Rwanda1 has a long history of violent conflict, although has since the end of 1994 settled into a mostly peaceful democracy. Years of tension and fighting between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, both under German and Belgian rule and after independence in 1962, culminated in civil war and finally in the 1994 genocide, in which over a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.2 In late 1994, the genocide and war ended with the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) defeating the Rwandan national army and Hutu militias and establishing an RPF-led government.3 The United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to prosecute persons responsible for the genocide, and to date, the ICTR has completed 69 cases, 59 of which resulted in convictions.4 The Rwandan national courts and the gacaca courts are also responsible for prosecuting genociders, and to date over a million cases have been closed.5 The effect of the genocide on Rwanda’s legal system was devastating, as the majority of judges and lawyers were killed, and many police officers were either killed or prosecuted for their involvement in the genocide. This left the post-genocide society “with few resources for the administration of justice and provision of safety”, although it is recovering, with the recruitment and training of new judges, lawyers, and police officers.6

The executive branch of the Government consists of the President, Paul Kagame, the Prime Minister, Bernard Makuza and the Council of Ministers, appointed by the President. Rwanda’s legislative branch, an independent bicameral parliament, consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Parliament deliberates on and passes laws, and oversees executive actions.7 Rwanda’s legal system is based on the German and Belgian civil law systems and on customary law. The Judicial branch of the government consists of mediation committees, the District Courts, the Provincial Courts, the High Courts of the Republic and the Supreme Court. The judiciary is independent, although there have been reports of political interference in trials of political interest, and of politically-motivated appointments being made.8

The Rwanda National Police are governed by Law No. 09/2000 of 16/06/2000 on the Establishment, General Organisation and Jurisdiction of the National Police, under the Ministry of the Interior. Rwanda has 36 district police units, 69 police stations and 368 police posts,9 and over 10,000 police officers.10 It is not clear how many people are detained in police cells.

The Rwanda Correctional Service is governed by Law No. 34/2010 of 12/22/2010 on the establishment, functioning and organisation of the Rwanda Correctional Service. This law merged the former National Prisons Service and the Executive Secretariat of the National Committee of Community Services. There are 16 national prisons in Rwanda, three of which are currently under construction. As of December 2010, there were 62,000 people detained in Rwandan prisons, nearly two-thirds of whom have been convicted of genocide-related charges, and 26.9% of whom are awaiting trial. The official capacity of these prisons in 43,400 individuals, and the occupancy level as of December 2010 was 142.9%.11 Detainees are also held in local communal holding-cells (cachots communaux), detention centres, military detention facilities, transit centres and community service camps. Minors are held in rehabilitation centres.

Overview of key findings

Rwanda is party to most of the main international and regional human rights treaties,12 including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and is a member of Interpol and of the Eastern African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation. However, Rwanda has not yet signed or ratified the Optional Protocol to the UNCAT.

In general, the safeguards to be afforded to people deprived of their liberty are fairly well provided for under the Constitution and domestic laws. The Rwandan Constitution13 passed referendum on the 26th of May 2003, and protects, among others, the following rights: to life (Art. 12); to equal protection of the law (Art. 16); to not be subject to torture, physical abuse or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (Art. 15); to not be unlawfully prosecuted, arrested, detained or punished, and to be informed of the nature and cause of charges if arrested or detained, and to a defense (Art. 18); and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to receive a fair trial if prosecuted (Art. 19).

In June 2012, Rwanda adopted a new Penal Code, which introduced torture as an autonomous offence.14 Article 176 of the new Penal Code almost fully adopts the content of article 1 of the UNCAT on the definition of torture. Notably, the Penal Code’s definition does not include the UNCAT provision that torture occurs when ‘such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity’, and civilians can thus be charged with torture too.

Other laws providing for the criminalisation and prohibition of torture and other ill treatment include the Correctional Service Act, which guarantees the rights of all detainees, including the right to be treated with dignity and to be protected against all forms of torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment (Art. 30);  the Law relating to the rights and protection of the child against violence15; the Law on the prevention and punishment of gender-based violence16; the Law establishing the gacaca courts17; the Law against the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes18; and the law relating to the evidence and its production.19 Further, the Code on Criminal Procedure20 (CCP) sets out the procedure that the entire criminal process must follow, from the investigation by Judicial Police Officers (JPOs) until the final judgment, including the full protection of arrestees’ rights. The death penalty was abolished in 2003 and was substituted with ‘life imprisonment with special provisions’,21 which has not been unproblematic as it has been criticised for being in contravention of some of Rwanda’s international human rights obligations and with Rwandan laws that protect prisoners’ rights.22

Several state bodies have a legal obligation to protect citizens from acts of torture and ill treatment and to monitor places of detention, including: the Rwandan Courts and Tribunals; Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, both of which have internal committees in charge of investigating human rights abuses); the Houses of Access to Justice; the National Prisons Service; the National Police; the Judicial Police Inspection; the National Public Prosecution Authority; and the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion.23 The competent authorities in charge of the investigation of cases of torture and other penal matters include the JPOs and Public Prosecutor Officers. Courts and Tribunals are in charge of conducting trials related to torture.24 Further, the Constitution established, among other independent institutions responsible for protecting human rights, the National Commission for Human Rights (NHRC) (Art. 177) and the Office of the Ombudsman (Art. 182), both of which have a legal obligation to protect citizens from acts of torture and ill treatment.

