Rwanda is not an electoral democracy. International observers noted that the 2010 presidential and 2008 parliamentary elections, while administratively acceptable, presented Rwandans with only a limited degree of political choice. The 2003 constitution grants broad powers to the president, who can serve up to two seven-year terms and has the authority to appoint the prime minister and dissolve the bicameral Parliament. The 26-seat upper house, the Senate, consists of 12 members elected by regional councils, 8 appointed by the president, 4 chosen by a forum of political parties, and 2 representatives of universities, all serving eight-year terms. The Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, includes 53 directly elected members, 24 women chosen by local councils, 2 from the National Youth Council, and 1 from the Federation of Associations of the Disabled; all serve five-year terms.
The constitution officially permits political parties to exist, but only under strict controls. The charter’s emphasis on “national unity” effectively limits political pluralism. The RPF dominates the political arena, and parties closely identified with the 1994 genocide are banned, as are parties based on ethnicity or religion. These restrictions have been used to ban other political parties that might pose a challenge to RPF rule. In effect, only parties closely allied with the RPF are allowed to function. The constitutionally mandated Political Party Forum vets proposed policies and draft legislation before they are introduced in Parliament. All parties must belong to the forum, which operates on the principle of consensus, though in practice the RPF guides its deliberations. Parliament generally lacks independence, merely endorsing government initiatives. However, parliamentary committees have begun to question ministers and other executive branch officers more energetically, and some of these deliberations are reported in the local press.
Government countermeasures have helped limit corruption, though graft remains a problem. A number of senior government officials in recent years have been fired and faced prosecution for alleged corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power, including the director of the National Institute of Statistics and permanent secretaries in the Ministries of Infrastructure and Education. Government institutions focused on combating corruption include the Office of the Ombudsman, the auditor general, and the National Tender Board. Rwanda was ranked 66 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The RPF has imposed numerous legal restrictions and informal controls on the media, and press freedom groups have accused the government of intimidating independent journalists. In April 2010, the two most important independent newspapers, Umuco and Umuvugizi, were banned for six months; their editors subsequently fled the country following death threats. In June, the deputy editor of Umuvugizi, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered outside his home after he reported in the newspaper’s online edition about the assassination attempt on General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. Two journalists from Umurabyo were arrested in July on charges of insulting the president and denying the genocide. Later that month, the High Council of the Media—a quasi-governmental regulatory body—suspended almost 30 newspapers, journals, and radio stations, some of which did not subsequently reopen. By year’s end, the government no longer allowed any independent media capable of criticizing it to function in Rwanda. Authorities do not restrict access to the internet, and while access is limited by cost and infrastructure, internet penetration is growing.
Religious freedom is generally respected, though relations between religious leaders and the government are sometimes tense, in part because of the involvement of clergy in the 1994 genocide.
Fear among teachers and students of being labeled “divisionist” restrains academic freedom. After the 2004 and 2008 parliamentary commission reports on “divisionism,” numerous students and teachers were expelled or dismissed without due process. AnAugust 2010 Amnesty International report indicated that the 2008 law against “genocide ideology” continuedto stifle academic freedom. The crackdown ahead of the 2010 presidential election also severely stifled general free discussion, with the Department of Military Intelligence closely monitoring the population.
Although the constitution codifies freedoms of association and assembly, in reality these rights are limited. Onlyprogovernment demonstrations were allowed in the period before the 2010 presidential poll. Some NGOs have complained that registration and reporting procedures are excessively onerous, and activities that the government defines as “divisive” are prohibited. Several organizations have been banned in recent years, leading others to refrain from criticizing the RPF. However, most civil society organizations that are not focused on sensitive subjects, such as democracy and human rights, function without direct government interference.
The constitution provides for the rights to form trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. Public workers are not allowed to unionize, and the list of “essential services,” in which strikes are not allowed, is excessively long. The 2009 labor code improved worker rights, though the government continues to pressure unions in subtle and indirect ways. Despite these problems, the International Trade Union Confederation reported in 2010 that relations between the government and unions had improved since the first union elections in 2007.
The judiciary has yet to secure full independence from the executive, though recent improvements in the judicial system include an increased presence of defense lawyers at trials, improved training for court staff, and revisions to the legal code. The gacaca courts have faced criticism from legal experts because of government interference and their failure to address genocide-era crimes allegedly committed by the RPF. An estimated 1.5 million cases were tried in the gacaca courts between 2002 and 2010. These courts routinely trypolitically motivated cases against journalists, civil society activists, and opposition politicians.While their behavior does not appear to reflect official policy, individual police officers sometimes use excessive force, and local officials periodically ignore due process protections.
Equal treatment under the law is guaranteed, and legal protections against discrimination have increased in recent years. A national identity card is required when Rwandans wish to move within the country, but these are issued regularly.
The 2003 constitution requires women to occupy at least 30 percent of the seats in each chamber of Parliament. Women won 56 percent of seats in the lower house in the 2008 elections. Both the speaker of the lower house and chief justice of the Supreme Court are women. Legislation has strengthened women’s rights to inherit land. Despite these improvements, de facto discrimination against women continues.