Update: In November 2015, Rwanda's Upper House of Parliament unanimously approved a constitutional amendment to allow President Paul Kagame to seek a third term and asked President Kagame to call a referendum for Rwandans to approve the recently revised Constitution of the country, which would allow him to run again because "they do not want to risk experimenting with another leader during this period." 98% of voters reportedly voted in favor of a chance for a third term for Kagame in the referendum. The next election will be in 2017.
Like many countries, Rwanda is characterized by poverty, and a certain number of the country's institutions have limited capacity. However, its social history is particularly tragic. In 1994, Rwanda experienced a devastating genocide that left more than 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.
In recent years, however, Rwanda has benefited from tremendous economic growth and implemented major infrastructure development projects. Although real GDP growth slowed down to 4.6% in 2013 from 7.3% in 2012, growth is projected to recover to 7.4% in 2015 due to the recovery in services, improvement in agriculture productivity and sustained implementation of the public investment program. Consistent with economic growth, steps have been taken to further strengthen political rights and civil liberties. Three recent pieces of legislation have been ratified to improve media regulation, promote transparency, and encourage citizens’ economic and political participation. Rwanda is also set to meet the targets for universal primary education, gender equality and infant mortality.
At the same time, civil society in Rwanda remains in an embryonic state due to a variety of constraints. The operating context for CSOs is one of enforced collaboration with the government's political and development plans. Those CSOs working within these boundaries can act relatively freely; those that do not face difficulties. While new legislation and decentralization have opened up space for increased civil society involvement in policy-making, the space for politicized human rights work is more limited. From a traditionally weak base, local CSOs continue to face capacity challenges and government co-optation is common.
The legal framework for civil society in Rwanda has undergone comprehensive reform since the Parliament enacted the Organic Law no. 55/2008 of 10/09/2008 governing Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This new law and other subsequent laws were a result of extensive consultation, but are not perfect in the eyes of either Government or civil society. Moreover, the impact of these new laws on civil society in Rwanda depends on sound implementation. There has been concern that the implementation of new laws has not been in keeping with the progressive nature of such legislation. Notably, CSOs are often required to produce extensive documentation to obtain legal status, though the law sets out a limited number of requirements. Still, the NGO Law of 2008, in particular, represents a departure from the recent trend in much of Africa to legally restrict CSOs and their activities.
|Organizational Forms||National and International NGOs|
|Registration Body||Local authority and Rwanda Governance Board (RGB). The RGB was formed from merging the Rwanda Governance Advisory Council (RGAC) and the National Decentralization Implementation Secretariat (NDIS). It is a public agency with legal personality and administrative and financial autonomy, and is established by Law No. 41/2011 of 30/09/2011 and managed in accordance with Organic Law No. 06/2009 of 21/12/ 2009.|
|Approximate Number||Lack of clarity about estimated number of informal groups and registered NPOs (previous estimates, which cannot beconfirmed, were 37,000 informal groups and 319 registered NPOs.) The full list of NPOs with legal personality and temporary certificates can be found on RGB website at www.rgb.gov.rw|
|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.|
|Barriers to Assembly||30 days advance notification requirement; excessive criminal and financial penalties for violations, especially for assemblies held on public roadways.|
|Population||11,689,696 (July 2012)|
|Type of Government||Republic; presidential, multiparty system|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||59.67 years (2015)|
|Literacy Rate||71.1% (2010)|
|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||$1686 (2014 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009; and Rwanda Demographic Profile.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||151 (2014)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||61.1 (2014)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||17.2 (2014)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||55 (2014)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6 (2015)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
||37 (2015)||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||1989|
|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|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)||Yes||2015|
|Convention against Torture (CAT)||Yes||2008|
|African Charter on Human Rights and People's Rights||Yes||2003|
|Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region||Yes||2006|
* 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.
The Constitution has been amended four times: N° 1 of 02/12/2003 (O.G n° Special of 02/12/2003); N° 2 of 08/12/2005 (O.G n° Special of 08/12/2005); N° 3 of 13/3/2008 ( OG n° Special of 13/8/2009); and N° 4 of 17/06/2010 (O.G. n° special of 17/06/2010).
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.
- Ministerial order Nº 001/07.01 OF 14/01/2013 Determining Additional Requirements for the Registration of Religious-based Organizations.
- Organic Law N° 10/2013/0L of 11/07/2013 Governing Political Organizations and Politicians.
