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Government promises to bring freedom of expression laws in line with international standards

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Geneva, 26 January 2011 - Rwanda became the 146 UN member state to be appraised under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, at the 10th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC). The review brought to the fore details of violations of the right to freedom of expression and attempts by the state delegation to justify its clampdown on independent media, political opponents and human rights defenders.

ARTICLE 19's submission to the HRC in July 2010 highlighted three areas of concern which were reflected in the review. These include (1) limits on freedom of expression through restrictive media law and criminal defamation; (2) harassment and attacks on journalists; (3) genocide ideology legislation.

"We welcome that the Human Rights Council addressed serious violations of freedom of expression in Rwanda and reiterated our key concerns during the review. At the same time, we welcome that the Rwandan delegation agreed to reform the key laws that violate international freedom of expression standards and that has been repeatedly criticised by ARTICLE 19," said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director ARTICLE 19.

In response to questions and recommendations from a number of countries - mainly USA, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Germany, United Kingdom and Canada - the Rwandan Minister for Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, accepted that there was an immediate need for a review of several laws that restrict freedom of expression. The Rwandan Minister for Justice's response was echoed by Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Governance Advisory Council (GAC), who said: "The Government of Rwanda invited experts from North America and Western Europe and international NGOs who are helping to review the genocide ideology law to conform to international best practices."

Similarly, the Rwandan delegation indicated that it had set in motion processes to review the 2009 Media Law, which requires every journalist to have a degree certificate before registration. The law also sets high start up capital and has stringent provisions on content regulation. Once the Ministry of Information consultations are completed, the reviewed Bill will be presented to cabinet for approval. ARTICLE 19 was cited as one of the international organisations invited to make a submission on the law.

The delegation attending the UPR added that, in the spirit of opening up platforms for freedom of expression to blossom, it had organised and held three public policy dialogues on the media in the past three months.

Unfortunately, as for the law guiding the registration and operation of political parties and NGOs, the minister noted: "We had a reason when we passed the laws and all political parties must conform to established laws otherwise we may just witness another genocide. We, therefore, have no apologies over that law as the Government is not about to allow any activities that will destabilise Rwanda. We will follow our own political path to democracy- not democracy by coercion by external forces," he stressed.

Other areas discussed include issues relating to minorities, women's empowerment, youth unemployment and the need to revamp the judiciary to dispense justice fairly.

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