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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines report of Rwanda

GENEVA (29 April 2016) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning concluded its consideration of the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Rwanda on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Francois Xavier Ngarambe, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the systematic and institutionalized discrimination and persecution of the Tutsi that preceded it were part and parcel of the collective memory of all Rwandans.  This legacy informed the Government and people of Rwanda to forge a Rwandan identity where all were equal before the law and enjoyed the same rights.  The Constitution provided the basis for the protection and promotion of human rights and upheld the principle of non-discrimination.  The Government had taken affirmative measures to assist access to services by the most vulnerable members of society.  In Rwanda, all people were treated equally in every aspect of life.  The Government did not consider any group of Rwandans as distinct from others.  The 2008 law on the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology had been modified and replaced by a new law in 2013, which defined the crime of genocide ideology and related offenses and guaranteed fair trial principles.   

During the dialogue, Experts noted that it was not possible to speak about racial discrimination in Rwanda without referring to the 1994 genocide.  Genocide constituted the worst possible manifestation of racial discrimination, they said.  They commended the extraordinary progress made by Rwanda to promote healing, reconciliation and economic growth, and took note of the fact that the genocide had led the Government to refuse any recognition of ethnicity, with a view to promote unity and social cohesion.  Members of the Batwa community were suffering from this approach, Experts said.  They had been forcibly evicted from their traditional habitat, were living under extreme poverty and were facing extinction.  Protecting the Batwa was not incompatible with the promotion of national unity, Experts noted, insisting on their need for special attention and affirmative measures, particularly in the fields of housing, education and employment.  Other questions pertained to the participation of women in public life, discrimination against persons with disabilities, stigmatization of persons with albinism, and the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Rwanda.  Experts also asked questions relating to access to education and access to justice.  

In concluding remarks, Evelyne Hohoueto Afiwa-Kindena, Committee Member and Country-Rapporteur for Rwanda, reaffirmed the Committee’s view that vulnerable groups had to be targeted by special affirmative measures addressing their specific needs and allowing them to have the same access to Governmental policies as others.

The delegation of Rwanda included representatives of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 2 May 2016 for an informal briefing by non-governmental organizations on the situation of racial discrimination in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Namibia, whose reports will be reviewed next week. 

Report

The combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Rwanda can be read here: CERD/C/RWA/18.20

Presentation of the Report

FRANCOIS XAVIER NGARAMBE, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report, said that racial discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech continued to affect populations all around the world, making the Convention still relevant today.  The report was prepared through a broad and inclusive consultation process.  For the last five years, the Government of Rwanda had continued its efforts to rebuild the society through a system of legislation guaranteeing justice for all.  The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the systematic and institutionalized discrimination and persecution of the Tutsi that preceded it were part and parcel of the collective memory of all Rwandans.  No one was ever prosecuted for any of the offences committed against the Tutsi people, and legal amnesties were instead provided.  This legacy informed the Government and people of Rwanda to forge a Rwandan identity where all were equal before the law and enjoyed the same rights.  Rwanda had resolved to never again return to the politics of divisionism and the policies of racialization and marginalization. 

The Constitution of Rwanda provided the basis for the protection and promotion of human rights.  It upheld the principle of protection from discrimination of any kind.  The application of international human rights treaties ratified by Rwanda strengthened the national legal framework guaranteeing non-discrimination and equality.  Positive discrimination was only practiced when the Government took affirmative measures to assist access to services by the most vulnerable members of society.  The 2008 law on the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology had been modified and replaced by a new law in 2013, which defined the crime of genocide ideology and related offenses and guaranteed fair trial principles.  A radical shift had been required to transform Rwanda into a reconciled and united nation.  The National Unity and Reconciliation Policy of 2007 was defined as a consensus practice of citizens who had common nationality, shared the same culture and had equal rights.  In Rwanda, all people were treated equally in every aspects of life.  The Government did not consider any group of Rwandans as distinct from others.  In accordance with the 2014 Law Relating to Refugees, any person with refugee status in Rwanda enjoyed the rights and liberties provided by the law.  Refugees were documented and had access to all social services, including health and education. 

Questions by the Experts

EVELYNE HOHOUETO AFIWA-KINDENA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Rwanda, commended the Rwandan Government for having disseminated previous concluding observations by the Committee in all official languages, and for sharing them with civil society representatives.  She also welcomed the fact that the periodic report was drafted after a participative process including the private sector and civil society organizations.  Rwanda needed to be complemented as well for its progress in rebuilding peace, security and unity in the wake of the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda was today a model for economic development, she added, welcoming efforts for poverty eradication. 

