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Rwanda to Debate Death Penalty


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania is offering to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial if the nation repeals the death penalty; the ICTR will not extradite criminal suspects to countries where capital punishment exists. Later this week, the Rwandan parliament will begin debating a draft law, which would abolish the death penalty.

Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama of Rwanda said the draft law is being examined by his office before being forwarded to Parliament. He says that all concerned parties will debate the law.

President Paul Kagame said he will support abolishing the death penalty for genocide suspects held by the ICTR if the prisoners are transferred to Rwandan jurisdiction.

Rwanda has expressed concern regarding the slow pace of the ICTR in prosecuting the approximately 100 suspects who masterminded the massacre of nearly 1 million Rwandans in 1994. Since its inception in 1997, the Tribunal has convicted 25 leaders of the genocide; it has also acquitted three people. The ICTR will disband in 2008.

Tharcisse Karugarama spoke with VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey about his government’s efforts to abolish the death penalty.

“The question of the death penalty has been on the drawing board [and] has been on the debate for a long, long time. The death penalty is provided for under the laws existing,” he said.

“Rwanda is starting a debate on those specific cases. Those being transferred from Arusha, those being arrested all over the world, if they come to Rwanda, Rwanda is going to start debating on whether to scrap the death penalty in terms of the category of those people that has been transferred to Rwanda. There is a draft legislation proposal that should be sent to parliament in due course. Soon after that the government [will have] a final position on the matter,” he noted.

He spoke about Rwanda’s general consensus on the death penalty.

“The population has been supportive of the death penalty,” he said.

“I may have my own feelings, different people have different feelings. But when the question was put to the population, in a constitution drawn exercise, the population overwhelmingly supported the retention of the death penalty...especially after the genocide that took place in the country. I think people are thinking that it was too soon to scrap the death penalty in view of the magnitude of the suffering that genocide has made in the minds and hearts of most of the Rwandan population. So the debate has been going on; it is still open.”

Karugarama says, “With these cases being transferred from Arusha, all cases of a similar nature of people who have been apprehended beyond the jurisdiction of the ICTR, if they are transferred to Rwanda, there is a general feeling that they should be subjected to the kind of sentence that they would be subjected to, if they are being tried in the country where they were arrested or if they are being tried by the ICTR. That seems to be building some consensus.”

“The government is taking that step, first of all, in the preparations of the draft legislation. It will go to the cabinet for the cabinet to discuss it, and then they will send it to parliament. And that will be a first step to even allowing people to debate the death penalty once again. If you ask me, I think the population once properly guided, once they understand what is at stake, and why, the population will move along with logic,” he said.

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