Despite these legal protections, the preliminary research findings of the Article 5 Initiative suggest that there is a disparity between what the law provides and what occurs in practice. In 2011, the UNHCHR Human Rights Advisor in Rwanda reported that “human rights violations continue to be reported in Rwanda, including cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances, violence against children, trafficking, gender based violence, unlawful detention and discrimination”.25 Arbitrary arrest and detention remain a problem, and Human Rights Watch has reported on a number of cases in which police arrested persons without a legal basis and detained them for several days.26 The fairness of the gacaca system has also been questioned, as there have been reports of individuals tried in gacaca courts being denied their right to a fair trial, particularly with regard to the impartiality of judges, the denial of bail, unlawful detention, and the protection of the rights of the accused.27

The conditions of Rwandan detention facilities vary. Some prisons, such as the Mpanga facility which houses prisoners transferred from the Special Court of Sierra Leone and the ICTR, have been praised for the high standard of living conditions they maintain.28 In other prisons and other places of detention there have been reports of overcrowding and poor living conditions; accused persons being housed together with convicted persons; children being housed together with adults; detainees being denied access to relatives, lawyers, doctors and visiting humanitarian organisations; detainees being denied their right to be formally charged and brought before a judge; incidents of deaths in detention; disappearances of detainees; and torture and other ill treatment.29

In its report to the Committee against Torture, the Rwandan delegation wrote, “It is impossible to determine exactly how many cases apply anti-torture provisions. This is due to the fact that the Penal Code does not set up torture as an autonomous offence, so courts and tribunals cannot describe an act of torture as an offence of torture. Thus, any judgments rendered fall within the category of offences relating to violations of physical integrity.”30 The CCP creates legal avenues for victims of torture to seek compensation, although it is not clear how accessible they are in practice and how often they are used. There are currently no specialised rehabilitation facilities for victims of torture, although the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims is in the process of establishing such facilities.

Rwanda has several local and international civil society organisations working on human rights issues in general, and on prisoners’ rights and the problem of torture specifically, including: Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, the Forum for Activists Against Torture, and the Rwandan League for the Promotion and the Defence of Human Rights. However, the United Nations Human Rights Council has noted that the ability of these organisations to function at full capacity and to have a real impact is impeded by Rwanda’s genocide ideology laws and anti-defamation laws, which have reportedly been used against individuals and organisations that are perceived to be critical of the government. Similar restrictions have been put on members of the press.31

In conclusion, the key areas of concern outlined above should inform any measures taken at the national level to implement the UNCAT specifically and the obligation under international law to prohibit and prevent torture generally. The Rwandan government has shown political willingness to address these problems and to uphold the fundamental rights of all its citizens, including detainees, as evidenced by numerous initiatives by state and non-state actors that have improved the situation on the ground. Such initiatives include the abolition of the death penalty and the recent adoption of a new Penal Code that criminalises torture, and the drastic reduction of prison overcrowding by the processing of genocide-related cases and the building of new prisons.32

The Article 5 Initiative welcomes input from the Rwandan Government and civil society organisations in relation to our findings, to help us reflect more accurately the current state of affairs with regards to compliance with the UNCAT, the African Charter and the RIG.


