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Last updated 20 February 2013
Update: The Public Benefit Organisations Bill, 2012, which was drafted by a Committee of NGOs, was passed on December 20, 2012. The implementing regulations, which are currently being drafted, will help determine whether enabling provisions in the law are carried out in practice.
Like many countries, Rwanda is characterized by extreme poverty and weak institutions, but its social history is tragically unique. In 1994, Rwanda underwent a devastating genocide that left 800,000 people dead. In the aftermath of the genocide, civil society organizations (CSOs) emerged to help in addressing social needs, including assistance to widows and orphans, child-headed households, and traumatized survivors. Not surprisingly, the people of Rwanda continue to suffer from high levels of collective trauma and struggle with the social consequences of the genocide.
Today, Rwanda has benefited from tremendous economic growth, implementing major infrastructure development projects. However, civil society in Rwanda remains in an embryonic state, due to a variety of practical constraints. The overwhelming majority of Rwandans suffer from extreme poverty; about two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 per day. This level of poverty limits engagement in activities not directly related to survival. The lack of education limits the ability of people to access various sources of information and limits their capacity to interact with formal institutions of the state. Grassroots associations are focused on issues of livelihood, with little capacity to engage on public policy issues in a more strategic way. This in turn has made it difficult for urban-based, advocacy CSOs to make connections to the grassroots.
The legal framework for civil society in Rwanda has recently undergone comprehensive reform. In 2008, the Parliament enacted the newly promulgated Organic Law no. 55/2008 of 10/09/2008 governing Non-Governmental Organizations (O.G. no. 23 of 01/12/2008). More recently, in 2011, the Rwandan Senate passed new laws governing national and international non-governmental organizations ("NGOs"), as well as religious-based organizations. The three new laws were signed by President Kagame in 2012. For more information on the content of the news laws, please see Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives below.
Like all legislation, the new laws are not perfect in the eyes of either Government or civil society. Moreover, the impact of the laws on civil society's effective role in Rwanda remains dependent on sound implementation, and implementing rules are now under preparation, with consultations between sector and Government. However, the National NGO Law in particular represents a departure from the recent trend in much of Africa to restrict CSOs and their activities. Rwanda appears to have sought instead to take an important step in the direction of legislating to enable civil society to bring together citizens for a stronger voice and fuller participation in the civil life of their nation.
|Organizational Forms||Non-profit making organization (NPO)|
|Registration Body||Local authority and Ministry of Justice|
|Approximate Number||An estimated total of 37,000 informal groups, with only about 319 registered NPOs|
|Barriers to Entry||Domestic NPOs: (1) two-tiered registration process with action plan presented to local authority and application to Ministry of Justice; (2) lengthy registration process, with application to Ministry allowed only 6 months after receipt of provisional permit from local authority; and (3) excessive documentation requirements.
Foreign NPOs: Detailed documentation requirements at the time of registration.
|Barriers to Activities||Ministry approval required for decisions relating to NPO’s statutes and for NPO’s legal representatives and their assistants.
Administrative expenses are limited to 30% of the NPO’s overall budget.
NPOs must incorporate governmental priorities into their mission.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||No legal barriers, assuming compliance with constitutional boundaries.|
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to Resources||No legal barriers|
|Population||10,473,282 (July 2009 est.)|
|Type of Government||Republic; presidential, multiparty system|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||50.52 years|
|Religious Groups||Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%, Muslim 4.6%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 1.7% (2001)|
|Ethnic Groups||Hutu (Bantu) 84%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 15%, Twa (Pygmy) 1%|
|GDP per capita||$900 (2008 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||167||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||30.5 (2007)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||12.0 (2007)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||102||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
||45||177 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1975|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1975|
|Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention||Yes||1988|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1975|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1981|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1981|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|African Charter on Human Rights and People's Rights||Yes||2003|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda was adopted by referendum in May 2003.
Relevant constitutional provisions include:
Article 33: Freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, religion, worship and the public manifestation thereof is guaranteed by the State in accordance with conditions determined by law. Propagation of ethnic, regional, or racial discrimination, or any other form of division, is punishable by law.
Article 34: Freedom of the press and freedom of information are recognized by the State. Freedom of speech and freedom of information shall not prejudice public order and good morals, the right of every citizen to honour, good reputation and the privacy of personal and family life. It is also guaranteed so long as it does not prejudice the protection of the youth and minors. The conditions for exercising such freedoms are determined by law. There is hereby established an independent institution known as the “High Council of the Press.” The law shall determine its functions, organization and operation.
Article 35: Freedom of association is guaranteed and shall not require prior authorization. Such freedom shall be exercised under conditions determined by law.