With a view to promote reconciliation, unity and social cohesion, the 2012 population census did not take into account the ethnic composition of the population, she noted.  The Committee considered that refusing to recognize the cultural identity of the population could risk bringing about ethnic divisions.  The promotion of national unity was not incompatible with the rights of individuals and communities to freely express their belonging to an ethnic group, she added.  The collection of data on ethnicity allowed States to assess whether all groups enjoyed their rights equally.  Instead, the Government had categorized populations depending on their level of social and economic vulnerability, she noted. 

Decent housing was an element of the right to non-discrimination, she said, regretting that the Rwandan Constitution did not recognize this right.  Rwanda had implemented programmes at the local level to modernise housing in rural areas for vulnerable populations, she said, noting that these programmes required populations to be displaced from one location to another.  Was this implemented with the free and informed consent of the vulnerable populations? 

International treaties prevailed over domestic laws, she welcomed.  She also noted that several legislative provisions sought to combat and define all forms of discrimination, and underlined the need for legal provisions to be in line with the Convention.  She welcomed the reform of the law on hate crime that sought to include “intention” as a component of hate crime.  The Criminal Code did not entirely cover the incrimination understood by Article 4 of the Convention.  She also noted that the law criminalizing sectarianism only covered organizations, and not individuals.   

She welcomed the fact that the judiciary was independent, and asked what budget allocations the Ministry of Justice had.  She noted the existence of a Committee of Conciliators within the judiciary, which could constitute a limitation to access to justice.  Only the Supreme Court was working collegially, she said.  Foreign persons brought before justice had to provide upfront an amount of money to cover the cost of the prosecution. 

The Government had taken measures to avoid ethnic conflict and consolidate unity, the Country Rapporteur noted.  It considered that no ethnic group existed, and did not recognize indigenous peoples, she added.  There was a persistence of negative stereotypes against the Batwa, who continued to face poverty and discrimination in terms of education, housing and employment.  The Batwa were expelled from their habitat in forests after the genocide for the creation of natural parks.  These forests were an integral part of their livelihood, she said.  Batwa were now obliged to live by begging.  She asked whether Batwa were offered proper compensation and access to justice and remedy after their eviction.  The status of indigenous communities must be taken into account for the adoption of resettlement programmes, she insisted.  Without the adoption of specific measures protecting them, the Batwa risked extinction. 

Measures taken by the Government had facilitated regular migration and led to an increased level of arrivals, she noted.  The Constitution stated that any foreigner in Rwanda had the right to freedom of movement, to establish themselves and to freely leave the country. 

Turning to the first round of questions, Experts considered that it was not possible to speak about racial discrimination in Rwanda without referring to the 1994 genocide.  Genocide constituted the worst possible manifestation of racial discrimination, they said.  A Committee Member commended the extraordinary progress made by Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, including efforts to promote healing, reconciliation, economic development and growth.  Experts took note of the fact that the genocide had led the Government to avoid any recognition of ethnicity with a view to promote reconciliation, unity and social cohesion.  Experts agreed on the importance of promoting national unity, but insisted that Governments should not, under international law, determine the cultural identity of populations. 

The Batwa were suffering from this approach, Experts said.  They were living under extreme poverty and were facing extinction, they added, calling for special measures to rescue this culture.  The housing and shelter provided to them were inhabitable, one Expert said, and Batwa were unable to participate in any of the Government programmes for marginalized people.  The Batwa community was separated from other local communities, and was excluded from public assistance programmes from the Government. 

Had there been impact assessment and national oversight of these programmes?  What compensation had been provided to the Batwa community after they had been removed from their homeland?  How was the Batwa population seen by the rest of the Rwandan population, they asked.  An Expert expressed the view that all the challenges currently faced by the Batwa resulted from the fact that they had not been compensated after being evicted.  The displacement of their culture was responsible for their fragility. 

Protecting the Batwa community was not incompatible with the promotion of national unity, Experts said.  Efforts had to be tailored to the special needs and identity of the Batwa population, they stressed.  Experts agreed that the Batwa needed special attention and affirmative measures from the State, particularly in the fields of housing, education and employment.  The Government needed to collect anonymous data to better understand the discrimination faced by the Batwa community, another Expert said. 

