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  • Writer's pictureAllison Newey

On the Genocide Ideology Laws in Rwanda

By Allison Newey

For the past two decades, the Rwandan government has passed legislation and promoted unification in hopes of preventing another genocide were created to protect the public from harmful or incendiary speech, as well as encourage unity between the rival Hutu and Tutsi. However, it could be argued that these laws could enforce ethnic factionalism, and instead increase tensions between Hutus and Tutsi. The current laws against genocide denial in Rwanda should, therefore, be revised to protect civil liberties for all Rwandans and create a more accurate and truthful historical narrative.

Before the 1994 genocide, anti-Tutsi media and propaganda fanned the flames that lead to mass killings. Two laws banning genocide and genocidal ideology were implemented in 2003 and 2008, respectively, in hopes of censoring hateful propaganda that could lead to another genocide. These laws, however, create a damaging environment of self-censorship within the country. For example, many Rwandan journalists and artists fear harassment, anonymous threats, exile, or incarceration if they criticize the government or fail to self-censor in their work. Ultimately, this restricts freedom of speech, and expression and, according to some reports, severely limits the emergence of critical, independent media needed to bring full democracy to Rwanda. Thus, the strict restriction in the media increases tensions and unjustly strips writers, journalists, reporters, and other citizens of their freedom of speech.

Another issue with Rwanda's genocide denial laws is the restriction of political expression. The legal definition of ‘genocide ideology’ is alarmingly vague; according to the 2008 Rwandan law, genocide ideology is characterized by “conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people”. Because genocide ideology is subjective and not clearly defined, Rwandan authority figures, especially President Paul Kagame, have used this to imprison or exile political opponents. One example is Victoire Ingabire, Kagame's 2010 election opponent, who served 8 years in prison after she was found guilty of ‘genocide denial’. There have also been accusations of prosecution using illegal interrogation techniques and fabricating evidence against Ingabire. Ingabire's party was not allowed to participate in the election, and incumbent president Kagame won around 93.08% of the vote. Also, political opponents perceived as threats by the government have been assassinated, even after exile from Rwanda. This tyrannical regime uses the subjective genocide denial laws to attack the political opposition, rather than to protect Rwandan citizens.

Finally, these genocide denial laws erase important aspects of the Rwandan genocide and strips citizens of their previous ethnic identities. In present-day Rwanda, the 1994 genocide is only called ‘the genocide against the Tutsi’ rather than the universally accepted term, Rwandan genocide. Referring the mass killings to only be against the Tutsi frames Tutsis as the sole victim group and vilifies the Hutus; in reality, thousands of Twa and moderate Hutus were killed during the genocide as well. In addition, genocide denial laws prohibit the use of ethnic terminology from before the genocide. The genocide laws resulted in a de facto criminalization of the use of the words ‘Hutu’ or ‘Tutsi’, the two predominant ethnic identities in Rwanda. The elimination of these terms only increases ethnic tensions among Rwandan citizens, many of whom remain traumatized by the genocide or still proudly identify as Hutu or Tutsi.

Allison Newey is an Alliance Coordinator and Early Warning Analyst at Genocide Watch.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch.

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