Conscientious Objection to Military Service: Issues for the Country Report Task Forces - RWANDA

en

Submission to the 94th Session of the Human Rights Committee: October 2008

Rwanda
has never used conscription in order to recruit its national armed
forces, although at various times armed opposition groups which had
formerly been or were subsequently to form the government were
accused of widespread forced recruitment, including of children,
especially outside Rwandan territory.

National law makes no provision for conscientious objection, and
there are no reports that this issue has yet arisen with regard to
the national armed forces.

However
both conscription and conscientious objection have been reported in
recent years with regard to the Local Defence Forces or LDF.

These
armed militias have been set up with Government support in
communities around the country. The recruitment into these militias
began on a strictly local level, with no element of government
control. Although it was mainly voluntary, some local authorities
have reportedly resorted to conscription. Despite a minimum legal
recruitment age was of 18, there was reportedly widespread
recruitment of minors into the LDF - especially of street children
into LDF units sent to fight in the DRC. As recently as 2003 it was
reported that children as young as 14 were to be found in the ranks
of the LDF.1
Thereafter the government made efforts to regularise the status of
the LDF; culminating in Law No. 25/2004 of 19th November
2004, “Establishing and Determining the Organisation and
Functioning of the Local Service in Charge of Assisting in
Maintenance of Security Referred to as ‘Local Defence’”, which
inter alia set a minimum recruitment age of 18, since when no fresh
cases of juvenile recruitment have been reported.2

It has
not been reported that Law No. 25/2004 included provisions on
conscientious objection, but successive editions of the US State
Department’s Religious Freedom Report3
have documented numerous detentions and beatings of Jehovah’s
Witnesses for “disobeying government emergency security policy”;
their offence having been that they have refused on grounds of
conscience to take part in night-time security patrols. Such arrests
were reported in April and May 2002 in three provinces; none
apparently occurred in 2003, but then in 2004, at least 209 Jehovah’s
Witnesses were detained for between one day and one month “on
alleged security grounds”, including in six of the twelve provinces
for refusing to participate in security patrols.


In the year 2005, a total of 93 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned
for refusal to take part in night-time patrols. The majority were
released without trial, but eleven were eventually brought to court
and sentenced to between three and six months imprisonment, and a
twelfth was charged with “rebellion” for the same offence, and
also sentenced to six months imprisonment. Two others who had been
sentenced in the early part of the year to one year and eight months,
respectively, also on charges of rebellion for which the sole
evidence appeared to be the refusal to participate in security
patrols, had their convictions overturned on appeal.


Between February and May 2006, at a least a further forty-eight
Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned on the same grounds, a further 26
in the latter half of 2006, and 22 in the first half of 2007, for up
to two weeks. In at least one case senior officials from the
Ministry of the Interior intervened to secure the release of those
held.


It is not known how many persons other than Jehovah’s Witnesses
were detained on similar charges, and whether any others may also
have been acting from motives of conscience.


In some districts, the State Department reports from 2006 onward
note, local authorities agreed to make “alternative service” in,
for instance, community building projects available to Jehovah’s
Witnesses who objected to participating in armed patrols. Government
officials helped mediate similar solutions elsewhere, but of course
in the absence of legislation were unable to enforce appropriate
responses to cases of conscientious objection to military service.

CPTI
suggests that the State Party be asked what steps it is taking to
ensure that the right of conscientious objection to military service
is guaranteed, and in particular whether the 2004 Law regulating the
Local Defence Forces contains provisions to ensure that no
conscientious objectors are imprisoned or otherwise mistreated by
local authorities for their refusal to take part in night-time
security patrols.

18th August 2008

Notes


1
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers
Global Report 2004
, pp 90, 91.




2
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers
Global Report 2008
,
(http://www.childsoldiersglobalreport.org/content/rwanda)



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