Committee against Torture hears replies of Rwanda

Committee against Torture  
AFTERNOON

16 May 2012


The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the responses of Rwanda to questions raised by Committee Experts on the initial report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to questions raised by Committee members on Wednesday, 15 May and today, the delegation of Rwanda led by Soline Nyirahabimana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, talked about the journey to justice following the 1994 genocide, the failure of ‘classic justice’, and the successful use of Gacaca courts.  Information was given about the funding and independence of the National Human Rights Commission, the registration system for non-governmental organizations, and press freedom.  Measures to protect women’s rights were spoken about in detail, while policies to prevent trafficking of persons were also explained.  A delegate detailed prison conditions including the juvenile justice centre, plans to improve detention facilities, and the rights of detainees.  The Committee was updated on the situation of certain political prisoners and extradited Rwandans awaiting trial for genocide crimes.  The Head of the Delegation also issued a formal invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture to make a visit to Rwanda, and said he would be welcome. 

The delegation of Rwanda consisted of representatives from Rwanda’s National Correctional Services, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Rwanda will be issued towards the end of the Committee’s session which concludes on 1 June.  At the end of the meeting the Chairperson confirmed that the public meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday 18 May, in which the Committee was scheduled to hear the replies of Syria, had been cancelled as Syria was not attending. 

The Committee’s next meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, 21 May when the Committee begins its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Canada (CAT/C/CAN/6).

Response of the Delegation of Rwanda

Rwanda was definitely willing to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Head of Delegation said.  The Special Rapporteur on housing was due to visit Rwanda in July, and the Special Rapporteur on torture would be welcome as well. 

After the genocide Rwanda was left with a shattered society without unity or social cohesion.  The image of Rwanda was tarnished.  All Government sectors were destroyed, including justice, health, the economy and housing.  From 1996 until 2001 Rwanda tried to apply classic justice.  Out of approximately 60,000 cases only 100 were heard in court during the five year period.  The Government worked out that it would take at least 120 years to try every detainee, without counting people who were living in exile and other countries.  Justice delayed was justice denied.  Classic justice had failed.  The Government looked into the problem and decided to revive Gacaca courts (Gacaca meaning ‘green grass’) to settle disputes.  The communities were involved in those courts as eyewitnesses, as the genocide had been committed with the knowledge of many people.  People elected community members who had integrity to act as judges, and those individuals underwent training.  People would hold dialogues about what happened, question an individual about what they remembered.

Through the Gacaca courts process the truth came out, people could trust and come together, and perpetrators could regret their actions.  The truth, the reconciliation and the justice came from the process.  It was a time for Rwanda to draw from its own culture to prove that it could solve its own problems.  At that time Rwanda was under pressure from the international community, which was complaining about its overcrowded prisons.  The Gacaca courts had three categories for offenders; 10 per cent of persons fell into category one, they had committed regular crimes, including burglary, assault, rape and sexual violence, and were tried in the classic justice system.  The others fell into categories two and three, which were very serious and less serious genocide crimes, and were judged in Gacaca courts.   Today the Gacaca courts were given credit for judging 1,005,000 dossiers and convicting 38,000 persons of genocide, while the rest were reintegrated into their community to live with their neighbours.  All Gacaca courts would be closed on 17 June 2012, having fulfilled their role in truth, unity and justice, with the Rwandan community left satisfied.  Gacaca courts had limitations and were far from perfect but they were much better than the classic justice system that would have taken over 100 years, and much better than the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda system, which would not have helped in most cases of genocide in Rwanda. 

The National Human Rights Commission was created in 1999 and gained “A” status under the Paris Principles in 2002.  The Commission served the country well in its role of oversight.  The status of its independence had been criticized, and it was true there was no law on how its members were chosen.  The budgeting process began with a proposal from the Commission which was then approved by the Government.  The Commission had autonomy in managing its financial and human resources. 

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) did participate in the production of the report, but some said they had not been invited.  The process of NGO participation was different for local and national organizations, and most were invited from umbrella organizations.  Next time the Government would invite all NGOs to take part individually.  The registration process of one year had now been changed for international NGOs so they only had to register every five years.  NGOs were indispensible partners who worked within many fields, healthcare, education, income-generating projects, for women and children, civil and political areas, and played in a big role in the reconstruction of the nation after genocide.  If NGOs had a big concern the Government would work to resolve it.  There could be divergence of opinion on issues, such as Gacaca courts, but that should not affect the relationship. 