Article 36: Freedom of peaceful assembly without arms is guaranteed if it is not inconsistent with the law. Prior authorization shall only be necessary if the law so requires and solely in the case of assembly in the open air, in a public place or on a public road, to the extent that such is necessary in the interests of public safety, public health or public order.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- Organic Law 55/2008 of 10/09/2008 Governing Non-Governmental Organizations;
- Law Number 04/2012 of 17/02/2012 Governing the Organization and Functioning of National Non-Governmental Organizations;
- Law Number 05/2012 of 17/02/2012 Governing the Organization and Functioning of International Non-Governmental Organizations; and
- Law Number 06/2012 of 17/02/2012 Governing the Organization and Functioning of Religious-Based Organizations. (not dealt with in this report)
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The President of Rwanda signed in 2012 laws governing National Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), International NGOs, and Religious-based Organizations.
The approval of the bills by both Houses of Parliament was achieved after a lengthy process of consultation. Participating throughout were numerous Rwandan and international CSOs, local and international experts who provided support during the drafting process and in Parliament, as well as relevant government ministries. From the start, it has been clear that CSOs and the government sought to produce sound reforms, encouraging the means for civil society to provide leadership in the social and economic development of Rwanda.
The National Non-Governmental Organizations Law includes a number of noteworthy provisions, including:
- Reasonable registration provisions that make it possible for organizations to obtain legal identity through the Rwandan Governance Board;
- Restrictions on the power of the Board to deny registration, with deadlines for the Registrar's action on applications, and with the automatic right of appeal from adverse decisions;
- Specific authority for NGOs to engage in business operations, if profits are used for the organization's objectives;
- Sound NGO governance provisions to strengthen NGO internal operations and legitimacy;
- Mediation processes established for resolving NGO internal conflicts; and the
- Affirmative right and administrative vehicles established for NGOs to participate in policy and legislative development.
The International Non-Governmental Organizations Law considered by the Senate contains many provisions similar to those contained in the "National" Law. One change most beneficial to the sector in the regulation of international NGOs is the extension of registration from a single year term to up to five years. Provisions causing concern to the international community include a 20% limit on expenditures for administrative expenses (“overhead”) and lack of clarity with respect to taxation of income of non-Rwandan employees. Additionally, placement of the oversight and registration authority in the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, with multiple potential authorities exercising varying degrees of oversight over the INGO sector and seeking periodic reports, appears to require costly and burdensome compliance efforts on the part of the sector. Additionally, the detailed nature of reporting, particularly in terms of budgeting for both annual and long-term action plans, will be extremely burdensome, unless dealt with reasonably in implementing rules.
Implementing rules are now under preparation, with consultations between sector and Government.
The Organic Law Governing Non-Governmental Organizations (Law 55/2008 of 10/09/2008) defines non-governmental organizations as organizations not established by the Government and that work for the general interest. In order to make the Organic Law operational, three laws were enacted in 2012, relating to three separate organizational forms:
- National NGOs;
- International NGOs operating in Rwanda; and
- Religious-based organizations.
Public Benefit Status
“Public interest organizations” are defined in the National NGO Law as “organizations … (that) carry out activities in the development of various sectors including civil society, economy, social welfare, culture, science and human rights.” (Article 3)
NGOs seeking “public benefit” status (with tax and other privileges accruing) must register before operating.
Barriers to Entry
Under the recently enacted legislation, the registration process for National NGOs is reasonably straightforward. Applications for registration are submitted to the Rwandan Governance Board. Through a two-tiered process, the NGO first receives a 12-month temporary certificate providing the NGO authority to operate, and subsequently full legal personality. In each case, in case of refusal to register, the Registrar must notify the NGO applicant of the reasons for refusal within 60 days after application, and the applicant may appeal.
As mentioned above, NGOs seeking “public benefit” status (with tax and other privileges accruing) must register before operating and those “mutual benefit” NGOs and foundations seeking registration have a two-year period in which they must register.
International NGOs are required to submit a long list of documentation and information, including the implementation schedule and its various stages of planning, detailed costs estimates with data, an indication of who will continue activities launched by INGOs after they have completed their work, and “all information relating to its geographical establishment throughout the world.”
Barriers to Operational Activity
National NGOs may be denied registration or subject to termination for the failure to comply with the registration legislation or “convincing evidence that the (applicant) may jeopardize security, public, order, health, morals, and human rights.” (Articles 20 and 24)
In addition, spending by International NGOs must not exceed 20% of their budgets on “overhead costs in programs that are not in the interest of … beneficiaries.”
