Rwanda: Supreme Court Dismisses Petition Challenging Public Indecency Law

The Supreme Court on Friday, April 26 dismissed a petition brought by a feminist organisation challenging the country’s public indecency laws.

The petition, filed by Feminist Action Development Ambition (FADA), argued that the law’s vague language and potential for discriminatory enforcement infringe on human rights protected by Rwanda’s constitution.

The petition was filed in July 2023, challenging Article 143 of the 2018 penal law, which defines public indecency as an act punishable by imprisonment of six months to two years. The key issue raised by FADA was the lack of a clear definition for “indecent acts,” leaving room for subjective interpretation and arbitrary enforcement.

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FADA’s concern was driven by a 2022 case where a one Liliane Mugabekazi was arrested and prosecuted for wearing see-through clothing at a concert in Kigali. The organisation argued that this kind of enforcement could disproportionately target women and thus violate constitutional rights.

FADA’s petition cited constitutional articles relating to human dignity and equality before the law, claiming that Article 143 of the penal law was too vague and had the potential for discrimination. The organisation further said that these provisions allowed authorities to prosecute women more frequently than men for similar behavior, leading to unequal treatment.

However, the Supreme Court’s panel of four judges ruled that the public indecency law did not contravene the constitution’s articles on human dignity and equality. The court dismissed the petition, maintaining that the law did not violate the constitutional principles in question.

Hassna Murenzi, Founder and Executive Director of FADA, expressed her disappointment with the ruling but acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s acceptance of their petition for review was a step forward for feminist organisations in Rwanda.

“This is a learning process for us and we are making history because it is the first time the Supreme Court accepts the fact that a feminist organisation can file a case,” Murenzi said.

She also noted that while the court’s decision was not in their favor, the process helped highlight issues with the current law and set the stage for further advocacy and reform.

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