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 (INGO) Law, which is being 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. However, 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, the placement of the 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. The 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 which are comprised of natural persons or of autonomous collective voluntary organizations whose aim is to improve economic, social and cultural development and to advocate for public interests of a certain group, natural persons, organizations or with the view of promoting common interest of their members.
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 current law, NGO registration suffers from excessive bureaucratic requirements, and obtaining legal personality is not automatic.
Article 17 of Law 04/2012 stipulates that a temporary certificate of registration is issued to national NGOs and is valid for a period of twelve months. A national NGO shall then apply for legal personality nine months after the issue of the first temporary certificate. According to implementing rules promulgated by the Rwanda Governance Board, the requirements for National NGOs to obtain legal personality are the following:
1.Application Letter Addressed to the CEO of Rwanda Governance Board;
2.Authenticated statutes in conformity with the Law 04/2012;
3.Document showing the organization’s head office and its full address;
4.The name of the Legal Representative of the organization, the name of his/her deputy, their duties, full address CV and their judicial records;
5.The minutes of the general assembly which appointed the Legal Representative of the organization and the signatures of all the members that attended such general assembly meeting;
6.Action plan for the fiscal year;
7 Original District Collaboration letter.
International NGOs are also required to submit a long list of documentation and information, including the implementation schedule and its various stages of planning, detailed cost 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 by CSOs. 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 enshrined 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.
Barriers to AssemblyArticle 36 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of assembly as follows:
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.
Article 684 of the Organic Law Instituting the Penal Code defines an assembly as “a group of people gathered in a public place with intent to demonstrate their opinion or point of view by means of a number of actions or shouting. A public gathering means a meeting open for the public or in which the public is invited.”
The Law on Public Demonstrations of and Public Gatherings (hereafter “the Law”) of August 5, 1991, provides the framework for assembly.
Article 5 of the Law requires a notification of 30 days in advance of an assembly. The authorities must respond at least 6 days before the assembly. There is no exception made for spontaneous demonstrations. And there is no specific provision to address counter-demonstrations.
Article 17 of the Organic Law Modifying and Complementing Organic Law Governing Political Organizations and Politicians (2007) requires “any political organization intending to organize a public rally of its members” to provide “prior written notification through regular mail to administrative authorities with acknowledgement of receipt.” Political organizations seeking to organize a demonstration must “apply for authorization thereof to administrative authorities through regular mail with acknowledgement of receipt.”
Article 17 also states that "Any leader in a competent public entity who grants authorization to hold rallies, demonstrations, peaceful protest or support marches, or use of mobile or static loudspeakers that may disrupt public order and security of the population, especially that of nearby residents, shall send a copy of the authorization to the police authorities within the territorial jurisdiction of the place of issuance of the authorization at least within a period of twenty-four (24) hours before the implementation of the authorization."
A "Political Organization" is not defined in the Organic Law Modifying and Complementing Organic Law Governing Political Organizations and Politicians.
Responsibilities of Organizers
Organizers are required to “keep the peace.”
In addition, for political organizations, the organizers “shall help public authorities to maintain law and order” and “shall amicably compensate for any action and behavior of their political organizations members that threaten the security of the people and their property or otherwise, the courts of law shall intervene (Article 5).”
The Penal Code provides for fines and imprisonment in the case of certain violations. Specifically, Article 685 of the Penal Code states that:
Any person who holds a public meeting or demonstration on public roadways without notifying the competent authority shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of eight (8) days but less than six (6) months and a fine of one hundred thousand (100,000) to one million (1,000,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties.
If a person holds a public meeting or demonstration on public roadways despite refusal by a competent authority, that person shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of six (6) months to one (1) year and a fine of two hundred thousand (200,000) to three million (3,000,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties.
If a person holds a public meeting or demonstration on public roadways without notifying the competent authority and impairs security, order or public health, that person shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of six (6) months to two (2) years and a fine of two million (2,000,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties.
If a person holds a public meeting or demonstration on public roadways after refusal by a competent authority and impairs security, order or public health, that person shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one (1) year to three (3) years and a fine of two million (2,000,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs.
For more information on restrictions on the freedom of assembly in Rwanda, please see "Mission to Rwanda: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association" from 16 September 2014 in the "Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs" section below.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||
|U.S. State Department|
|Fragile States Index Report|
|Human Rights Watch||World Report: Rwanda 2015|
|IMF Country Reports|
|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.