An Expert asked whether persons with albinism faced discrimination in Rwanda. 

Rwanda was hosting 70,000 refugees from Burundi, as well as from other countries, Experts noted.  Rwanda had ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, he added.  The delegation was asked for information on how it accommodated these refugees.  Another Expert asked whether Rwanda dealt with all refugees equally, and whether it respected its obligation to non-refoulement.  An Expert said that promiscuity in refugee camps led to sexual abuse and violence against children.  Were refugees married to Rwandan women granted the Rwandan nationality?

A Committee Member welcomed progress achieved for gender equality in Rwanda, including progress on the participation of women in public life.  It was regrettable, however, that the delegation of Rwanda before the Committee did not include any women.  An Expert welcomed the 30 per cent representation of women in the National Assembly, but was concerned that only women could elect women representatives, which constituted discrimination.  Was gender equality accepted in the society?  What was the population’s opinion about gender quotas?  How many Batwa women were in Parliament? 

An Expert welcomed progress achieved in increasing access to education, including for girls, and asked what the dropout rate was. 

Noting that Rwanda had a Category A National Human Rights Institution under the Paris Principles, an Expert regretted the absence of representatives to participate in the review. 

An Expert noted that distrust in the authorities remained, which led to a low number of complaints for cases of racial discrimination.  Rwanda was encouraged to further awareness-raising campaigns in order to better disseminate information on the rights protected by the Convention and on remedies available to the population.  

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation thanked the Committee for recognizing Rwanda’s progress towards reconciliation and economic development. 

Before the colonial era, all groups in Rwanda lived in harmony and shared common cultural values, the delegation said.  The colonialists had introduced racism in the country, which had been at the origin of the genocide in the country.  Racist and ethnic ideologies of the colonial period had torn apart the social fabric of Rwanda. 

Rwanda would continue to gather statistics on nationality, employment and access to services, without including any reference to ethnicity, the delegation said. 

The Labour Law prohibited any discrimination in the employment market, including on the basis of race, colour, origin, sex or disability.  These provisions were strictly enforced, the delegation said. 

There had been 150 registered cases relating to promoting genocide ideology in 2015, the delegation said, among which 143 were brought before the courts.

Any objective observation proved that members of formerly marginalized communities had now, thanks to inclusion policies, access to health, education and employment services without discrimination.  Poverty eradication strategies had been developed to raise the standard of living for marginalized and vulnerable populations.  All inhabitants in Rwanda had access to property without discrimination.  Local authorities were accountable for the well-being of all persons under their authority, particularly in the field of housing.  Historically marginalized groups had benefited from adequate housing through resettlement schemes.  Appropriate compensation was provided to all those being evicted.  There was oversight on the application and efficiency of support provided to vulnerable populations at the local levels. 

Marginalized communities had access to healthcare and education.  The Government prioritized reproductive and maternal health, and had focused on health system strengthening, planning, innovative financing mechanisms, and community participation.  Rwanda had made great progress towards the universality of healthcare.  It was providing free education for all children, as well as opportunities for those who had dropped out of school to enrol again.  Rwanda was promoting the teaching of tolerance and national identity in schools. 

The right to participate in the public life was recognized for all, including citizens of marginalized groups.  Members of marginalized groups could stand for elections, and had representatives in the Senate. 

The Government acknowledged its responsibility to ensure access to justice for all Rwandans, and had introduced a legal aid system to ensure access to justice for vulnerable groups.  The law provided for the mandatory provision of legal assistance by members of the Rwandan Bar association.  The budget allocated to the Ministry of justice was 0.5 per cent of the national budget.

The Government was working closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and took its obligations under the 1951 Convention very seriously.  It was fully abiding by its obligation to non-refoulement, and was ensuring the protection of refugees.  The 2014 law relating to refugees ensured that any person granted with the status of refugee had the same rights as any other person in Rwanda.  They had access to education, health and food among others.  Refugees were provided with mosquito nets, and special services were provided for refugees with HIV/AIDS or refugees with disabilities.  

Rwanda had adopted an open door migration policy. 

There was no discrimination or persecution against persons with albinism.

Questions by the Experts

Experts noted that Rwanda had encouraging legislation, and asked the delegation to provide more information on the implementation and impact of these laws in practice. 

