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Rwanda’s Legal System and Legal Materials


by Eunice Musiime


Eunice Musiime is currently the Head of Policy, Advocacy and Member’s Affairs at Uganda Law Society. She has undertaken research and published in the areas of Trade, Intellectual Property Rights, Good Governance and Human Rights. She holds a Masters degree from the University of Birmingham United Kingdom in International Public Administration, and a Bachelor of Law degree from Dar Es Salaam University, Tanzania.


Published April 2007


Table of Contents


Structure of the Government

The Legislature

The Executive

The Judiciary

Applicable Law

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs

Source of Legislation

Legal Education in Rwanda


Online Legal Resources



Rwanda is officially known as the Republic of Rwanda, found in East Central Africa. It borders Democratic Republic of Congo in the West, Uganda in the North, Tanzania in the East, and Burundi in the South. Kigali is the capital and the largest town. Rwanda, like most African states, did not escape the wave of colonization, and it gained independence from Belgium as an administered UN trusteeship on 1 July 1962.

Structure of the Government

The chief of state is President Paul Kagame, who has held power since 22 April 2000. The head of the government is the Prime Minister Bernard Makuza. The Cabinet is made up of the Council of Ministers appointed by the President. As regards the elections, the President is elected by popular vote for a seven year term, eligible for a second term and the elections were last held in 25 August 2003.


The branches of government are the following:

The Legislature

With the promulgation of the Rwandan Constitution, legislative power was vested in an independent bicameral parliament composed of a chamber of deputies, whose members have the title of Deputies, and a senate, whose members have the title of Senators. The Senate has 26 seats of which 12 members are elected by local councils, 8 appointed by the president, 4 by a political organizations forum, and 2 represent institutions of higher learning, to serve eight year terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 80 seats, 53 members elected by popular vote, 24 women elected by local bodies, 3 selected by youth and disability organizations, to serve five year terms.


Parliament deliberates on and passes laws. It legislates and oversees executive action in accordance with the procedure determined by the Constitution.

The Executive

It comprises the Prime Minister, Ministers, Ministers of State and other members who may be determined, if necessary, by the President of the Republic.

The Judiciary

The judicial branch hierarchy is as follows: the Supreme Court, high courts of the Republic, provincial courts, districts courts, and mediation committees. The new Constitution in Rwanda also ushered in reforms in the judiciary such as new legislation, establishing new courts, procedures, structures, standards including academic and professional qualifications as well as regulatory and administrative frameworks. At this point it is also important to note that after the genocide Rwanda faced a very special situation and needed special interventions to try genocide perpetrators. One of the innovations was the establishment of Gacaca Courts to try genocide cases. Gacaaca Courts exact different penalties including compensation, but most importantly emphasize two aspects of confession and forgiveness as a way to heal the wounds.


The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The decisions of the Supreme Court are not be subject to appeal save in terms of petitions for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy or revision of a judicial decision. Its decisions are binding on all parties concerned whether such are organs of the State, public officials, civilians, military, judicial officers or private individuals.


One can access Rwandan judgments and laws on the website of the Supreme Court of Rwanda.  If one clicks on Jurisprudence for cases and texts des lois for laws. The Judgments are in Kinyarwanda and the website is in Kinyarwanda and French - the English parts are under construction.


The High Court

The High Court has jurisdiction to try in the first instance certain serious offences committed in Rwanda as well as some offences committed outside Rwanda as specified by the law.


The Provincial Court and Court of the City of Kigali

There are established Provincial Court in each Province of the country and a Court of the City of Kigali.


The District, Municipality and Town Court

There are established District, Town and Municipality Court respectively in each District, Town and Municipality in the country.


Specialized Courts

These include the Gacaca Courts responsible for the trial and judgment of cases against persons accused of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity which were committed between October 1st 1990 and December 31st 1994 with the exception of cases jurisdiction in respect of which is vested in other courts.


Military Courts

Military courts comprise of the Military Tribunal and the Military High Court.  The Military Court tries in the first instance all offences committed by military personnel irrespective of their rank. The Military High Court shall try in the first instance, all offences which constitute a threat to national security and murder committed by soldiers irrespective of rank. The Military High Court is an appellate court in respect of decisions rendered by the Military Tribunal.