  1. Due to the desktop nature of this research, it has been difficult to establish the practical situation in the country. Many important documents (including up to date legislation) are not available online or in South African libraries. For example, neither of the two oversight bodies that deal with conditions of detention and the rights of detainees – the NHRC and the Office of the Ombudsman – have published their most recent annual reports online, and it is thus not possible to ascertain how they function in practice, or what their findings have been. Thus, much crucial information, such as the exact number of places of detention both under civil and military control, the number of detainees currently held in detention facilities other than state prisons, practices of recording and monitoring interrogations, and what means of restraint are used in Rwandan prisons, is not available.
  2. Reyntjens, F., 2004. Rwanda, Ten Years On: From Genocide to Dictatorship. African Affairs, 103, pp.177-120.
  3. Central Intelligence Agency, 2011. The World Factbook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 07 September 2011].
  4. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, n/d. Status of Cases. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2011].
  5. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2011. 2010 Human Rights Report: Rwanda. U.S. Department of State at p.13. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 October 2011].
  6. Rauch, J. and van der Spuy, E., 2006. Police reform in post-conflict Africa: A review. Pretoria: IDASA at p.119.
  7. Central Intelligence Agency, 2011.; Musiime, E., 2007. Rwanda’s Legal System and Legal Materials. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 September 2011].
  8. Human Rights Council. 4 November 2010. Summary prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (c) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1. Rwanda. UN doc A/HRC/WG.6/10/RWA/3 at para 11.
  9. Rwanda National Police Service, 2011. Territorial Units. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 September 2011].
  10. The New Times, 2010. Rwanda: National Police is a Success Story. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 September 2011].
  11. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2011 at p.6; International Centre for Prison Studies, n/d. World Prison Brief: Rwanda. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 September 2011].
  12. Including: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol; the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and its Protocols on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and on Women in Africa; and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
  13. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 04 June 2003 (O.G no special of 4 June 2003, P.119), as amended August 2008.
  14. Organic Law No. 01/2012/OL of 02 May 2012 instituting the Penal Code. The old Penal Code (Decree-Law No. 21/77 of 18 August 1977 establishing the Penal Code, as amended) did not establish acts of torture as an autonomous offence and perpetrators of torture were prosecuted under common law offences against persons, such as homicide and various forms of physical harm and assault contained in the old Penal Code’s articles 310-395. However, the Penal Code did include punishments for physical torture. Under article 316, torture was treated as an aggravating factor, meaning that anyone who used torture or ‘barbaric acts’ during the execution of his or her crime, whatever it was, could be punished as though he or she committed murder. This rule could apply to all offences. Further, paragraph 4 of article 388, related to violations of the liberty of a person, stipulated that “[w]hen the kidnapped, arrested or detained person has been subjected to corporal torture, the guilty person shall serve life imprisonment”.
  15. Art. 20 of Law 27/2001 of 28 April 2001 relating to the rights and protection of the child against violence.
  16. Art. 27 of Law No. 59/2008 of 10 September 2008 on the prevention and punishment of gender-based violence.
  17. Art. 51 of Organic Law No 16/2004 of 19 June 2004 establishing the organisation, competence and functioning of Gacaca Courts charged with prosecuting and trying the perpetrators of the crime of genocide and other crimes against humanity, committed between October 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994.
  18. Art. 5(6) of Law No 33 bis/2003 of 6 September 2003 repressing the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
  19. Art. 5 of Law No.15/2004 of 19 July 2004 relating to the evidence and its production.
  20. Law No 13/2004 of 17/5/2004 relating to the code of criminal procedure (O.G. special No of 30/07/2004).
  21. Organic Law n° 31/2007 of 25/07/2007 relating to the abolition of the death penalty.
  22. Mujuzi, J.D., 2009. Issues Surrounding Life Imprisonment after the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Rwanda. Human Rights Law Review. 9(2): 329-338.
  23. Committee against Torture. UN doc. CAT/C/RWA/1 at para 30.
  24. Committee against Torture. UN doc. CAT/C/RWA/1 at paras 68 and 98.
  25. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2011. Human Rights Adviser in Rwanda (2010-2011). [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 September 2011].
  26. Human Rights Watch, 2011. Justice Compromised: The Legacy of Rwanda’s Community-Based Gacaca Courts. New York: Human Rights Watch at pp.63-64. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2011].
  27. Human Rights Council, 11 November 2010. Compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1. Rwanda. UN doc A/HRC/WG.6/10/RWA/2 at para 38; Human Rights Watch, 2011.
  28. Ntawukuriryayo, F., 2010. Rwanda: Dutch Minister Impressed by Prison Conditions. The New Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 October 2011].
  29. Danish Immigration Service, 2002. Report on political situation, security and human rights in Rwanda at para 186. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2011]; ReliefWeb, 2000. New urgent action on Rwanda. [online] Available at [Accessed 29 September 2011]; Human Rights Council. UN doc A/HRC/WG.6/10/RWA/3 at paras 7, 9 and 10; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2011 at pp.1,4; Human Rights Council. UN doc A/HRC/WG.6/10/RWA/2 at para 42; Human Rights Watch, 2006. Swept Away: Street Children Illegally Detained in Kigali, Rwanda at p.2. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2011].
  30. Committee against Torture. UN doc. CAT/C/RWA/1 at para 59.
  31. Human Rights Council. UN doc A/HRC/WG.6/10/RWA/3 at paras 22 and 23, drawing on reports by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Human Rights Watch and several Rwandan civil society organisations.
  32. Human Rights Council, 14 March 2011. Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. Rwanda. UN doc A/HRC/17/4 at para 12.

Rwandan Resources


  • 7th Periodic Report
  • Concluding Observations on the 2nd Report
  • 8th Periodic Report
  • 9th and 10th Period Reports
  • Concluding Observations on the 9th and 10th Reports


  • Universal Periodic Review documents
  • CAT Initial Report
  • Links to CAT’s Concluding Observations on Rwanda’s Initial Report, and to information provided to CAT by civil society organisations (scroll down)
  • CCPR 3rd Periodic Report
  • CCPR – HRC Concluding Observations
  • CCPR – Government’s Response to the Concluding Observations