Global Policy Forum

Rwanda Set to Scrap Death Penalty

Agence France Presse
January 19, 2007

Rwanda's government said on Friday it had approved plans to scrap the death penalty, in a step which could remove a major obstacle to the transfer back home of defendants facing trial over the 1994 genocide.

Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said the legislation, which will have to be formally agreed on by Parliament, had been voted through at a Cabinet meeting this week after a lengthy period of public consultation. "The consultations that we have held since October showed us that Rwandans favour the abolition of the punishment," Karugarama said.

The minister said the legislation would be presented to Parliament "soon" for a vote that should be a mere formality given that President Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front has a large majority in both houses. "I cannot decide for Parliament, but given the support for the abolition, I hope that they will vote for the law," Karugarama said. "If Parliament adopts the law, death-row convicts will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment."

Rwanda has about 600 convicts on death row, the majority of whose sentences relate to the country's 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800 000 people were slaughtered over a three month-period. However, survivors of the genocide have objected to the outlawing of capital punishment, arguing that its presence on the statute book serves as deterrent for similar crimes in the future.

The scrapping of the death penalty would remove at least one obstacle that has prevented the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and many Western countries from extraditing genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial. The ICTR, a United Nations-mandated court which sits in neighbouring Tanzania, only has powers to impose life imprisonment.

More than three-quarters of all African countries retain capital punishment and if the proposed legislation is adopted, Rwanda would be the first country in Africa's volatile Great Lakes region to abolish it.

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