Regarding media freedom, the media was dealt with by the Ministry for Local Government and under the care of the Rwanda Governance Board.  Reforms had been taken on access to information, with a new bill currently at Senate level.  The new ruling was that media practitioners would undergo self-regulation. 

The definition of torture in Rwandan law was ‘any act physical or mental suffering of any degree of cruel or inhuman treatment intentionally inflicted upon a person in order to injure the person or obtain information’.  Regarding the minimum penalty for torture of six months, a delegate said that torture was always a serious crime but there were different levels of gravity.  For example, refusing to give a detainee a drink of water was not on a par with physically mutilating a person.  The penalty might not fit the crime but if that was the case the minimum threshold could be reviewed: there was some fluidity. 

To date statisticians had not been able to compile data on a crime – torture – that was not listed as a stand-alone crime.  With the adoption of the new Criminal Law to make torture a crime on its own, statistics would begin to be collected and would be used in Rwanda’s next report to the Committee. 

Legislative protection members for persons pending or being deported were in place, but a new draft law on extradition was being considered by parliament.  The physical process of extradition meant that someone pending extradition would be able to appeal to the court and the Supreme Court had an obligation to rule on individual extradition cases.  For example a case involving Canada and Rwanda was based on international extradition principles.  All the provisions were in place to enable people to be extradited to or from Rwanda with due protection of the rights.   

Rwanda was ranked among the global countries that best protected women and women’s rights.  A lot of progress had been made in protecting and promoting women’s rights.  Protective legislation included laws on gender violence, on incision and on access to credit, which gave women the right to own land.  There was legislation concerning inheritance rights which allowed daughters to inherit, as well as political rights.  A poverty reduction strategy was in place which aimed to empower women by improving their living conditions.  There were programmes and activities for children, and laws to protect them including one on child labour.  There was a particular focus on helping young girls.  Free education was provided for all children up to the age of 12.  There was a commission to monitor children’s rights and act as a sort of ombudsperson for children, while every year a Children’s Summit was held to provide a physical and free space for children to express their ideas and concerns, which subsequently fed into the Government planning process. 

Trafficking was a crime and viewed as such in Rwanda.  Rwanda had ratified all relevant instruments on human trafficking, but the domestic legislation also defined and prohibited it.  The definition had been tightened in the new Criminal Law.  There had been court prosecutions, such as the case of a Rwandan who trafficked children to China for labour purposes, and other cases of selling children were pending in courts. 

The Government aimed to improve detention facilities by 2020.  Three prisons had been closed, new ones had been built, and others had been renovated.  By 2017 the Government hoped to have far fewer correctional facilities: seven to nine, instead of the current 13.  The Children’s Rehabilitation Centre in eastern Rwanda was to be improved.  Because of the unusual crime that befell Rwanda there were currently around 57,000 detainees in total, but three-quarters of those had committed genocide-related crimes, with one-quarter having committed a ‘common crime’.  Categorization had been made according to international standards.  There was special consideration for the weak, the sick and the vulnerable.  Current prison occupancy, as clarified by International Committee of the Red Cross, was 105 per cent.  The figure of 149 per cent was from 2003 when there were 120,000 detainees.  In that year over 60,000 detainees were granted a presidential amnesty.  All prisoners had medical insurance, and access to a prison clinic (including in the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre) which worked in conjunction with local hospitals.  A medical doctor was available on call 24 hours per day for detainees.  The Government provided a budget for health, food and other essentials for the welfare of inmates. 

Concerning secret detention centres: there were 13 prisons, 30 gazetted police stations, and one military facility for detaining people from the military who had committed offences; no people were held incommunicado in unknown places.  The delegate said she hoped the Special Rapporteur on torture would visit to verify that and put an end to the speculation. 

A Rwandan national, Leon Mugesera, accused of participating in the genocide, was extradited from Canada to Rwanda in January 2012.  He was currently detained at the Kigali prison, which met international standards and the International Committee of the Red Cross approval.  He was in good health, received meals, telephone calls and twice-weekly visits from family, and medical treatment, and had been granted the nine lawyers he asked for.  He had been in court four times already and would next appear in court on 24 May 2012.  The European Court of Human Rights approved the decision for Sylvere Ahorugeze to be transferred to Rwanda, while the Norwegian Supreme Court recently approved for another suspect to be transferred to face justice in Rwanda.  Concerning political prisoners, in the case of Victoire Ngabire, he was in good health, received all of his meals, and the verdict would be delivered in July 2012.  Bernard Ntaganda was in good health, received visits, meals, medical treatment and had been sentenced to four years in prison. 

