Le Ministère Public v. Uwimana Nkusi

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    April 4, 2012
  • Outcome
    Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part
  • Case Number
    RPA 0061/11/CS
  • Region & Country
    Rwanda, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security, Other (see tags), Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Criminal Defamation, Journalism, Public Officials, Freedom of press

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In 2010, Uwimana-Nkusi and Mukakibibi, journalists for Rwanda’s independent Kinyarwanda-langugahe newspaper, Umurabyo, published articles that were critical of the Rwandan government’s agricultural policies, its handling of corruption in the country, and human rights violations. The government subsequently arrested them for the publications. The Rwandan High Court charged and convicted Uwimana-Nkusi with genocide minimization, defamation of the President, endangering national security, and divisionism. Mukakibibi was charged and convicted for threatening national security on the basis of one article published in Umurabyo. Uwimana-Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years in prison and Mukakibibi received a seven year sentence.  In 2012, the Supreme Court of Rwanda acquitted Uwimana-Nkusi of genocide miminization and divisionism for lack of sufficient evidence of her intent to minimize or deny the genocide. The Court, however, upheld her convictions of defamation and endangering national security. It also reduced Mukakibibi’s sentence for threatening national security from severn to three years.

Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official records of this case and that information contained in this report was was derived from secondary sources. Global Freedom of Expression notes that secondary materials may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this  legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.”


Facts

Uwimana-Nkusi and Mukakibibi were journalists for the biweekly newspaper Umurabyo, a Kinyarwanda-language publication with a small circulation of approximately 100-150 copies per issue. [1]  In 2010, they published a number of articles raising questions about the government’s agricultural policies, its approach to corruption by government officials, and human rights violations in country. [2]

In July 2010, the government arrested both journalists and the High Court of Kigali charged and convicted Uwimana-Nkusi for four separate criminal offenses of threatening national security, genocide minimization, defamation of the President, and divisionism. [3] The court also charged and convicted Mukakibibi convicted for threatening national security on the basis of her article published in Umurabyo, but acquitted her of the divisionism charge. [4]

The government argued that Uwimana-Nkusi threatened national security by inciting the public to resist the government’s certain programs, including agricultural regulations. [5] The government also accused her of spreading hatred towards authorities by publishing a piece in which she reported on instances of discrimination in the job market. [6]

The charge and conviction for genocide minimization was related to an article published by Uwimana-Nkusi that described the divisions between ethnic groups in Rwandan society. [7] She discussed the issues of  “ethnicism” and “regionalism” and wrote that “Rwandans lived for a long time with this hatred until they ended up killing each other…” At issue was the “killing each other” wording that was considered by the court to minimize the genocide of 1994. [5] In her defense, she argued that the prosecution did not take into account the full context of her article. [8]  According to her, she had no intention of minimizing the genocide and argued that her article intended to show that when Tutsis were attacked, they fought back to defend themselves, “leading to both sides engaging in fighting and killing.” [9] The High Court disagreed. From the court’s point of view, her claim that the hatred between Rwandans led to the mass killings reflected the view that it was hatred, as opposed to the intentional extermination of Tutsis. As such, the court ruled that Uwimana-Nkusi intentionally minimized the genocide. [10]

The defamation offense against Uwimana-Nkusi was related to her article with a picture of Rwandan President bearing Nazi symbols, reporting that he protected a high-ranking army official from day to day scandal and participated with that official in stealing money from taxi drivers. [11]

The High Court of Kigali convicted Uwimana-Nkusi to 10 years imprisonment and a fine for the genocide minimization charge. [12] She further received a five-year prison sentence for threatening national security, a one-year sentence and a fine for divisionism, and a one-year sentence for defaming the President. [13] In total, she was sentenced to 17 years of imprisonment, to be served consecutively. The High Court also sentenced Mukakibibi to seven years of imprisonment for having threatened national security. [14]

In 2012, the journalists appeals their convictions to the Supreme Court of Rwanda.

