Gender and Land Rights Database

Rwanda

Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights

 

Article 201(3) of the Constitution, 2003 recognises unwritten customary law but only if 1. it has not been replaced by written laws; 2. is not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws; and 3.  does not violate human rights, prejudice public order or offend decency and morals. (7)

 

This leaves little room for customary practices. However, deep-rooted traditional patriarchal stereotypes regarding the role and responsibilities of men and women still persist in the country. 

 

According to Rwandan tradition, the man is the head of the household and as such he has control over all the family assets, including land and family property. However, the adoption of Law No. 22/1999 of 12/11/1999 on matrimonial regimes, liberalities and successions and the gradual dissemination of information on land rights through awareness-raising activities are reducing the influence of these customary norms (9).

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

 

Most land disputes are settled at the local level through customary institutions. 

 

The inama y’umuryango is usually the first institution that hears disputes over land. It literally means “family meeting” and the broad sense. They are not regulated and vary from family to family. (18) 

 

The Local authorities (umudugudu and cell levels) is the second option that disputants may choose that settle their dispute. They hear cases between members of different families where the inama cannot provide an equitable solution. 

Disputes are almost always brought before the umudugudu council (the village administration) and – if this is unsuccessful – the executive secretary of the cell; but officials at sector and district level (e.g. the executive secretary, the officer in charge of civil affairs, or the agronomist) may also be called upon. They are not regulated by any formal legislation. 

In some areas land committees seem to be starting to play a role in land dispute resolution. These are committees organised at cell and sector level whose primary role is to facilitate the work of the land registration units. (18) 

 

The Inyangamugayo (non-gacaca) are community members who contribute to dispute resolution in an informal and unregulated way. They tend to be trusted throughout the community and are considered to distinguish themselves on the basis of their wisdom and eloquence.  (18)

 

The Abunzi committees were created by Organic Law No. 31/2006 of 14/08/2006 on Organisation, Jurisdiction, Competence and Functioning of the Mediation Committee, amended in 2008 and 2010. These abunzi committees deal with all disputes before they can be submitted to the Primary Court in the formal judicial system. They were established to increase access to justice for all and especially the poor for whom it is more difficult to bring a case before a formal court. At the same time, the abunzi committees were meant to reduce the flow of cases streaming into the formal court system and, thus, to contribute to the elimination of Rwanda’s substantial case backlog. (18) They can be seen as a hybrid between state-sponsored justice and traditional methods of conflict resolution. The popularisation of the abunzi system by the Government of Rwanda in the post-2000 era was based on the objective to decentralise justice, making it affordable and accessible.

According to the Constitution, 30 percent of any institution of governance should be women. This applies to the abunzi committees. 

A pending Bill will modify and complement the Organic Law of 2010. It refines the competence of the abunzi committees and creates a Secretariat in charge of coordinating activities of Mediation Committees. Its purpose is to strengthen the link between MINIJUST and the local authorities, and to articulate the dispensation of justice.

Inheritance/succession de facto practices

 

The position and rights of women are imbedded in customary law and a larger framework of perceptions. (18)  It would be unrealistic to think that succession of land that has been passed on to sons for centuries can suddenly include daughters. Formal law is gradually increasing its impact at the local level but it will take time before it is fully applied.

 

Under the constitution and formal law, only civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is recognised. The Law on succession, 2009 is limited in scope to spouses and surviving spouses who are formally married, leaving out many people from rural areas who often do not have the financial means or a sufficient knowledge of the legal implications of formalising their union. Besides, under the law, parents can donate their land to their children during their lifetime and must do so with no discrimination between their children. However, the term “discrimination” can be interpreted in such a way that if a girl has acquired access to sufficient land through her marriage, this provides a reason to give her a smaller umunani (share of inheritance) than her brothers receive. (18)

 

The practice of polygamy requires specific attention as it affects women’s inheritance rights as well as their tenure rights. There has been a sharp decline in polygamous marriages since the end of the Civil War but it still common in certain parts of the country.

The informal practice of polygamy has a negative effect on the inheritance rights of the unrecognised wives and their children, both sons and daughters, because the unrecognised wives have no formal right to their husband’s land or property, while their children only have a right to their father’s land or property if he formally recognised them at the District office and added their names to his identity card. (9) 

Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

 

The implementation of the national legal and policy framework is slow to reach poor rural areas. As a result, people – especially marginalised groups such as women, widows and children – are still unaware of their tenure rights or the benefits that can arise from the current land reform and land registration process.   

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography