Solitary confinement to go in new Rwanda law proposals

Sunday October 22 2017

Prisoners outside the High Court in Kigali. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Prisoners outside the High Court in Kigali. Rwanda introduced life imprisonment with special provisions for odious offences such as genocide and crimes against humanity. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

By ROBERT MBARAGA
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Rwanda is moving to drop solitary confinement from its penal code, in response to incessant calls from national and international human rights organisations.

The government disclosed this proposal in the draft penal code tabled before parliament.

“We have received several recommendations especially from the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), to drop this sentence,” said Evode Uwizeyimana, the Minister of State in charge of Constitutional and Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Justice.

Rwanda introduced life imprisonment with special provisions for odious offences such as genocide and crimes against humanity after it abolished the death penalty in 2007.

With this sentence, an offender is not entitled to any kind of mercy, conditional release or rehabilitation, unless he or she has served at least 20 years of imprisonment; and is kept in an individual cell.

The 2010 law relating to serving this sentence reserves it to inhuman or recidivism crimes including torture resulting into death; murder or manslaughter with dehumanising acts on the body; the crime of genocide and other crimes against humanity; child sexual abuse; sexual torture and forming or leading criminal gangs.

Some MPs are however opposed to the proposal.

“We abolished the death penalty and this came with its own affects, including the fact that people are no longer afraid of killing. If we also remove life imprisonment with special provisions, how are we going to deal with these terrible crimes?” asked Safari Begumisa Theoneste, an MP.

This sentence has won Rwanda continuous criticism for not meeting the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.

As a result, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) snubbed the request to transfer some of the accused to stand trial in Rwanda, forcing the government to modify the law to provide that “life imprisonment with special provisions shall not be applicable to those transferred from the ICTR to serve their sentences in Rwanda or those transferred from the ICTR to stand trial in the country’s courts.”

On the other hand, the country also plans to put economic crimes and crimes against public property, on the list of offences, which are not time-barred from prosecution, in a move aimed at deterring such offences deemed prevalent.