Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda's Genocide Denial Laws
24 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2014 Last revised: 23 Apr 2014
Date Written: April 14, 2014
In the wake of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has enacted a number of laws proscribing "genocide ideology", "genocide minimization" and "negationism." These laws, passed in 2003, 2008 and most recently in 2013, are ostensibly intended to prevent a repetition of the events that took place at the time. Rwanda’s laws are not unique: similar legislation exists in a number of European countries and at the level of the European Union. What makes Rwanda’s laws of interest is the manner in which they have been used to restrict a free and open debate on matters of public interest in the country and especially the restrictive effect the laws have had on free speech in the media. Over the years, the laws have been applied haphazardly, sometimes ensnaring journalists and opposition leaders in controversial trials. This article focuses on a recent case in which one of the genocide denial laws was used in the prosecution of two female Rwandan journalists. The conviction and sentence to 10 years’ imprisonment of one of the journalists for having allegedly minimized the genocide was quashed on appeal by the Supreme Court of Rwanda in April 2012. In its judgment, the Court held that the law under which the genocide minimization charges were brought did not clearly explain what constituted the offense. This appeared to be a clear signal that the genocide denial legislation was in violation of Rwanda’s obligations under international law and under its Constitution to provide for sufficiently precise legislation to curtail free speech. However, in the months following the 2012 Supreme Court judgment, matters have only become less transparent, most notably due to the Supreme Court finding in an interim judgment in the prosecution of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire that the 2008 Law Related to the Punishment of Genocide Ideology was not in violation of Rwanda’s Constitution, a ruling seemingly inconsistent with its findings in April 2012. The article begins with a brief description of the genocide denial laws and their legislative history, followed by a discussion of the case against the two female Rwandan journalists, Agnès Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, and the resulting Supreme Court judgment. The article then offers reflections on the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling and its aftermath, followed by a discussion on possible avenues of reform. The article concludes by highlighting developments since the 2012 Supreme Court ruling and raising the question whether the current situation is sustainable.
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