An Expert asked whether the Government acknowledged the stigma and discrimination against the Batwa community, including at the local level, which could lead to Batwa being excluded from the distribution of services.  Could there be some institutional biases against the Batwa community?  The identification of a social group or an individual could not be controlled by the Government, the Expert repeated.  Self-identification was the one that mattered.  Continuing, she insisted on the right of the Batwa community to be identified as indigenous peoples, and underlined that diversity in a community was a positive thing.  An Expert asked what measures had been taken to prevent the Batwa community from being forcibly removed from their land?  Another Committee Member stressed the need for national oversight to ensure that local programmes benefited the Batwa population equally.  An Expert expressed deep concern about Rwanda’s refusal to recognize the Batwa as an indigenous community, which could lead to future disasters.  The fact that the Batwa did not cultivate their lands did not mean that they did not belong to them, he noted in reference to their eviction from forests.  Rwanda’s policy was having a disastrous effect on this community. 

Experts asked a number of questions on Rwanda’s reconciliation efforts, and initiatives to perpetuate the memory of the genocide.  Were the victims of the genocide placed in memorial burial services?  Had all the victims been identified?  Memory was key for ensuring non-repetition in the future, an Expert said. 

Would Rwanda recognize the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications?

What measures were being taken, including educational measures, to promote the participation of vulnerable populations in Rwanda’s economic life? 

What was being done to promote women’s representation in the public sector? 

An Expert asked what the rules for passing Rwandan nationality were.

An Expert asked what practical measures were being taken to combat discrimination, and what policies were adopted to raise awareness and provide training on access to justice.  Was the Government working hand in hand with non-governmental organizations on these issues?

The delegation was asked whether Rwanda had conciliation mechanisms or mediators that could work on cases involving racial discrimination. 

Replies by the Delegation

The local governments were accountable for the implementation of policies and for the well-being of marginalized communities, the delegation said.  Historically marginalized people were encouraged to come forward in cases where national programmes had not reached them.  Claims by them were heard and given due consideration, a delegate added. 

One of the most important challenges faced by Rwanda after the genocide was to rebuild the country.  It had decided to put memory of what happened as the foundation of Rwanda’s future.  The other priority was justice for the genocide, which had involved millions of Rwandans, who had been manipulated into killing friends or relatives.  This required an innovative system for justice, giving a chance for perpetrators to confess and seek forgiveness, and to engage with victims.  It had been a healing process, the delegation said, completed with an active effort by the Government to teach unity, history and promote peace, trust and reconciliation.  Traditional justice had played a central role for the identification of the bodies.  The bodies of the victims had been removed from mass graves, cleaned up and put in memorial burial services.  Combatting the negation or denial of the genocide was also part of the Government’s effort to ensure memory and guarantee non-repetition. 

The Government considered the issue of self-identification very seriously.  Imposed self-definition from outside during the colonial era had led to the 1994 events, a delegate said.  Before that, it had always been “one Rwanda”, he insisted.  The Government was not trying to impose an identity on any group, but it considered that the Rwandan identity prevailed and was one.  There were no indigenous people or alien people in Rwanda, a delegate said.  All persons had the same identity and the same culture.

The delegation had no position with regard to whether it would recognize the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications.
 
Rwanda was committed to developing the education system in skills matching the society’s economic needs, a delegate agreed.  Human rights education was also provided, and the people of Rwanda were strongly aware of their rights. 

Upon marriage between a Rwandan and a foreigner, the Rwandan nationality was granted to the foreigner, a delegate said. 

Mediators could only deal with matters falling within their competences, a delegate said.  They had no competence to deal with crimes. 

Concluding Remarks

EVELYNE HOHOUETO AFIWA-KINDENA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Rwanda, thanked the delegation for its responses and their clarity.  She welcomed once again Rwanda’s progress in rebuilding the country so quickly after the genocide through efficient policies and programmes.  The “historically marginalized groups” were viewed rather ordinarily in Rwanda, and had unfortunately been given no special consideration.  The Committee was, on the contrary, of the view that these groups had to be targeted by special affirmative measures addressing their specific needs and allowing them to have the same access to Governmental policies as others.  She then reiterated the need for data on complaints for cases of racial discrimination.  

FRANCOIS XAVIER NGARAMBE, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked all Committee Members for their observations, and pledged Rwanda’s commitment to continue its efforts and reforms. 

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