By Fidel Munyeshyaka

Researcher Rwanda GLCSS

Political parties and human rights organizations in the country have supported and called for the removal of the death penalty from Rwanda’s penal code. Genocide survivors on the other hand have protested the move saying the punishment was an effective tool for deterring similar crimes in the future.

 

Discussions on the removal of the death penalty follows statements made by the Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama in which he said he will submit to parliament a bill calling for the abolition of the death penalty in the country’s penal code. The move follows an earlier announcement by the Rwandan government that it would end the capital punishment by December 2006.

 

The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) believes the bill will be passed as the main political parties, including the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) that initiated the suggestion and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), support the move. The two represent the majority in the lower house and in the senate. RPF and PSD have 47 out of the 80 parliamentary seats.

Sources say RPF and its allies supported by PSD politicians will seek the support of six parliamentarians from the Liberal Party (PL). This follows reports that say the Forum for Political parties unanimously approved the scrapping of the death penalty from the country’s penal code. This means that 53 members representing 66 percent of the parliamentarians will vote for the scrapping of the capital punishment.

Contrary to reports that said the government wanted to remove the death penalty so that it could handle the cases transferred from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), government officials interviewed by GLCSS refuted the claim. The officials say the punishment hinders the realization of the country’s major pillars notably; unity and reconciliation, promotion of good governance, and respect of human rights. Karugarama further said that the death sentence has not been used since 1997.

Servirien Sebasoni, RPF spokesperson, said the removal is not related to the ongoing talks between the government and ICTR but merely an issue of public interest. It is something that was supposed to come up even if the genocide had not taken place.

 

“We may even scrap it and by the end of the day, the cases are not transferred,” Sebasoni said.

 

Sebasoni further said that there was no benefit in having convicted criminals executed. 

 

 “If anything, we have a lot to lose because by executing someone, you have not only killed that person but also extended the punishment to other people such as their family members,” he said.

 

Human rights organizations support the government’s position. Silas Sinyigaya, the head of local human rights organizations umbrella CLADHO, stated that the death penalty deserves to be scraped from the penal code because it is against the principle of human rights.

 

” The death penalty puts life to an end, yet there are instances when a judge can erroneously condemn a person to death and the truth comes out that the person is not guilty when execution has already occurred.” Silas said.

 

Meanwhile, sections of the Rwandan society do not have unanimity on the issue. Genocides survivors say the scrapping of the penalty downplays the magnitude of the genocide that took place. They say suspects will get lesser penalties and that would be another humiliation for the survivors.

 

“Those who carried out the genocide should be executed in order to forever eradicate the culture of impunity that has always marred Rwanda. The only solution: sentencing them to a grave punishment, which their past actions merit,” said Francois Ngarambe, president of a genocide survivors group Ibuka.

 

Government officials however, do not support the claims of the survivors. Tharcisse Karugarama said that in spite of genocide’s aftermath, Rwanda remains a country that needs to rebuild itself and integrate itself into the realities of standards of international justice. Sebasoni on the other hand argued that the current government has to be part of the global initiative to promote respect for life in all circumstances by adhering to the principles of good governance and respect for human rights.

Fidel Munyeshyaka can be reached at fidel@glcss.org.  GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

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