Rwandan cases are found in court records, there are no publications where they can be found, mainly because the legal system is based on the French civil law system, not the common law that relies on decided cases/precedence.

Applicable Law

During colonialism all legislation governing the country was made by Belgian authorities and the mainstay of criminal and civil legislation was the civil and criminal codes of the then Belgian Congo. Though criminal law had universal application, written civil laws was applied only to whites. Customary law continued to apply to the natives. Hence the current Rwanda Civil Law Legal system is based on German and Belgian civil law systems and customary law.


The Constitution is the Supreme law in Rwanda and any law or custom in conflict with it is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency. Rwanda adopted a new Constitution on 26th May 2003.  


A number of laws have been revised since Rwanda embarked on legal reform process after the 1994 Genocide and these include, Law modifying and complementing of relating to the code of criminal procedure, organic law determining the organization, powers and functioning of the superior council of the judiciary, law modifying and complementing the law on the statues for judges and other judicial personnel, organic law modifying and complementing the organic law determining the organization, functioning and jurisdiction of the courts and law establishing the organization, functioning and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. However, the reform of commercial laws is still on-going.


It is important to note that Rwanda is a civil law legal system now undergoing a transformation from purely civil law to a merge between civil law and common law. The evolutionary process has led to the reform of several laws such as the penal code, and the law of evidence among others.

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs

The ministry of JUSTICE (MINIJUST) bears the political responsibility of ensuring that the Government’s programs in the Justice Sector are successful and ensure close coordination among the various sub sectors. The institutions in the sector, though linked by the mission of Justice Delivery, are created by the constitution and are independently responsible for executing their programs, each of which forms an integral part of the common Justice Vision of the Country.

Source of Legislation

For a publication of legal texts, Presidential Orders, Prime Minister's Orders, Ministerial Orders and official rules and regulations, the source is the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda. It also publishes statutes of commercial companies, cooperatives, non-profit making organizations and others to allow them to operate legally. The Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda is a bi-monthly coming out on 1st and 15th of each month.


The Codes and Laws of Rwanda found at the Ministry of Justice are:

Legal Education in Rwanda

In order to study law in Rwanda one requires having completed Advanced Level of Education and passed highly. The Law degree is a four year course taught at the National University of Rwanda. The subjects include criminal law, civil law, constitutional law, comparative law, administrative law, public international law, commercial law, international humanitarian law, environmental law, intellectual property rights and international development law. In order to practice a lawyer is required to work under supervision of a senior lawyer for two years, and thereafter apply to be admitted to the bar. The Bar Association in Rwanda is known as the Kigali Bar Association.



Law reference books can be found in any University Libraries, and the Ministry of Justice is planning to establish a new electronic library.

Online Legal Resources

The index has been created by The Norwegian Council for Africa, as part of its comprehensive effort to strengthen the knowledge of Africa and African affairs. The projects has been developed in cooperation with the information company Gazette, and wit h financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This website includes pictures of Rwanda, the country and the people, their daily life activities, and festivals.

Includes the 1991 constitution.

This website is designed to assist the Government of Rwanda and its Development Partners implement the aid coordination, harmonization, and alignment framework through informational exchange and dissemination.

The GHIE, a no-fee resource accessible via email, telnet, gopher, and the WWW, is catalyzing the sharing of site reports, fact sheets, activity summaries, data sets, scientific papers and analyses. Field operations guides, disaster histories, and activity summaries are being added. Through an exciting tool called Interactive Data Rendering, GHIE users can select data to create application.

Recognizing that serious violations of humanitarian law were committed in Rwanda, and acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) by resolution 955 of 8 November 1994.

Official website for the Government of Rwanda, with latest news, and various ministries.

Rwanda-Online provides news, information and links for everybody who's interested in the country, its people and others.

Various resources on Rwandan government offices, political parties, tourism, human rights, etc.

Reports on human rights situation in Rwanda since 1997

Annotated lists of resources for human rights situations in Rwanda.

Reports by Human Rights Watch on Rwanda, 1991 - Present

Historical chronology of main events in Rwandan History, 1918-1999

Links prepared by the US Library of Congress on legal sources, and general sources on Rwanda.

Comprehensive links to sources of information about Rwanda covering: govenment, media, human rights, environment, etc.

General resources about Rwanda, its culture and environment.