Significant progress in rule of law Rwanda, but serious concerns remain

Significant progress in rule of law Rwanda, but serious concerns remain 12 March 2012

HiiL’s Quick Scan on the Rule of Law in Rwanda shows the country has a low level of corruption, a professional judiciary, and that justice is accessible through legal aid. But concerns are voiced by many NGOs and academics about freedom of press, the independence of the judiciary, particularly in high profile cases, and the fairness of the gacaca.

Assessing the state of the rule of law is a challenge in any country. It is particularly difficult in Rwanda, since the debate is highly polarised both inside and outside the country. It is also of profound interest inside and outside the country; few countries are watched so closely as Rwanda, almost 20 years after the genocide.

HiiL’s Quick Scan Series on the Rule of Law provide a neutral overview of the state of the rule of law in various countries on the basis of an analysis of a wide variety of recent publications, including policy documents and reports from the Government of Rwanda as well as reports from critical outside NGOs. It gives the reader a quick impression of the main issues, positive trends and concerns.

The Rwanda Quick Scan begins with a description of the necessary background: the main institutions of the justice sector, including some home grown initiatives, and the context in which they operate – history, the 1994-genocide, politics, religion and economics. It then identifies some major positive trends as well as some concerns on the basis of a wide range of sources.

The positive trends identified in the Quick Scan are:

  • the low level of corruption
  • the way the judiciary developed from almost non-existent into a more professional and efficient power within the state
  • the efforts made in order to create a fair justice system
  • the great strides forward made with respect to access to justice through legal aid

The Quick Scan finds that concerns and challenges for Rwanda with respect to the Rule of Law include:

  • the manner in which genocide ideology has been criminalised
  • the freedom of press
  • available political space
  • independence of the judiciary in particular in high profile cases
  • due process of the gacaca

The general picture that emerges is that of a government that builds institutions, such as the Public Procurement Authority, the Office of the Auditor General, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Anti-Corruption Unit in the Rwanda Revenue Authority, Maisons d’Accès à la Justice, Commercial Courts, among others. These institutions’ tasks and responsibilities are well defined by the law. At the same time, the government is hesitant to open up political space and freedom of expression, referring, inter alia, to the history of the country where the unrestricted speech led to the 1994-genocide.

Most of the sources that formed the basis of this assessment are policy documents and reports of all kinds of organisations that are active in Rwanda. Only a small number of in-depth studies are available regarding rule of law issues in Rwanda, for instance in the form of thorough base-line studies and academic analyses. The sole exception may be the gacaca, but regarding this topic it is very difficult to find a common ground among scholars; polarisation has also entered the academic arena. This shows the dire need of thorough, neutral, and in-depth studies regarding the Rule of Law in Rwanda.

Download Quick Scan on the Rule of Law in Rwanda.

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