WGNRR Urges Rwandan Government to Comply with the Maputo Protocol and to Remove Legal Barriers to Advance SRHR and Justice in the Country

June 1st, 2012



President of the Republic of Rwanda


His Excellency,


The Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) is a southern-based global network that builds and strengthens movements to realise the full sexual and reproductive health and rights and justice of all people. Our work is grounded in the realities of those who most lack economic, social and political power.


WGNRR is pleased to know the step you are taking to uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights and justice in Rwanda. We applaud the recent approval by your cabinet of the draft Presidential Order lifting the reservation made by Rwanda to the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocolo).[1]


The draft penal code (Penal Code, Art.165)that was approved by the Rwandan chamber of Deputies allows access to abortion services on the grounds of rape, incest, forced marriage, abnormality of the unborn child and saving thewoman’s life, enables women to access health services without risking their lives or their physical and psychological integrity, as it is often the case where abortion is illegal and unsafe. This reform is in accordance with the international instruments that the Rwandese government has signed, ratified and therefore is accountable to. These agreements include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women and the Cairo and Beijing ICPD Declarations, that call for women and young women to have access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion services to assures the human rights to life, health, privacy, and non-discrimination, among others..


Notwithstanding this step forward, the Rwanda Penal Code (Art. 164 and 165) stipulates some requirements to access to abortion health services that would constitute huge obstacles for an effective fulfillment of their rights. In cases such as rape and incest, the draft establishes that woman should obtain a court order followed by approval from two doctors.


This type of conditions ignores women’s realities, particularly poor, rural, and young women, and women living with some disability. In cases of rape and incest women rarely report the abuse for different reasons: 1) their lives could be in danger or could receive retaliation, 2) social stigma and re-victimization, 3) interference of fundamentalist’ voices on their decision, 4) distrust of authorities, especially judicial authorities, 5) economic, social and cultural obstacles in the access to justice (physical access to courts, access to a lawyer, present evidence, fear, economic resources to pay legal costs, etc.) and 6) in case of young women, they might need the parental consent or legal representation to stand before any authorities and the court. In this sense, it will be almost impossible to have access to safe abortion health services.


 In addition, only doctors are allowed to perform safe abortions under the prescribed conditions. This obstacle also ignores that poor, rural, and young women and women living with some disability most of the time do not have access to health services provided by doctors, most of the time are nurses and midwifes who provide the services. In order to consider this situation the law should allow for mid-level providers such as nurses and midwives to provide these services as well.


As you can notice, the negative impact of those requirements will be received by poor, rural, young and women living with some disability, which would make the law discriminatory, according with the CEDAW and other human rights treaties.


The CEDAW Committee had recommended to State Parties to provide abortion services when the law allows or to review restricted law interpretations regarding abortion. The CEDAW Committee also had recommended removing all obstacles (in law or in facto) that do not allow access to health services, - including reproductive health- based on discriminatory reasons or clauses


According to this recommendation, WGNRR strongly urge you to remove the pre-conditions of the Penal Code before signing it into law to ensure that Rwanda is in compliance with the Protocol and encourage Rwanda Government


We believe it is time for a high state level commitment to reduce the incidence of illegal and unsafe abortions in Rwanda. And it is time for women to live a life without violence and non-discrimination. We are sure- as you have been clear about your administration’s intention to realise the full sexual and reproductive health and rights and justice of all Rwandese- you will take necessary measures to ensure fulfilment of those rights, providing access to safe abortion health services to all women without discrimination, in cases provided by the law, in accordance with the international treaties and human rights standards, as well Cairo and Beijing Conferences.







Kathy Mulville

Executive Director

Maputo Protocol, article 14.2 (c) requiring states to authorize abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health and life of the mother or the foetus.