Written by Tom Mulisa, Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD), Rwanda
We have worked on topics which have been seen as controversial, such as advocacy for unsafe abortion, support for sex workers and representing sexual minorities. This has received opposition from the church, some members of civil society, and also individuals who are less understanding of the potentially negative implications of such laws like the criminalization of abortion.
We submitted the report to the minister of Justice to discuss why decriminalization was important as part of Rwanda ‘s constitution. We presented the issue and explained that it is not the result of Western influences, even explaining that someone who had never even taken a bus to a big city can be LGBTI. We prepared draft reports for the Geneva and African commissions with our findings so that they can be discussed by government institutions.
The Penal code provisions criminalizing LGBTI were removed. The penal code provisions seeking women to have a court order to get an abortion have been removed. Female sex workers are now not criminalized, but their clients are. Rwanda has accepted to implement all recommendations from the CEDAW committee and have put in place commission to ensure implementation.
Dialogue with the government is important, and especially using language that the government understands. Individuals in governments are opposed to issues when they have no facts and understanding of issues. Once you design your campaign in line with national agenda and not just the international human rights agenda you will have more success.
Tom Mulisa is the Executive Director of Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD). Tom is also a lecturer of International Human Rights law and Constitutional law at the University of Rwanda. Throughout his career, Tom has been involved in preparing and presenting shadow reports to human rights bodies and has been active in the decriminalizing of laws affecting the LGBTI community, sex workers and abortion.