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Rwanda - Government

Rwanda is widely regarded as a model of good governance in Africa. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted these rights. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical on sensitive topics.

The 2012 penal code expanded former provisions that prohibited the display of contempt for the head of state or other high-level public officials to include administrative authorities or other public servants, with sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($61 to $617). Other changes included revising the crime of “spreading rumors aimed at inciting the population to rise against the regime” to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state,” with much more severe penalties, including life in prison for conviction for acts committed during wartime and seven to 10 years’ imprisonment for acts committed in peacetime. Slander and libel of foreign and international officials and dignitaries are illegal, with sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment.

The executive arm of government is headed by the President. The President is the Head of State. He also heads the cabinet. The cabinet is the body of ministers responsible for the conduct of national affairs. Ministers are appointed by the President upon consultation with leaders of political parties in the Government of National Unity. As regards the elections, the President was elected by popular vote for a seven year term, and was eligible for a second term.

On November 17, 2015 the Rwandan Senate endorsed constitutional amendments that would allow President Paul Kagame to stay in office for another two decades. The vote in the Senate was unanimous. The proposed changes will be put to a national referendum, where they were expected to win easy approval.

Kagame had ruled Rwanda since his army ended the 1994 genocide and ousted Hutu extremists from power. Under current law, he had to step down at the end of his second elected term in 2017. But the proposed amendments would allow him to run for another seven-year term, followed by two five-year terms, potentially extending his rule until 2034.

Rwandans voted in a national referendum 18 December 2015 that could allow President Paul Kagame to remain in power for another 18 years. Officials said that 98 percent of registered voters supported lifting term limits for Kagame.

Consultative meetings held in Village Urugwiro from May 1998 to March 1999 resolved to adopt an inclusive political governance system that involves all the facets of the national society in the political game. The constitution 2003 and the revised one of December 2015 are firm on 3 unique realities:

  1. The power-sharing structure - Power is shared fairly between political parties and includes special groups such as people with disabilities.
  2. Additionally, The President of the Republic and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies must come from different political parties.
  3. Furthermore, the party that won the general (parliamentary) elections cannot have more than 50% of seats in the government and specific social groups are granted representation in Parliament.

Government departments or ministries are headed by Ministers. Some ministries also have Ministers of State, who are junior Ministers. The ministries are staffed by civil servants who are the main instrument for implementing government policy. All regions, ethnic groups and religions are represented in the Government of National Unity. Women are also represented at cabinet level, in parliament, the civil service and in local and regional government.

With the promulgation of the Rwandan Constitution, legislative power was vested in an independent bicameral parliament composed of a chamber of deputies, whose members have the title of Deputies, and a senate, whose members have the title of Senators. The Senate has 26 seats of which 12 members are elected by local councils, 8 appointed by the president, 4 by a political organizations forum, and 2 represent institutions of higher learning, to serve eight year terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 80 seats, 53 members elected by popular vote, 24 women elected by local bodies, 3 selected by youth and disability organizations, to serve five year terms. Parliament deliberates on and passes laws. It legislates and oversees executive action in accordance with the procedure determined by the Constitution.

The judicial branch hierarchy is the Supreme Court, high courts of the Republic, provincial courts, districts courts, and mediation committees. The new Constitution in Rwanda also ushered in reforms in the judiciary such as new legislation, establishing new courts, procedures, structures, standards including academic and professional qualifications as well as regulatory and administrative frameworks.

After the genocide Rwanda faced a very special situation and needed special interventions to try genocide perpetrators. One of the innovations was the establishment of Gacaca Courts to try genocide cases. Gacaaca Courts exact different penalties including compensation, but most importantly emphasize two aspects of confession and forgiveness as a way to heal the wounds.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The decisions of the Supreme Court are not be subject to appeal save in terms of petitions for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy or revision of a judicial decision. Its decisions are binding on all parties concerned whether such are organs of the State, public officials, civilians, military, judicial officers or private individuals.

State security forces (SSF) - the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF), the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and the Rwandan National Police (RNP) - generally reported to civilian authorities, although there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control.

The RNP, under the Ministry of Internal Security, is responsible for internal security. The RDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is charged with providing external security. Authorities generally maintained control over the RNP and RDF, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The Inspectorate General of the RNP generally disciplined police for excessive use of force and prosecuted acts of corruption.

The RDF normally displayed a high level of military professionalism, although elements of the SSF at times may have acted independently of civilian control. For example, there were reports of impunity involving RDF J-2, NISS, and RNP intelligence forces related to disappearances, illegal detention, and torture in military and police intelligence detention centers and in undeclared detention facilities.

There also were reports of abuse of suspects by local defense forces (LDF), a statutorily established law enforcement organization of approximately 20,000 members under the Ministry of Local Government that assisted police. Communities chose volunteers to serve in the LDF. The RNP exercised tactical control of the LDF, while local officials had responsibility for operational oversight. The LDF performed basic security guard duties throughout the country and chased illegal street vendors, petty criminals, and prostitutes from public areas. Members of the LDF ordinarily were unpaid and received less training than RNP officers. During the year the government warned the LDF against involvement in criminal activity and prosecuted members who committed crimes. There were fewer reports of LDF abuses than in prior years, although some human rights groups accused the government of not taking sufficiently strong action against some members and considered the LDF to be abusive.





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