(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Homosexuality is not de jure illegal in Rwanda, however it is treated as though it were. Police can justify arrests of presumed homosexuals under laws that protect public morals under the current Penal Code (unofficial translation):
Section 4: Public Outrage of Morality
Article 377: Anyone who has publicly outraged morals by acts which hurt public decency, will be punished to eight days to three years imprisonment and a fine of 1,000-10,000 francs, or just one or the other.
The Rwandan government proposed an amendment to the current penal code in December 2009 that would explicitly criminalize homosexuality in Articles 217 and 191:
Article 217: ‘[A]ny person who practices, encourages or sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual relation or any sexual practice (IGLHRC).’
Article 191: Would criminalize persons who ‘encourage or sensitize people to same-sex sexual relations or practice (IGLHRC Shadow Report).’
After intervention by gay activists, the Rwandan government denied that they were planning on revising criminalizing homosexuality because it was a ‘private matter,’ and the amendment to Article 217 was not implemented (I have found no reports on whether or not the amendment to Article 191 was rejected or put on hold).
Any attempt to criminalize homosexuality is in direct violation of the Rwandan Constitution:
Article 16: All human beings are equal before the law. They shall enjoy, without any discrimination, equal protection of the law.
Article 22(1): All human beings are equal before the law. They shall enjoy, without any discrimination, equal protection of the law.
While there are still questions about whether or not public decency laws can be used in Rwanda to detain homosexuals, the government made a large step in the right direction in 2011 when it was one of only 5 African countries that signed the UN Joint Statement entitled ‘Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based On Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.’
No published cases have been found. We would be grateful if users of this website are able to refer us to any that they know of which involve LGBTI cases from Rwanda.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE'S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
The topic of homosexuality is considered taboo in Rwanda. The LGBTI community is marginalized and stigmatized due to sexual orientation. To avoid physical and verbal abuse and harassment, LGBTI people must keep their sexuality and gender identity a secret. According to a report compiled by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, ‘Rwanda: information sur la situation des hommes gais en 2007,’ members of the LGBTI community are often arbitrarily imprisoned or mistreated. The police confiscated and destroyed the identity card of one of the members of the LGBTI organization Horizon Community Association of Rwanda (HOCA), and he was unable to replace it.
LGBT Asylum News reports that arbitrary arrests of LGBTI citizens and gay activists have been increasing. In the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s (IGLHRC) 2009 Shadow Report, there were reports that in October 2007, Kigali police arbitrarily arrested a member of the LGBTI organization HOCA, for being homosexual, despite the fact that homosexuality is not criminalized in Rwanda. Another member of HOCA was also arrested by Kigali police and detained for three months on nonexistent charges of homosexuality. His name, address, and picture were broadcast on TV, in newspapers and over the radio. Police arrested individuals for allegedly being homosexual and detained them for between several days to three months without access to counsel or court. In 2007 a radio show host publicly named three gay activists and told his listeners to find and burn gay activists. Such threats to those who support gay rights has resulted in the few LGBTI organizations that do exists having to carry out their activities in private for fear of abuse and harassment. While the amendment for Article 217 of the penal code was rejected, if the amendments for Article 191 were to be approved, the members of such organizations who aim to support the LGBTI community would be at an even higher risk of abuse because they would be considered as ‘encouraging’ or ‘sensitizing’ people to same-sex relations or practice and could face imprisonment of between five and ten years.
In 2005, Globalgayz interviewed a 28 year-old homosexual Rwandan man about the situation for the LGBTI community in Rwanda. He reported that there is no freedom of expression for homosexuals in Rwanda and all homosexual activity must be kept underground. The interviewee states that while gay men are able to find sexual partners discreetly, often in return for money from foreigners, there is no evidence of lesbian women being able to have any kind of public relationship. In an attempt to catch men committing homosexual acts, there are ‘gay spies’ who are given money to trap homosexuals. However, there is such a need for money that many of the ‘spies’ use the money to buy things for themselves instead of buying sex from other men. For while homosexuality is technically legal, he states that all gay men know that they will be persecuted if they were to be open about their sexual orientation and it carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Before the war Rwanda had few outside influences or ideas, but the increased movement of people after the war, the interviewee believes, introduced homosexuality into Rwandan society. The interviewee claims that before the war homosexuality was not an issue. Homosexuality is considered to be a foreign evil that is perverting traditional and cultural beliefs. This is propagated by traditional storytelling, which is a powerful tool in preaching against homosexuality, since the tales that include homosexuality always confirm that it is a foreign idea and wrong. Religion also plays a large part in the anti-gay movement. On February 24, 2007, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda called homosexuality ‘moral genocide.’
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
We are not currently aware of any organisations working with LGBTI persons in Rwanda, but welcome suggestions.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
No country of origin specialists have been found that specifically deal with LGBTI rights in Rwanda. We would be grateful if users of this website are able to refer us to anyone they know of with expertise in this area.
Researched by: Rhiannon Archer