Democracy and rights
Since Paul Kagame became president in 2000,
Rwanda has gradually become increasingly authoritarian.
Nowadays it is difficult to oppose the country at all.
The media is controlled by state power and freedom of
assembly is heavily circumscribed. However, Rwanda is
one of Africa's least corrupt countries.
Many restrictions on citizens' freedoms and rights
are made on the grounds that contradictions in society
must be avoided to prevent future genocide. The 2003
Constitution also attaches great importance to national
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Rwanda, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
A Rwandan law punishes what one calls "genocide
ideologies" with between 10 and 25 years in prison. The
law is vaguely worded and, according to Amnesty
International, can be used to silence regime criticism
and also limit an accused person's ability to defend
Elections are held regularly and free party formation
should prevail. But the rules of national unity open up
for the regime to make restrictions here as well. In
2003, the Hut-dominated party was banned from the MDR
(see Political system), which in practice meant that
almost all real opposition was injured. Other parties,
such as the United Democratic Forces (UDF), have been
refused registration and therefore unable to stand in
elections. UDF politicians have been harassed by the
authorities and the leader Victoire Ingabire was
sentenced in 2012 to a long prison sentence, among other
things, for impairing the genocide.
The ruling party Rwanda's Patriotic Front (FPR or RPF)
completely dominates politics, even though it is itself
strongly associated with a people group, the Tutsis.
Criticism of the Tutsi dominance can lead to harsh
penalties for "expression of genocide ideology". Since
2000, Kagame and FPR have won all elections without any
real opposition. The opposition is very much in the
country's escape. Freedom House describes Rwanda as a
"non-free country", the worst of three categories.
President Kagame's reelection 2017 was heavily
questioned. Opposition politician Diane Rwigara was
harassed by police and other authorities and later
rejected by the electoral authority, which is considered
government friendly. The freedom of assembly for
Kagame's opponents was limited. In addition, the
constitution was changed so that Kagame could stand up
at all. Previously, a president could only be re-elected
once, but that changed in 2015 to allow Kagame to run
for a third term. Election observers commented on
irregularities in the counting of votes.
Rwanda has the world's highest representation of
women in parliament. In the Chamber of Deputies (the
lower house), women must hold at least 24 seats (30
percent of seats). In addition, the women who are
Even for civil society organizations, freedom of
assembly and association is restricted. Their activities
are hindered, among other things, by a complicated
Rwanda is not as affected by corruption as many other
countries in the region. In Transparency International's
index of corruption in the world, in Rwanda in 2019 was
ranked number 51 out of 180 countries. This means that
Rwanda is Africa's fourth least corrupt country. Only
the Seychelles (place 27), Botswana (34) and Cape Verde
(41) were ranked higher (see the full list here).
Freedom of expression and media
In Rwanda, the media is monitored by the FPR and the
state power and journalists are at high risk of being
badly hit. According to Reporters Without Borders, eight
journalists have been killed or disappeared since 1996
and 35 have been forced to flee abroad.
Although there is no official censorship, the
authorities' attitude towards critical journalism is so
negative that even independent media is intimidated into
Media freedom and freedom of information are
guaranteed in the Constitution - but with a number of
reservations. Among other things, laws that prohibit
insulting the head of state, state officials and the
army are often used to arrest journalists, who are
sometimes beaten by the police.
President Kagame has been designated by Reporters
Without Borders as one of the political leaders who have
the least respect for media freedom. He himself
justifies it with the necessity of preventing dangerous
contradictions in society.
On the organization's list of media freedom in the
world, Rwanda was ranked 2019 and 2020 as number 155 out
of 180 countries (see full list here). This is a slight
improvement since 2014 when the country gained 162.
The government controls the media in several ways. It
has happened that government-critical newspapers have
had their publishing licenses temporarily suspended
before elections. It received some 30 media experiences
before the 2010 election, including the leading
privately owned newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi. Many
employees fled the country and one of Umuvugizi's
editors was shot dead later that year. Shortly
thereafter, his colleague was subjected to an
assassination attempt, forced into exile and sentenced
in his absence to 2.5 years in prison for, among other
things, insulting the president.
