ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa (EA) and Access Now welcome the recommendations submitted to the Rwandan government to improve its human rights situation by 99 UN Member States during the 37th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Rwanda received a total of 35 recommendations related to the rights to freedom of expression, information and media freedom, accepting 14 and noting 16, with five still pending a response. We respectfully call on the Rwandan government to accept and implement all recommendations related to the right to freedom of expression, including reassessing its position on noted recommendations.
“The 35 recommendations relating to freedom of expression reveal that journalists, media operators, human rights defenders, online users, politicians and civil society organisations are operating in a constrained human rights environment. The UPR process presents Rwanda with yet another seizable opportunity to transform its human rights record over the next five years,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
“Rwanda now has a pathway to better protect human rights in the digital age, guided by its peers in the United Nations. As Rwanda, along with the rest of the world, moves towards digitisation of public services, it must re-work and implement frameworks for the protection of digital rights of its citizens. The UPR process gives the Rwandan government a chance to do just that, starting with reforms of regulatory bodies and increased protections for civil society and journalists, online as offline,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now.
The recommendations come as part of Rwanda’s participation in its third UPR, a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council through which the human rights record of each and every UN Member State is peer-reviewed by all other Member States. The similarity in the number of recommendations previously submitted to Rwanda during its second review in 2015 indicates that its commitment to uphold and fulfil its human rights obligations is still in question.
In advance of Rwanda’s UPR, ARTICLE 19 EA and Access Now submitted a report which raised concerns over serious challenges for freedom of expression in the country. These included criminal defamation and insult provisions, broad surveillance powers, online and offline attacks against journalists, an overly-restrictive regulatory media environment, and the poor implementation of access to information legislation.
Against this backdrop, the Rwandan government received many recommendations to improve its legal framework for the right to access information and freedom of expression. Rwanda received and accepted a recommendation to ensure state authorities comply with the Access to Information Law. However, while Rwanda accepted some general recommendations to improve the legal framework for freedom of expression, it noted specific recommendations to amend the 2018 Penal Code to repeal the offenses of spreading false information and insults or defamation against the President. These vague provisions inhibit public debate on important political matters and risk undue censorship, in direct contravention of international human rights standards.
The issue of the safety of journalists and human rights defenders was prominent during the review. Rwanda took an ambiguous approach to this issue, both accepting and noting recommendations related to the protection of these actors. Moreover, it noted a recommendation to amend Article 2(19) of the Media Law to broaden the definition of journalist in accordance with international standards on freedom of expression. The government’s approach on this issue comes amid reports detailing incidents of harassment and intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders in the country.
We urge Rwanda to accept all of its UPR recommendations related to the right to freedom of expression and undertake legal reform to meaningfully implement them and uphold its international human rights commitments. We will be closely monitoring the government’s progress.
The full list of the recommendations, including the responses of the government, can be found on the UPR Extranet. The recommendations related to the right to freedom of expression are listed below.
