Rwanda’s UPR has taken place amid increased restrictions for the right to freedom of expression, including measures which have prevented Internet users, such as YouTube commentators and bloggers, from freely expressing themselves online.
ARTICLE 19 recorded a total of 35 recommendations related to the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom during Rwanda’s third review under the UPR. These 35 recommendations are a testament to ongoing obstructions to open public discourse and a constrained environment for journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and other civil society actors in the country.
While Rwanda supported 14 of these recommendations, we are alarmed that the government noted the other 21 recommendations, impeding a vital opportunity to enhance its human rights environment, online and offline.
We welcome that Rwanda supported recommendations to eliminate legislative provisions that undermine the right to freedom of expression, but express our disappointment that the government noted a specific recommendation to repeal provisions on defamation and false information in the revised Penal Code. These provisions, which carry heavy fines and prison sentences, stifle legitimate expression, inhibit public debate and promote widespread self-censorship. We remind Rwanda that various international and regional human rights mechanisms have called for the repeal of such provisions and urge the government to repeal them in their entirety.
We regret that Rwanda took an ambiguous approach by both accepting and noting various recommendations on the safety of journalists and media workers and human rights defenders. We have documented concerning levels of harassment and intimidation against these actors, including raids of media houses, arrests and even self-imposed exile, largely facilitated by a legal framework which is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. We urge Rwanda to cease harassment and intimidation of these actors and conduct impartial, independent and thorough investigations into all cases of attacks, with a view to bringing those responsible for these violations to justice.
The UPR presents Rwanda with a crucial opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the right to freedom of expression. We stand ready to assist with the effective and timely implementation of all recommendations.