Rwanda had come a long way from the time everybody in the world was crying for justice, a time when not one strand of Rwanda functioned.  Rwanda was the highest troop-contributing country in the United Nations to date and was on record for its assistance in Sudan, as recognized by the United Nations.  The police was also trying to help people in Sudan, people suffering in Haiti, and their policy of fighting torture through community policing had been recognized in Africa. 

Follow-Up Questions from Committee Members

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Rwanda, said he did not quite understand what new law had been referred to: was it a new Criminal Code, or a law?  Mr. Bruni asked for more information on extradition procedures and the policy of refoulement, and for information about the draft law on extradition. 

NORA SVEASS, Committee Expert also serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Rwanda, said she was very moved by the delegation’s description of the enormous challenges following the genocide which shook everyone, and still does to this day.  The comments about how following classic justice systems would take 120 years were very interesting.  If the Gacaca courts were closing this summer, did that mean that some cases would never be heard?  The report did reflect the Government’s focus on gender-based violence, from police training to measures to protect women, which was impressive.  Could the delegation give details of court cases for gender-based violence, such as statistics for rape convictions?  The Rapporteur said she would like to hear more about rehabilitation for women exposed to violence, and especially rape, during the genocide.

An Expert asked about children under the age of 18 during the genocide who were arrested and detained at that time, but still had not been brought to trial.  Were the Gacaca courts not able to try them, or had another solution been found?  While the idea of using the Gacaca courts to clear the backlog was clear, there were negatives to using them, such as impartiality.  A law had been passed on the elimination of child labour, but the International Labour Organization estimated that 350,000 children worked in the country.  How did the Government’s humanitarian and legislative programme address that problem?

Rwanda had received over 10,000 refugees from Uganda recently, and was very forthright in meeting its international obligations in the region, an Expert commended.  She asked really how many people were thought to have committed crimes during the genocide; what proportion of those people still lived in the country and what proportion lived abroad?  Allegations on secret detention centres were still present: the State party denied the existence of such centres, but was it ready to let Amnesty International, an NGO that had reported the existence of secret detention centres, into the country in order to prove there were none?

Response from the Delegation

Formerly, torture was not a stand-along offence, it was an aggravating offence to other crimes.  Post Gacaca courts, justice would return to the classic system.  Statistics on Gacaca courts: 11.5 per cent of cases fell into category one and were tried in classic courts, while in the second and third categories regarding genocide crimes there were 61.6 and 26.9 per cent respectively.  Category three crimes usually received a community punishment. 

Regarding the cases of political prisoners raised by the Committee, those cases were undergoing due process in Rwanda, and when the Special Rapporteur visited he could see all dossiers.  Every citizen had to comply with the law, and see the mismatch between his actions and legislation.  The genocide was not only known in Rwanda, it was an international crime.  If a person denied the genocide had happened, said it was not possible, then the Government embarked upon a process of verification, the international community would agree that the Government was doing the right thing.   

A delegate commented that the element of mental suffering was now contained in the new definition of torture within the new Criminal Code.  Rwandan legislation on deportation and refoulement said that it had to be done within legal time limits and the relevant conventions that had been ratified.  Deportation where there was a threat of torture or death for the person being deported was not allowed.  The delegate commented that there was a need to tighten legislation on agents of the State who committed acts of torture. 

In prisons there were kindergartens provided for children under three who were accompanying their mothers.  Special feeding facilities, and even cows to provide them with milk, had been set up.  Once they reached three years of age the children were taken out of the prison to live with their families and start pre-school.  

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee valued the information given about how Rwanda was meeting its obligations under the Convention, and valued the delegation’s words about how the Committee could contribute to Rwanda. 

SOLINE NYIRAHABIMANA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Rwanda shared many of the Committee’s concerns and the Government would take note of the Committee’s advice, particularly in tightening legislation on agents of the State who committed acts of torture.  The Government wanted Rwanda to be a place where people could live quietly and peacefully. 

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