[1] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 199 (2014).

[2] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 199 (2014).

[3] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 200 (2014).

[4] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 200 (2014).

[5] Amicus Brief of Article 19 in the case of Mrs. Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, at 4 (October 2011).

[6] Amicus Brief of Article 19 in the case of Mrs. Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, at 4 (October 2011).

[7] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 200 (2014).

[8] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 200 (2014).

[9] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 200 (2014).

[10] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 201 (2014).

[11] Amicus Brief of Article 19 in the case of Mrs. Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, at 4 (October 2011).

[12] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 201 (2014).

[13] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 201 (2014).

[14] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 201 (2014).


Decision Overview

As to Uwimana-Nkusi’s conviction of minimizing genocide, the Supreme Court noted that Article 4 of the 2003 Law prohibiting genocide denial did not clearly define exactly what constitutes  genocide minimization but did provide that the public denial of genocide through speech, writing, image or photo or any other method be punished. [1] In dissecting the concept, the Court, based on the history of the law project on criminalization of genocide ideology quoted:

“The minimisation of genocide is any behaviour exhibited publicly and intentionally in order to reduce the weight or consequences of the genocide against Tutsis, minimise how the genocide was committed, alter the truth about the genocide against the Tutsis in order to hide the truth from the people; asserting that there were two genocides in Rwanda: one committed against the Tutsis and the other against Hutus.” [2]

The Court then referred to examples of  genocide denial in the context of the Holocaust, in which the assertion of “mutual killings” was considered an act of denying genocide. [3] Accordingly, the Court held that the prosecution had been right to rely on such examples when bringing the charge against Uwimana-Nkusi. [4] It also agreed with the government’s opinion that presenting the genocide against Tutsis as an act of “gutemagurana” (implying reciprocity in Kinyarwanda language) between Rwandans is an act of genocide minimization, because the word tends to minimize the intentional acts of the government in 1994 to definitively exterminate Tutsis in Rwanda. [4]

However, the Court noted that in order to be convicted of genocide minimization or denial, there must be sufficient evidence proving that the accused committed the crime with the intent “to say that the genocide committed against Tutsis has not occurred, that there were no acts to exterminate the Tutsis, that rather Rwandans of all ethnicities were killing each other with each ethnic group having the intention of eliminating the other.” [5]  Upon analyzing the articles published by Uwimana-Nkusi, the Supreme Court concluded that she did not have the necessary intent as she specifically referred to the killing of Tutsis intended by the regime. [6]

Accordingly, the Court acquitted Uwimana-Nkusi on charges of genocide minimization and divisionism, and reduced her sentence for threatening national security from five to three years. [7] The Court, however, upheld her conviction for defaming the President and endangering national security. It further reduced Mukakibibi’s sentence from seven to three years.

[1] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

[2] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

[3] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

[4] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

[5] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

[6] Yakaré-Oulé Jansen, Denying Genocide or Denying Free Speech? A Case Study of the Application of Rwanda’s Genocide Denial Laws, 12 NW. J. Int’l. Human Rights L. 191, 203 (2014).

 

 


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This case, decided by the Supreme Court of Rwanda, significantly contracts freedom of expression. The defendants in this case were journalists with the right to freely criticize and comment on the Rwandan government’s policies without fear of criminal sanction based on vague and over broad legislations that limit legitimate criticism in the name of “national security.”   While the Court acknowledged the unclear definition of genocide minimization, it failed to clarify the law’s meaning as to what may constitute genocide minimization or denial.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Rwanda, Penal Code, art. 166

    Criminal provision on threatening national security.

  • Rwanda, Law No. 33bis/2003, art. 4

    Law on “Repressing the Crime of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes
    Genocide Minimization.”

  • Rwanda, Law No. 47/2001, art. 1

    Criminal provision on offenses of discrimination and sectarianism.

  • Rwanda, Penal Code, art. 391

    Law on defamation of president.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

Amicus Briefs and Other Legal Authorities


Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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