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Amnesty International Report Outlines Concerns over Rwanda’s “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws

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In a Report published on 31 August 2010 Amnesty International have outlined concerns over Rwanda’s laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism”. These laws were introduced following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Up to 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the 1994 genocide, most of them ethnic Tutsi, but also some Hutu who opposed this organized killing and the forces that directed it. Aware of the role that hate speech and the infamous hate radio Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) played in inciting genocidal participation, the post-genocide government led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) enacted laws to encourage unity and restrict speech that could promote hatred.

The Rwandan government announced a review of the “genocide ideology” law in April 2010. Amnesty International has welcomed this government initiative and this this report identifies Amnesty International’s concerns about the current legislation and its application in light of the Rwandan government’s review process.

Amnesty International suggests that although prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, the Rwandan government’s approach violates international human rights law. Rwanda’s vague and sweeping laws against “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” under “sectarianism” laws criminalize speech protected by international conventions and contravene Rwanda’s regional and international human rights obligations and commitments to freedom of expression. The vague wording of the laws is deliberately exploited to violate human rights.

Prosecutions for “genocide ideology” and so-called “genocide ideology-related” offences were brought even before the law defining this offence was promulgated. People continue to be prosecuted for “divisionism”, under “sectarianism” laws, even though “divisionism” is not defined in law. Rwandans, including judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, expressed confusion about what behaviour these laws criminalize.

Amnesty state that these broad and ill-defined laws have created a vague legal framework which is misused to criminalize criticism of the government and legitimate dissent. This has included suppressing calls for the prosecution of war crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In the run-up to the 2010 elections, legitimate political dissent was conflated with “genocide ideology”, compromising the freedom of expression and association of opposition politicians, human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government.

To read the report entitled “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s Laws on ‘Genocide Ideology’ and ‘Sectarianism” see here – Amnesty Report – Rwanda’s Laws on genocide ideology

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