Constitution of Rwanda 2003 (Amended 2015)
Article 34 of the Constitution 2003 (amended 2015) provides that “Everyone has the right to private property, whether individually or collectively owned. Private property, whether owned individually or collectively, is inviolable. The right to property shall not be encroached upon except in public interest and in accordance with the provisions of the law." Article 35 establishes that “Private ownership of land and other rights related to land are granted by the State. A law determines modalities of concession, transfer and use of land.”
Organic Law 2005 (Loi organique no. 8-2005 porte régime foncier au Rwanda)
Article 3 of the Organic Law 2005 provides that “Land is part of the public domain of all Rwandans; ancestors, present and future generations. With exceptions of the rights given to people, the state has supreme powers to manage all the national land, and this is done in public interest aimed at sustainable, economic development and social welfare, in accordance with procedures provided for by law. In that regard, it is the state that guarantees the right to own and use the land. The state also has rights to expropriation due to public interest, settlement and general land management through procedures provided by law and prior to appropriate compensation.”
The Organic Law protects the rights over the land acquired from custom and the rights acquired from written law (Art. 7). However, statutorily recognized land rights can only be acquired in Rwanda through registration. Article 30 of the Organic Law states that registration is obligatory. In order to register land rights, applicants must identify themselves, provide a brief description of the land “indicating particularly the area, where the land is located with reference to well known landmarks like roads, rivers, neighbours sharing boundaries and “any document certifying that the applicant is the person for whom the certificate is being sought” (Art. 32, Organic Law 2005).
According to Wily’s LandMark assessment of Rwanda, although most recognized [land] parcels have roots in customary ownership the customary regime, and customary tenure is a lawful basis for first registration, customary tenure and governance systems are extinguished once formal statutorily recognized titles are granted. Registration is cheap and accessible, and the registration procedures are clearly established by Ministerial Order No. 002/2008, Determining Modalities of Registration. Article 15 of Ministerial Order No 002/2008 provides that a certificate of registration may be of one of the following kinds: a certificate of registration of a full title, a certificate of registration of an emphyteutic lease. A certificate of registration of full title may be issued for the private lands of individuals or for lands of the State, the City of Kigali, the Districts or parastatal bodies in the public domain or the private domain.
Freehold ownership titles are only available in urban areas, meaning the landholders in rural areas are disadvantaged by the current legal system in Rwanda. The law strips communities of rights to traditional forests and wetlands (these commons are declared as State property) (Article 2(19), 12(4), 29, 75, 2005 Organic Law; article 19, Law No. 43/2013 governing Land in Rwanda). Forests, wetlands, and swamps are considered public land owned by the state. Communities are not granted legal authority to govern their land under Rwandan law. Common properties cannot be registered; only individual properties can be registered. Landholders can be dispossessed if their land is degraded or underexploited.
Law No. 43/2013 governing Land in Rwanda
The Law No. 43/2013 defines different categories of land. It also determines the modalities of allocating, transferring, using, and managing land in Rwanda. This Law establishes principles applicable to all rights situated within Rwanda. “Individual land” is defined by article 10 of the Law as “land acquired through custom or written law...land [that] has been granted definitely by competent authorities or acquired by purchase, donation, inheritance, succession, ascending sharing, and exchange or through sharing.” The Law also defines state land in the public domain (Art. 12), land in the public domain of local government (art. 13), and state land in the private domain (Art. 14).
State land in the private domain is defined as all land that is not included in State land reserved for public activities or infrastructures and land that does not belong to public institutions or local authorities or individuals, including vacant lands, escheat lands, unprotected swamps, land occupied by state owned forests, land acquired by the state through purchase, donation or expropriation for public interest, and other types of land (Art. 14). Article 18 establishes that certificates of land allocation or registration can certify whether land has been allocated or leased by the registrar of land titles. Registration of land is obligated for landowners (art. 20) and any land transfers made by family representatives require the consent of all the registered right holder on the land title (art. 21). Article 34 provides that “the landowner shall enjoy full rights to exploit his/her land. The State recognizes the right to freely own land and shall protect the landowner from being dispossessed of the land whether totally or partially, except in the case of expropriation due to public interest. All Buildings and crops and other improvements on the land are presumed to be property of the land owner.”