For more information, please contact:
Mugambi Kiai – Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa: email@example.com
Peter Micek – General Counsel, Access Now: firstname.lastname@example.org
The UPR recommendations related to the right to freedom of expression:
- 6.49 Ensure the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly, enshrined in the country Constitution (Costa Rica);
- 6.50 Strengthen media pluralism and the safety of journalists and human rights defenders by amending the respective legislation to comply with international democratic standards (Czechia);
- 6.51 Strengthen measures to encourage the exercise of an independent media and enhance the enjoyment by all persons of the freedom of opinion and expression, collectively and as individuals (Barbados);
- 6.52 Intensify its efforts to ensure full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association (Ghana);
- 6.53 Revise all the provisions that undermine freedom of expression as well as freedom of assembly and association and effectively protect journalists and media operators against harassment and intimidation (Italy);
- 6.54 Promote and protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of all residents of Rwanda (Latvia);
- 6.55 Eliminate from legislation all provisions that undermine freedom of expression and protection of journalists against harassment and intimidation (Lithuania);
- 6.56 Increase public awareness on media policy and other various laws and regulations in place to expand media freedom (Maldives);
- 6.57 Continue implementing reforms aimed at expanding media freedoms and creating a citizen-centred media to ensure all individuals fully enjoy the right to freedom of expression (Republic of Korea);
- 6.58 Continue strengthening the legal system in order to ensure the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly and association (Romania);
- 6.59 Continue efforts to guarantee the right of freedom of opinion and expression including by allowing a greater access to the independent news outlets (Sudan);
- 6.60 Guarantee the freedoms of assembly, association and expression by inter alia increasing space for dissent and discussion and ensuring a safe and enabling environment for everyone to exercise these rights (Sweden);
- 6.61 Promote an enabling environment for independent media and civil society organizations, in particular by bringing laws on civil society and media into conformity with the right to freedom of expression as it is set out in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Switzerland);
- 6.62 Protect and enable journalists to work freely, without fear of retribution, and ensure that state authorities comply with the Access to Information law (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).
- 8.29 Promote media freedom by creating a legal framework for the self-regulatory Rwanda Media Commission (Germany);
- 8.30 Strengthen freedom of expression, in line with the Rwandan Constitution and international law, particularly through the establishment of a binding legal instrument that guarantees the independence of the Rwanda Media Commission (Belgium);
- 8.31 Protect and uphold the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including through respecting and supporting free and independent media, in line with international human rights standards (Iceland);
- 8.32 Take further measures to protect journalists and human rights defenders (Japan);
- 8.33 Take measures to protect freedom of expression and protect journalists from harassment and injustices (Norway);
- 8.34 Take concrete steps to ensure media independence (Sierra Leone);
- 8.35 Remove from the legislation any provision that violates the right to freedom of expression (Spain);
- 8.36 Amend article 2(19) of the Media Law to broaden the definition of journalist in order to include citizen journalist, freelance journalist and bloggers, in accordance with international standards on freedom of expression (Canada);
- 8.37 Enhance freedom of expression, by amending the 2018 Penal Code, to repeal the offense of spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause hostile international opinion against the Rwandan government and insults or defamation against the President (Australia);
- 8.38 Take measures against the legal ambiguity regarding the competences of media regulatory bodies such as the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) in order to strengthen their independence against government interference and align them with international standards (Austria);
- 8.39 Guarantee the protection and freedom of expression of politicians, journalists and rights defenders and fight against the impunity of the perpetrators of violence against them (France);
- 8.41 Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders, free from persecution, intimidation and harassment, and to relax the requirements for registering NGOs (Latvia);
- 8.43 Guarantee the independence of civil society organizations and human rights defenders (Côte d’Ivoire);
- 8.44 Ensure the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and to fully investigate threats, arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, who are recognized among stakeholders in the national Human Rights Action Plan, and to review the registration of NGOs in order to simplify the process (Finland);
- 8.45 Strengthen its progress on democratization, the broadening of political and civil space, and the protection of human rights defenders (Norway);
- 8.46 Protect the legitimate work of human rights defenders and political opponents (Spain).
- 7.37 Independently and transparently investigate credible allegations of unlawful or arbitrary arrests and detentions, killings, and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, political opponents, and journalists, prosecuting alleged perpetrators under the law (United States of America);
- 7.40 Amend Article 96 of the Penal Code regarding incitement to genocide to bring it into line with international standards for freedom of expression (Slovenia);
- 7.41 Promote the right to freedom of expression by ending detentions and harassment of members of the media and civil society for their reporting (United States of America);
- 7.44 Conduct thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all reports of harassment and attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, and bring those responsible to justice (Ireland);
- 7.45 Take measures to protect human right defenders and journalists from harassment and attacks and ensure independent credible investigation of alleged cases and the prosecution of offenders (Austria).