U.S. Reiterates Criticism of Kagame Bid to Extend Presidency (January 2016)
The U.S. reiterated its criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame's plan to extend his 15-year rule in elections, while saying it will continue to deepen commercial ties with the East African nation. "We believe that respecting established term limits can strengthen democratic institutions and help build a vibrant and free society," U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in a statement issued during a visit to Rwanda. Pritzker met Kagame to discuss opportunities presented by the integration of the five-nation East African Community.
Cabinet asks President Kagame to call a referendum on Constitution (November 2015)
Members of the Cabinet yesterday asked President Paul Kagame to call a referendum for Rwandans to approve the recently revised Constitution of the country. The decision was reached during an Extraordinary Cabinet Meeting chaired by Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi, which was held at Village Urugwiro.
Rwandan Senate votes to allow third term for Kagame (November 2015)
Rwanda's upper house of parliament has unanimously approved a constitutional amendment to allow President Paul Kagame to seek a third term. The vote by the Senate clears the path for a referendum that is not expected to face much opposition. Earlier this year, more than 60 percent of voters signed a petition calling for constitutional changes to be drafted that would allow Kagame to stand again.
Parliament passes new constitutional amendments (October 2015)
The Lower House of Parliament unanimously voted to reduce presidential term limits from seven to five years renewable once. The change will be preceded by one transitional presidential term of seven years for which any presidential candidates including President Paul Kagame, should he choose to run, will be eligible.
New Project to Strengthen Role of Civil Society (September 2015)
A project aimed at strengthening the role of civil society organisations in monitoring and accountability in service delivery in different communities has been launched. The project, named "Efficiency, Accountability and Service Delivery (EASD-R)", was announced during a meeting that brought together the Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP) and development partners. The four-year project is expected to empower communities to voice their concerns.
Rwandan Opposition Party Seeks to Block Third Term (June 2015)
Rwanda's Green Party, the country's tiny but main opposition, said it was challenging moves to change the constitution to allow President Paul Kagame to stand for a third consecutive term in elections in 2017.
Civil Society Organizations are Agents of Change (December 2014)
The Rwanda governance Board (RGB), in collaboration with One UN, awarded grants to eight local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on Thursday December 11, 2014, under the joint program of ῞Strengthening Civil Society Organizations for responsive and accountable governance in Rwanda." Each organization received an amount of US$30,000, and the funds will enable them to implement their different projects contributing to efforts of strengthening responsive and accountable governance in Rwanda. Speaking at the ceremony, the One UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Lamin Manneh reiterated his institution’s commitment to support CSOs aimed at building sustainable development. “We know that any society can’t develop without the role of civil society. We are strongly committed to make this programme as successful as possible by supporting grantees to use the received funds to improve the living conditions of the people of Rwanda,” said Mr Manneh.
Ntaganda Released from Mpanga prison (June 2014)
Bernard Ntaganda was released from Mpanga prison in Nyanza after serving a four-year sentence after he had been found guilty of endangering national security, divisionism, inciting ethnic divisions and attempting to organize demonstrations without official authorization. The director of Mpanga prison, Alexis Sano, refuted claims that Ntaganda was mistreated while in prison and added that he wasn’t denied any of his rights. Ntaganda has vowed to continue with politics.
USAID on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in Rwanda (June 2014)
UN Special Rapporteur commends Rwandan Government (January 2014)
Rwandan opposition figure Ingabire sentenced to 15 years in jail (November 2013)
Rwanda genocide survivors protest acquittal of suspects (February 2013)
Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire jailed (October 2012)
EU partially freezes aid to Rwanda (September 2012)
International NGO license increased to five years (September 2012)
Civil society should influence policy – RGB (May 2012)
Opposition leader’s sentence upheld (April 2012)
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)
Human rights in Rwanda
(excerpt: "Rwanda has made important economic and development gains, but the government has continued to impose tight restrictions on freedom of expression and association. Opposition parties are unable to operate. Victoire Ingabire, president of the FDU-Inkingi, and Bernard Ntaganda, president of the PS-Imberakuri, are both serving prison sentences; several other opposition party members are also in prison in connection with their political activities or criticism of government policies. Rwanda also adopted a new media law that contains some positive elements, but has not had much impact in practice. Persistent threats against as well as prosecutions of journalists have all but destroyed independent journalism.")
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Rwanda.