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The largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which took power following the civil war and genocide of 1994, is the principal political force and controls the Government of National Unity in Rwanda. President Paul Kagame was sworn in on April 22, 2000, in what was the first nonviolent presidential change in the country's history. While all political parties are represented within the Transitional National Assembly, it is influenced greatly by President Kagame and the RPF. Prime Minister Bernard Makuza runs the Government on a daily basis and is responsible for relations with the National Assembly. On March 6 and 7, the country held its first secret ballot elections to elect council members at the district level.

After its military victory in July 1994, the RPF organized a coalition government similar to that established by President Habyarimana in 1992. Called The Broad Based Government of National Unity, its fundamental law is based on a combination of the constitution, the Arusha accords, and political declarations by the parties. The MRND Party was outlawed. Political organizing is banned until 2003.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The fundamental law of Rwanda provides for a system of communal courts, appeals courts, and a Supreme Court of six justices. The President nominates two candidates for each Supreme Court seat, and the National Assembly may choose one or reject both; however, the latter is not known to have happened.

The law provides for public trials with the right to a defense, but not at public expense. The shortage of lawyers and the abject poverty of most defendants make it difficult for many defendants to obtain representation. International NGO's such as Avocats Sans Frontiers (ASF or Lawyers Without Borders) provide defense and counsel some of those in need, but it is estimated that less than 50 percent of prisoners have defense counsel. Lawyers from ASF rarely accept individual cases and assist mostly in group trials; numerous individuals represent themselves without legal assistance. During the year, new judges, prosecutors, and judicial defenders were sworn in and assigned to courts throughout the country. Over 100 judicial defenders trained by a foreign NGO began their work. However, the Government does not have sufficient prosecutors, judges, or courtrooms to hold trials within a reasonable time.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Rwandan Government's poor human rights record worsened in 2001, and the Government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses; however, there were some improvements in a few areas. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The security forces committed extrajudicial killings within the country; there also were numerous, credible reports that RPA units operating in the DRC committed deliberate extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses, and impunity remains a problem. There were no reports of deaths in custody by mistreatment or abuse. There were several credible reports of disappearances. Security forces beat suspects, and there were some reports of torture. Prison conditions remained life threatening and prisoners died of starvation and preventable diseases. Most of the prisoners housed in jails and local detention centers (cachots) are accused of participating in the 1994 genocide; many have been detained for up to 7 years without being charged. Arbitrary arrest and detention, and prolonged pretrial detention, remained serious problems. The judiciary is subject to executive influence and does not always ensure due process or expeditious trials. The Government continued to conduct genocide trials at a slow pace. The Government released some detainees whose files were incomplete, who were acquitted, or who were ill or elderly. Police forcibly entered the home of an opposition politician. The Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press and limited freedom of assembly and association. During the year, the Government lifted the restrictions it previously had imposed on freedom of religion. In some cases, the Government restricted freedom of movement. Security forces generally did not harass refugees who returned from neighboring countries. The Government was hostile toward nongovernmental human rights organizations. Violence and discrimination against women were problems, as was discrimination against indigenous people. There were reports that prisoners were hired out for labor in private homes and businesses, and unconfirmed reports that prisoners were used as forced labor in the DRC. Child labor persisted in the agricultural sector.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Rwandan Genocide Trials

On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and the President of Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both presidents were killed. As though the shooting down was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.

The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

The Rwandan judiciary is currently focused on resolving the enormous genocide caseload of more than 100,000 detainees. The Rwandan Government has increased its use of group trials as one method of reducing the caseload. The Government also continued with a project sometimes referred to as the Gisovu project, a release program in which detainees and prisoners who are elderly, ill, without files, acquitted, or sentenced to terms outside of prison are taken to their former villages to allow villagers to make complaints against them or to confirm that there is no reason to detain them. Typically approximately 30-40 percent of the prisoners investigated in this manner are released. For the first 8 months of 2001, 3,466 detainees were reinvestigated, and 1,335 of them were released. There also were 49 individuals arrested for the first time as a result of these investigations. However, Gacaca courts, a grassroots participatory form of justice, will serve as the Government's primary judicial process for adjudicating genocide cases. These courts combine participatory justice and reconciliation techniques exercised at the local level and are scheduled to begin operating in 2002. The Gacaca law provides for reduced sentences for cooperation and credit for time served; lawyers are not permitted to participate officially in Gacaca. The Government continued its nationwide campaign to explain Gacaca to the public during 2001. In October voters elected thousands of Gacaca judges to serve on local courts. The sixth chamber of the Supreme Court and its President, Aloysie Cyanzayire, will oversee the implementation of Gacaca.

The Government also continued to try genocide-related cases in local courts. By the end of 2001, approximately 4,220 persons had been judged on genocide-related charges, most following group trials. According to the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), during the first 9 months of 2001, approximately 1,005 persons had been judged in local courts on genocide-related charges; 88 received death sentences, 288 were sentenced to life in prison, 459 received sentences for less than life, and 205 were acquitted, and 25 were fined for property crimes. The vast majority of trials met international standards. LIPRODHOR also actively monitored trials and interviewed released prisoners. As of year's end, 22 death sentences had been carried out, all by public firing squad in 1998; however, no public executions occurred during the 2001.

A section of the Organic Genocide Law is designed to encourage confessions in exchange for reduced sentences for the vast majority of those involved in the genocide. As a result of efforts by the Government, international donors, and NGO's to advertise widely the confession provisions, more than 20,000 prisoners had confessed since the law was implemented in 1996. However, only a small number of confessions were processed due to lengthy administrative review and hearing proceedings, and the lack of officials to process the confessions through the system.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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