Litigation

Rwanda Dismantles Human Rights Group

The Rwandan Government Dismantled One of the Country’s Last Remaining Human Rights Organizations—RFK Human Rights Took the Case Before the African Court

In Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, the government treats human rights organizations and dissenting voices as enemies of the state. Through the use of arbitrary arrests, threats, and endless interference, the Rwandan government systematically dismantled the operations of independent human rights organizations until very few remained. One of them: the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, or LIPRODHOR.

In 2013 LIPRODHOR was infiltrated, and its leadership was illegally ousted. The group’s president, Laurent Munyandilikirwa, along with the board of directors, woke up to find that a rogue minority of government sympathizers within the organization’s membership had convened a fake assembly purporting to vote them out of leadership. The removal took place because the board was too critical of the human rights violations committed or tolerated by the Rwandan government.

Following internal regulations and Rwandan law, Laurent and team formally filed a case through LIPRODHOR’s internal dispute resolution process to set things right. The ruling came down in their favor. Despite that, the Rwanda Governance Board—which regulates NGOs in the country—rubber-stamped the new illegitimate leaders with uncharacteristic swiftness and zero regard for LIPRODHOR’s bylaws or national law.

The Rwandan government then thwarted every attempt to mobilize a challenge to the decision: Multiple meetings of the legitimate board were raided by the Rwandan police, government-controlled media slandered LIPRODHOR’s legitimate leaders, labeling Laurent “an enemy of the state” and giving credence to the illegitimate rogue actors now at the helm, and the Rwandan courts allowed all of LIPRODHOR’s assets to be transferred to the new leaders and refused to consider whether the new leaders ever had the authority to fire Laurent and the independent board members.

Eventually, because of mounting death threats, Laurent was forced to flee the country, and the Rwandan courts have allowed the illegitimate government sympathizers to maintain control of LIPRODHOR’s assets and organization to this day.

Why is This a Key Case?

The precedent that a decision by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on this beachhead case sets will have a widespread impact on freedom of association and the ability of human rights groups and civil society to carry out their work free from government interference throughout Africa.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting Laurent?

Together with its co-counsel, the International Federation for Human Rights, RFK Human Rights has challenged the government of Rwanda’s human rights violations before the African Court. Despite similar silencing and systematic government interference in the work of human rights organizations across the continent, this is the first case of its type brought before the continent’s highest court.

What is the Status of the Case?

After withdrawing from all proceedings before the African Court in 2017, the Rwandan government has refused to participate, leaving only the current illegitimate leaders of LIPRODHOR who intervened as amicus curiae to challenge the case in court. The African Court sought final clarifications from the parties in September 2020, and the case is in its final stages, awaiting judgment.

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