While Rwandan businesses were closed Friday to mark the end of the country’s official week of mourning for the 1994 genocide, the Supreme Court remained open and was expected to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the country’s controversial genocide ideology law.
Human rights groups and other critics have said the law is used to suppress political opposition, and the ruling would have been its first test in Rwanda’s highest court. But judges said Friday they had not been given enough information to make a decision.
Lawyers for jailed politician Victoire Ingabire, who also faces terrorism charges, had hoped to challenge the 2008 statute.
Ingabire was charged under the law after she said true national reconciliation would not be achieved so long as Rwanda continued honoring only ethnic Tutsis killed during the genocide, and that Hutus killed by soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) should also be remembered.
"The current law ... has in fact severely restricted freedom of speech," said Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch, a vocal critic critical of the law. "There have been numerous cases where people have been accused of genocide ideology simply for making comments or voicing opinions that were perhaps different than those in the government, or different than those of the RPF, and have been prosecuted for it. The other problem is [that] it’s been used on some occasions for political purposes, and the case of Victoire Ingabire is one example of that."
Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said critics who say the law has been used to curb dissent are biased.
“If you check who says this, I think you doubt whether these are impartial umpires," he said. "If you check who is advancing this kind of argument, you’re not sure whether this is done in good faith or if this is done in the usual, hyper-recycling of stories and B, C, D."
Without the expected Supreme Court ruling, it appeared the law would remain enforceable.
Rwandan Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus between April and July of 1994.