It has also happened that journalists were sentenced
to lengthy prison sentences for "calling for civil
disobedience" or for "overthrowing activities".
Foreign journalists are often denied the
accreditation and visas required to work in Rwanda. In
2015, the British media company banned the BBC's
broadcasts in Kinyarwanda after the company's
English-language television show a documentary described
by the Rwanda government as "history revisionist". In
the film, researchers interviewed claimed that far more
Hutus were killed during the 1994 genocide than the
government, formed by the then Tutsiger guerilla,
admitted. The film also featured the deadly violence
perpetrated by the Tutsigilla, led by Paul Kagame, as it
marched towards Kigali in 1994.
During the period before and during the 1994
genocide, some mass media carried racist propaganda
against the Tutsis. Particularly notorious was "The
Radio of the Thousand Hills" (RadiotÚlÚvision Libre de
Milles Collines). The propaganda created an atmosphere
that made it possible to persuade tens of thousands of
Hutus to participate in the massacres. Some of those
responsible for these media have been sentenced to
prison at the UN Criminal Court for Rwanda.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary should be independent of state power,
but political pressure exists. This applies in
particular to cases involving politically dissimilar
thinking and regime-critical media.
Political murders occur, as do people who disapprove
of the regime. Amnesty International reports of
The country's prisons were heavily overcrowded for
many years after the genocide, but the situation has
improved in recent years. Life sentences in isolation
cells are allowed, which is criticized by human rights
groups. Information about torture in detention and
prisons is found, as well as other inhuman treatment,
performed by the police, the military or the security
In a statutory supplement from 2010, former
presidents guarantee lifetime immunity, even against
prosecution for international law.
Legal processes after the genocide
During the 1994 genocide, the justice system broke
down and afterwards the prisons were filled with
suspected murderers and fellow runners. By 2000, about
120,000 people had been imprisoned. New lawyers were
trained quickly, but at the pace of the trials, they
would have lasted for over 100 years. From 2001, local
courts of traditional model, gacaca, were set up to
speed up the work. The Gacacad courts often received
criticism for lack of legal certainty. In June 2012,
they were closed after handling nearly two million
During the time that the gacaca courts functioned,
the ordinary judicial system was largely rebuilt and
many prosecutors and judges received thorough training.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR),
set up in Arusha, Tanzania, established 93 people for
genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. More
than 80 convictions were given legal force before the
court was closed in December 2015. The most common
sentence was life imprisonment.
In 2010, the UN Security Council created a new
judicial body, the Mechanism for International Criminal
Tribunals (MICT), to deal with backlog cases from both
the Rwanda Tribunal and the International Court of
Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), for example, if wanted persons
are arrested after the special courts are closed..
Former Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu became the first in
history to be convicted of genocide by an international
court in 1998. Among the others convicted in Arusha are
ministers from the genocide government, church leaders
and those responsible for media that spread hate
propaganda against Tutsis.
In June 2011, for the first time, ICTR agreed to
transfer a case to the Rwandan judiciary. The Court
considered that Rwanda implemented sufficient reforms to
ensure a fair trial. One of the basic requirements was
that the death penalty had been abolished, which
happened in 2007.
Suspected war criminals at a lower level than ICTR
handled have also been investigated and convicted in
other countries, including in Sweden, the Netherlands,
Finland and Canada.
A few cases have, with the UN's approval, been
transferred from ICTR to countries whose laws allow the
trial of genocide and crimes against humanity,
regardless of where the crimes have been committed. In
2019, a court in Brussels sentenced Rwandan Fabien
Neretse to 25 years in prison for genocide in his home
country in 1994. Neretse was the first person to be
convicted under so-called universal jurisdiction for the
Rwanda genocide in a court in Belgium.