Law No. 18/2007 Relating to Expropriation in the Public Interest (Loi no. 18-2007 portant expropriation pour cause dútilite publique) (amended 2015)
The Expropriation Law 2007 allows the government to acquire land for acts of public interest. The Law defines “an act of public interest” as “an act of government, public institution, non-governmental organization, legally accepted associations operating in the country or of an individual, with an aim of a public interest” (art. 2, Expropriation Law 2007). Article 5 of the Expropriation Law 2007 provides a comprehensive list of “acts of public interest”, including roads, water dams, airports, biodiversity, cultural, and historical reserved areas, basic infrastructure...and “any other activities aimed at public interest.” Article 6 provides that “individual activities meant for private interests, particularly, shall not be referred to as activities aimed at public interest.”
Section (2) of the Expropriation Law 2007 defines “just compensation” as “an indemnity equivalent to the value of land and the activities performed thereon given to the expropriated person and calculated in consideration of market prices.” Article 18 of the Expropriation Law 2007 states that "the person who owns land intended for public interest shall provide evidence to confirm that he or she possesses rights on that land and presents a certificate of acknowledgement of the members of his or her family. Among the evidence to confirm ownership of the land, there shall be included: 1° written evidence indicating that he or she purchased the land, received it as a donation or as a legacy or a successor; 2° a document or a statement of local administrative entities indicating rights of the expropriated person on the land; 3° a document or testimony of the neighbors confirming the ownership of the land; 4° a Court certificate." Properties to be valued for just compensation include "activities that were carried out on the land including different crops, forests, any buildings or any other activity aimed at efficient use of land or its productivity." The law provides that "through agreement between the person to expropriate and the one to be expropriated, the just compensation may be monetary or an alternative land and a building equivalent to the determination of just monetary compensation." (Art. 23)
The law provides “"In order for the expropriation to be implemented, the just compensation shall be awarded to the expropriated person before he or she relocates” (Law No. 18/2007 of 19/04/2007 Relating to Expropriation in the Public Interest, Art. 23) Compensation must be paid within 120 days. If the period exceeds that time, “the expropriation shall be invalid except in case the person to expropriate and the one to be expropriated come to terms.” (Art. 24, Law No. 18/2007 of 19/04/2007 Relating to Expropriation in the Public Interest). Article 28 provides that "in case the expropriator does not pay the agreed just compensation on time...he or she shall pay an annual interest on delays of 5% in addition to the just compensation agreed or awarded to the expropriated person. Such a period shall not exceed two (2) years." Article 26 of the Expropriation Law No. 18/2007 provides that "in case the person expropriated is not satisfied with the value determined for the land and the activities carried out thereon, the Land Commission at the level on which the issue is, shall request him or her in writing, to hire a legally accepted expert [to determine an alternative value]....in case the alternative value is rejected, the expropriated person shall appeal to the Land Commission...in case the expropriated person is not satisfied with the decision the Land Commission appealed to, he or she shall file the case with a competent court..
Rwanda has not enacted a national-level resettlement policy that is legally binding and applies to development projects that involve the expropriation of land. According to the World Bank Land Governance Assessment Framework report for Rwanda, ““Resettlement policy does not exist; if resettlement takes place then it is in an ad-hoc manner.”
Government of Rwanda. 2003. Constitution of Rwanda. Available at: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord887item1007/rwand...
Government of Rwanda. 2005. Organic Law No. 08/2005 of 14 July 2005 Determining the Use and Management of Land in Rwanda. Available at: http://landportal.info/library/resources/rwanda-land-lawspolicies-12/org...
Government of Rwanda. 2007. Expropriation Law No.18/2007 Relating to Expropriation in the Public Interest. Available at: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord1723item1719/rwan...
Government of Rwanda. 2013. Law No. 43/2013 governing Land in Rwanda. Available at: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord1724item1720/rwan...
Government of Rwanda. 2008. Rwanda Ministerial Order Determining Modalities of Land Registration - Ministerial Order Determining Modalities of Land Registration. Available at: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord1731item1727/rwan...
World Bank. Land Governance Assessment Framework Report for Rwanda. World Bank: Washington, DC. Available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLGA/Resources/LGAF_Rwanda_Final_Re...