Three more terms or 17 more years in office for Paul Kagame?

Press release
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(Paris) FIDH and the organisations of the #MyVoteMustCount coalition are alarmed by the parliament of Rwanda’s adoption on Thursday 29 October, of a proposed revision of the 2003 Constitution that would allow the incumbent president Paul Kagame to run for a third term in 2017. The proposed revision, which must be submitted to the Senate for a vote and a referendum before being adopted, would allow Paul Kagame to add to his first two terms of office, one seven-year term and two five-years terms of office. This would amount to 31 years of uninterrupted rule. Our organisations call upon the international community to react as quickly as possible to strongly condemn this attempt to subvert the rules of democracy.

« After the constitutional takeovers in Burundi and the Republic of the Congo, the question of respect for the principles of democracy and political changeovers has now arisen in Rwanda. The international community must denounce the situation and take firm, tangible steps against the Head of State who is trying to stay in power indefinitely. »

Our organisations

Article 101, which had been revised by Rwandan parliament, stipulates that the President of the Republic "is elected for a term of seven years, renewable only once”, while the present Constitution provides for two 7-year terms. Article 172 expands on this by holding out the possibility that Paul Kagame, or any other elected candidate, could seek a 7-year term, before being elected, or re-elected for the two 5-year terms stipulated in Article 101. In 2017, Paul Kagame could therefore be president of Rwanda for another 17 years. The revised constitution still needs to be approved by the Senate and then voted in through a referendum, but this does not seem to be a problem for the current authorities, as shown in the process underlying this project.

According to Paul Kagame, the Constitution revision process was started through a popular movement calling for him to stay in power. Petitions calling for Kagame to remain in power apparently were signed by more than 3.7 million Rwandans, in other words, over half of the electorate. However, according to some sources, the movement is questionable, since it was largely orchestrated by the FPR (Front patriotique rwandais) – that has been ruling the country since 1994, and whose members are at the head of nearly every public and private administrative institution and service – and especially the executive, to make it seem legitimate in the eyes of the public.

This constitutional reform, initiated by a movement that claims to represent the people, seems all the more questionable since it is happening in the tense political climate of Rwanda where opposing parties have been largely reduced to silence and independent or dissenting voices are stifled. Pressure has been exerted on journalists and on independent civil society organisations such as LIPOHDHOR and LGDL and also on artists such as Kizito Mihigo. Attempts have been made to control them, and even to have them convicted by the courts. These attempts have been denounced by the United Nations mechanisms in charge of human rights and freedom of assembly, the African Union and by international organisations that defend human and journalists’ rights. Recently, seven members of the LDGL steering committee (Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la région des Grands Lacs) were arrested at a meeting held on 13 October 2015 in the LDGL office in Kabezn, Kicukiro district in the city of Kigali.

« President Kagame’s plan for his custom-made constitution to let him stay in power another 17 years, while restrictions of freedoms remain widespread, suggests that Rwanda under Kagame is gradually slipping into dictatorship”. »

Our organisations
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