the omnibus provisions of genocide ideology law. Rwanda’s genocide ideology laws create a wide range of problems for freedom of expression and freedom of association as it creates a wide net to snare all those who question the truth about the 1994 Genocide. Newspapers critical of the government are often accused of inciting ethnic hatred.
FAST FACTS ON RWANDA FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SITUATION
· Two journalists with the Umarabyo publication; Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Saidath Mukakibibi, await judgement on criminal defamation charges.
· Just before the presidential elections in August 2010, two publications perceived to be critical of the Government, Umuvugizi and Umuseso were ordered closed for six months while some journalists; Charles Kabonero, Didas Gasana and Richard Kayigamba were charged for defamation in February 2010.
· The 2009 media law gives suspension powers given to the Media High Council, sets entry standards for those wishing to join that are extremely high relative to other sectors including Parliament, public service-
· Similarly, the media law puts a very high licensing fees –US$ 41k for newspaper, US$ 81k for radio & US$ 187,500 for TV and requires that journalists reveal their if its suspected that to be criminals
Source: ARTICLE 19
Article 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.