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
There are no legal provisions expressly prohibiting speech or advocacy. That said, Article 33 of the Constitution, in establishing freedom of thought and opinion, also emphasizes that “Propagation of ethnic, regional, or racial discrimination, or any other form of division, is punishable by law.” Article 34 places limitations on the freedom of speech: “Freedom of speech and freedom of information shall not prejudice public order and good morals, the right of every citizen to honour, good reputation and the privacy of personal and family life. It is also guaranteed so long as it does not prejudice the protection of the youth and minors. The conditions for exercising such freedoms are determined by law.”
Policy and legislative advocacy is encouraged as an affirmative right under Article 28 of the National NGO Law.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no legal barriers to international communication or contact.
Barriers to Resources
There are no legal barriers against foreign funding for CSOs.
Currently, NGOs are permitted to engage in income generating activities, provided that any profits earned are used in activities related to their primary objectives. The government is required to include in the national budget funding for NGOs, in addition to normal Ministry-level support and contracts. NGOs are permitted to compete for government funds and in some cases encouraged to do so. While NGOs are exempt from tax on most categories of income, the tax law does not provide incentives to donors for donations to NGOs.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||No relevant reports available|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||
|U.S. State Department|
|Failed States Index Reports|
|IMF Country Reports|
|Asia Pacific Philanthropy Forum Reports||Not available|
|NGO Regulation Network Reports||Not available|
|CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) Country Reports||
|International Commission of Jurists||No relevant information available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||No information available|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Rwanda genocide survivors protest acquittal of suspects (February 2013)
The association of survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 'Ibuka', has condemned two acquittals reached Monday by the International Criminal Court of Rwanda (ICCR), affirming that the sentences did not take into account the scope of the crimes committed by the defendants. 'We are aware of the complexity of the procedure to appeal against this decision,' Ibuka Executive Secretary, Naphtal Ahishakiye, told PANA. According to the 'Hirondelle' News Agency, ICCR Monday acquitted two former Rwandan ministers although they were earlier sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire jailed (October 2012)
Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has been found guilty at her treason trial and sentenced to eight years in jail. The prosecution had requested a life sentence for the charges of threatening state security. The court also found her guilty of "belittling" Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Ingabire, a Hutu, returned from exile in the Netherlands in January 2010 - and has been in jail since her arrest.
EU partially freezes aid to Rwanda (September 2012)
Rwanda's biggest aid donor, the European Union, has partially frozen its financial support to Rwanda, dealing what may be the heaviest blow yet to president Paul Kagame. The move follows decisions by the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden to suspend donor support over allegations that the Rwandan military is supporting a murderous rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
International NGO license increased to five years (September 2012)
International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) will now receive registration certificates valid for up to five years, following the adoption of a new regulation designed to ease the registration and operations of not-for-profit organizations in Rwanda.
Rwanda one of 26 AU member states to have ratified African Court protocol (September 2012)
Delegates attending a regional forum have agreed to strengthen their partnership to make the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights achieve its goals. They made the declaration at the end of a three-day seminar on the promotion of the Court for the Eastern and Northern region of the African continent hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. During the meeting, the court and its key partners discussed ways of increasing its visibility throughout Africa as well as ways of helping it effectively achieve its mandate. So far, only 26 of the 54 AU member states have ratified the Protocol establishing the Court, and, out of these, only five have so far authorized individuals and NGOs to file cases directly with the African Court. Speaking to The New Times, Deogratias Kayumba, a commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said Rwanda has ratified the Protocol.
Civil society should influence policy – RGB (May 2012)
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been called upon to influence policy formulation and implementation as they are in direct contact with the population. This was said by Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) CEO Prof. Anastase Shyaka. "Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are key ingredients in ensuring good governance and social development. They have direct contact with the people and this is why we should strengthen them in terms of influencing public policy," Prof Shyaka said.
Opposition leader’s sentence upheld (April 2012)
The confirmation by the Rwandan Supreme Court of a four-year prison sentence for Bernard Ntaganda, an opposition leader, is a blow for those who had hoped the Court might protect free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. Ntaganda, founding president of the PS-Imberakuri opposition party, is one of several government critics, including two journalists, who remain in prison solely for the legitimate expression of their views.
Rwanda's political space shrinks as its economy expands (April 2012)
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in November 2011 criticized Rwanda's "closed" political culture. Harassment of civil society activists, opposition figures and journalists as well as the disappearance of human rights defenders pose the "next developmental challenge" for the country. This is in contrast to Rwanda's economic development. Last year, Rwanda's GDP grew 8.8 percent, which is Africa's second-quickest expansion after Ghana, IMF data shows.
Prime Minister presents 2011-2017 Government Programs (November 2011)
Prison term for opposition leader (February 2011)
Rwanda to review laws said to restrict freedoms (January 2011)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Rwanda.