Freedom of Expression and Respect for the Law

Published January 9, 2020

Dear Rwanda compatriots, the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

So, we should all understand that those Rwandans who want to exercise their freedom of expression and opinion, have every right to do so. In fact, Rwanda, our beloved country would benefit a lot from our ideas, if we did all exercise this right. We have the right to agree or disagree with other people’s opinions. We have the right to formulate and declare our own opinions. We have the right to communicate our opinions using any kind of media.

However, we should remember that each of us is not only called to comply with the law, but also to respect the law. What I mean goes beyond the adherence to the letter of the law. It’s not about merely not doing what is prohibited by the law. It’s about being conscientious of the Law, in what you say or do.

Compliance with the Law might be motivated by the fear to be punished. But, the Respect for the Law is often motivated by the understanding that our world would be a better place if the Rule of Law had prevailed. Regardless of their power, level of influence, or circumstances, those who respect the Law act affirmatively because they understand how their conduct impacts the behavior of other members of the society.

Now, back to the freedom of expression protected by the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), when I listen to the speeches of some Rwandans, including politicians, or when I read what some compatriots write on social media, I wonder if we are aware of the article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which stipulates that:

1. “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

2. “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

Yes, the laws of the land may not be clear or detailed. Yes, circumstances may push some of us to behave in a certain way. Yes, there are those who break the Law and get away with it. Yes, some of us wear masks before saying what they say or doing what they do. Yes, some of us don’t mean anything wrong. Yes, most of us don’t mean hatred, discrimination or any sort of violence, even though the words and actions may suggest the contrary.

But, don’t you think that if Rwandans had respected the Law or if anarchy had not been nurtured, maybe the tragedies our beloved Rwanda experienced would not have happened?

Just imagine, if all Rwandans had exercised their freedom of expression during the years that preceded the 1990 war and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi ? Maybe more voices could have called for love, unity and peace. Maybe, those whose rights were abused could have raised their voices without any fear that they would be silenced. Maybe more poets and prophets would have warned the nation without any fear that their lives would end like the life of the great Cyprian Rugamba with his songs that were not necessarily decoded by all.

No, don’t stop there! Continue to imagine.

Imagine if those who called other Rwandans ‘dehumanizing names’ were brought to books. Imagine if hate speech was prohibited and punished. Imagine if any call for violence and hostility was punished. Imagine if Interahamwe and other extremists had not managed to sing hatred as they planned for violence. Imagine if there had not been any war in Rwanda. Imagine if we had all respected the rights of each of us. Imagine if no human rights had been abused. Imagine if the lives of Rwandans had not been shattered. Imagine if Rwandans had not killed their compatriots in the daylight. Imagine if the genocide against the Tutsi had been prevented by stopping whoever incited others for hatred and violence. Just Imagine!

Then, imagine today and tomorrow. What are we doing better? By ‘we’, I mean ‘you and I’.

My compatriot, as the writer Sherrilyn Kenyon once said,

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Yes, you are free to express yourself. In fact, you have a mouth, a tongue, and the ability to speak, if not, a hand to write. But, please, stop spreading hatred. Stop insulting either leaders or followers. Stop calling bad names those you call ‘others’. Stop the defamation. Stop the verbal abuse. Stop calling people for violence or wars. Please stop.

Thanks for reading and being there for peace and love.

My name is Umwagarwa

To keep in touch with me:

Twitter: @happyumwagarwa
Facebook: A. Happy Umwagarwa

To watch a video on how some Rwandans abuse their freedom of expression, you may click on Hate Speech and Ethnicism on Social Media

To watch a video on the use of social media by some Rwandans, click on: Is Social Media Destroying Our Rwandan Society?

To subscribe to my Youtube Videos, go to A. Happy Umwagarwa YouTube Channel

If you like my ideas, you may read more from me on Umwagarwa’s Take

To read my poems, go to Umwagarwa’s poems

To read my short stories, go to Umwagarwa’s fiction short stories

Have you ordered a copy of HeartsAmongOurselves, my new novel set in in the post genocide Rwanda? I have posted below its trailer.

To read more and order your copy from Amazon, click here.

Those who are in Rwanda, I am pleased to inform you that the novel is now on Kigali bookshelves. Please get your copy from Librairie Caritas, in town (Tel. +250(0)788300787), and Arise Bookshop, on Kimironko road (Tel. +250(0)788354020)

Below is the trailer of Hearts Among Ourselves.