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Rwanda to Review Laws Said to Restrict Freedoms

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Joe DeCapua

Rwanda has agreed to review a number of laws that critics say restrict the media, freedom of expression and political activity.  The laws came under questioning this week at the 10TH Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In Nairobi, Henry Maina, East Africa executive director of the freedom of expression group Article 19, says, “Within the new Universal Periodic Review, all U.N. member states come under review at least once in four years.  So, the first cycle of review is still ongoing, starting in April 2008.”

Three laws targeted

“One of the laws was the media law, which was enacted in 2009.  The second was the criminal defamation provision in the old penal code, because Rwanda has kept the 1968 penal code with a few amendments.  The third law is a recent law passed in 2008, which is called the genocide ideology law,” he says.

Most critics of the laws, he says, believe they violate “freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of association.”

Article 19 has praised Rwanda for agreeing to review them.

“I think for us it was quite fortunate,”  he says, “because…in the Rwanda delegation submission before the Human Rights Council, the head of the delegation, the minister of justice, was quite clear that the country has been going through national dialogue processes.  And they’ve agreed that there is need to review those laws so that they conform to international standards and to a democracy that Rwanda would like to be.”

Wait and see

Maina says it’s difficult to set a timeline for Rwanda to review and possibly repeal the laws.  Parliament and various ministries will hold hearings and debate the issues.

“It is very clear for us (that) we would want to work with Rwanda through its legislative review process.”

Maina says Article 19 will take a close look at how much progress Rwanda has made about six months down the road. “We will then measure them on the actions they’ve taken after Geneva,” he says.

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