The Rwandan government has reaffirmed its commitment and support for the establishment of an African criminal court to adjudicate on cases relating to terrorism, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the continent. This news comes on the heels of a bold statement by former African Union Chairman and Zimbabwean President Mugabe, suggesting that such a court is needed to try Europeans who commit crimes against humanity in Africa.
Rwandan authorities have said they will continue to press other African countries on the creation of such a continental body. The nation’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, who gave the hint, said Rwanda recently declined to officially join the International Criminal Court (ICC) because the government is favorably disposed to the establishment of an African Court.
In its report of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Rwanda, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had asked Rwanda to consider ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but the Rwandan government rejected this along with 26 other recommendations.
The UPR, which was set up in 2008, examines each UN member’s human rights record as a watchdog. Countries are reviewed every four and a half years; Rwanda was reviewed for the first time in January 2011.
Justice Busingye, in his capacity as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, recently led the Rwandan delegation to present their government’s position before the Geneva-based UPR team. He stated that “Rwanda did not see added value in joining the Rome statute. Instead, the delegation proposed the establishment of a continental judiciary, an idea that many African leaders have promoted.”
He further explained Rwanda’s human rights record had been reviewed by UNHRC a few weeks prior, where Rwanda agreed to implement 50 recommendations and rejected 26 others. “Seven recommendations did not enjoy the support of Rwanda as they are not compatible with our domestic law and constitution,” Busingye said.
Rejected recommendations, according to him, include investigating reports that Burundian refugees were recruited from camps in Rwanda into armed groups. Meanwhile, Rwandan leaders agreed to accede to the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, to take steps to ratify the International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention and to ease the registration process for national and international NGOs.
The Minister said the government also agreed to protect journalists from harassment and attacks and to ensure that all allegations of violence and intimidation of journalists are promptly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.
On the issue of whether Rwanda will use the genocide ideology law to impede the activities of opposition parties, opposition and civil society, Justice Busingye said that national laws already protect activities of opposition parties:
Rwanda accepts only those recommendations for which implementation is possible within the next four years and those we support have both the spirit and principle behind the recommendation. The ones that do not enjoy the support of Rwanda are generally those we are not able to commit to implementation at this stage, whether we agree with the principles behind the recommendation or not, we have recently reviewed our position on the issue in question and rejected the assertions being made,” he further explained.
While appraising Rwandan’s stance on the recommendations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that it welcomes particularly its approval to eliminate legal provisions that undermine freedom of expression and pledge to ensure freedom of opinion and expression.
The HRW also pointed out, however, that additional measures to protect journalists were still needed in Rwanda and urged government to reinstate BBC Kinyarwanda services. The programme was suspended indefinitely after a controversial BBC television documentary broadcast in October 2014.