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Kagame’s zero tolerance policy: Controversial “genocide ideology” law to send more Rwandans behind bars

By Jane Nishimwe

Rwanda National Police logo

Rwanda National Police logo

Despite the promise to review the law on “genocide ideology” in January 2011, Rwanda continues to prosecute citizens under the contentious law. In the last three weeks following the genocide commemorations, ORINFOR reports that incidents have escalated resulting in a total of 42 arrests.

Since the beginning of the national commemoration of the Rwandan genocide on April 7th in Rwanda, 42 people are said to have been arrested for “harboring the genocide ideology” and “uttering inflammatory speeches that negate the genocide”, informs the Rwanda Bureau of Information and Broadcasting (ORINFOR).

The Rwandan police, however, insisted it has gathered sufficient evidence for 33 of the arrests for prosecution, while the remaining 11 are being further investigated for “suspicion of inflammatory speech» based on the genocide ideology law of the post-genocide period in Rwanda.

The country’s Commander in Chief, President Kagame called, in his annual commemoration speech, for a collective fight “against those who continue to deny or trivialize the Genocide against the Tutsi whether they are Rwandans or foreigners”. He added that there would be zero tolerance for “those with plans to propagate genocide ideology”.

“Genocide ideology”

Yet, to this day, because of the vagueness of the law at issue, it remains unclear as to what precisely defines and constitutes “genocide ideology”. Article 2 of Low No 18/2009 defines genocide ideology as follows:

“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 describes the characteristics of the crime of genocide ideology:

“The crime of genocide ideology is characterized in any behavior manifested by acts aimed at dehumanizing (sic) a person or a group of persons with the same characteristics in the following manner:

1. Threatening, intimidating, degrading through diffamatory (sic) speeches, documents or actions which aim at propounding wickedness or inciting hatred;

2. Marginalizing, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising, degrading, creating (sic) confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred, stirring (sic) up ill feelings, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence for the genocide which occurred;

3. Killing, planning to kill or attempting to kill someone for purposes of furthering genocide ideology.

Rwanda has been criticized for violating its international human rights obligations and commitments to freedom of expression through this law, notably through its lack of a clear definition on what behavior is punishable and what is not, and the broadness of the terminology used for different conduct in article 3.

Furthermore, Amnesty International, in its 2010 report Safer to stay silent: The chilling effect of Rwanda’s laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism”, found that “many Rwandans, even those with specialized knowledge of Rwandan law including lawyers and human rights workers, were unable to precisely define genocide ideology” and, remarkably, “even judges, the professionals charged with applying the law, noted that the law was broad and abstract”.

Up for review

In January 2011, the international criticism led to the Rwandan government committing itself to review the law at the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, now, two years later, very little has changed. Rwandans continue to be prosecuted based on the vague act, mostly resulting in convictions of opposition members and journalists. They are mostly found guilty of “marginalizing the genocide” and “altering testimony or evidence” of the genocide whenever they refer to the atrocities allegedly committed by the current ruling party RPF.

Notably, one of the charges against Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, President of opposition party FDU-INKINGI, was “genocide ideology and divisionism”. She challenged the rules before Rwanda’s Supreme Court in in March 2012 in which she demanded a constitutional review of the genocide ideology laws because these were “threatening freedom of expression and the rule of law”. However, in October of the same year, the Supreme Court dismissed the case “on grounds of lack of merits” because Victoire “failed to add copies” of certain Rwandan laws mentioned in her case.

Yet in November 2012, shortly after the verdict, Rwandan Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama proposed several amendments to the parliament that would make the law “definitive” by «clearly defining constitutive elements of the offences». The major change in the new draft is that the crime of genocide ideology, is characterized with speeches, documents, threatening words and other public acts aimed at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate a group of people based on tribe, religion, color, sex, among others. Furthermore, the punishments for the manifestation of a genocide ideology now varies between fines of 100,000 Rwandan francs and 9 years in prison, thereby lowering the maximum sentence of life. The characteristics of the crimes at stake were not further amended and the official law has yet to be approved by the parliament.

As such, Amnesty International’s outcry in its report Rwanda: unsafe to speak out: restrictions on freedom of expression in Rwanda published in June 2011 still stands. Indeed, up until today Rwandan authorities are called to «accelerate the review of the genocide ideology law» because through its broad drafting it «criminalizes expression that does not amount to hate speech, including legitimate criticism of the government».

Source: Jambo News

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