Rwanda will next month begin releasing convicted prisoners, including those alleged to perpetrated the country’s1994 genocide in which nearly a million people were killed. Justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama says the move forms part of the government’s reconciliation program and also to decongest Rwanda’s overcrowded prisons. But opponents of the government have criticized the prisoners release describing it as “a double standard”.
Karugarama said about eight thousand prisoners would be released as part of the government’s program of decongesting the overcrowded prisons.
“What has been going on since 2003 is that as part of the government policy to decongest prisons and to progressively look at the conditions of the retainees, periodically, there has been releases of all kinds of people. The next bunch that is going to be released in total about 9 thousand people,” he said.
Karugarama said among those to be released are those who have been charged with crimes in the country’s genocide.
“Eight thousand of those to be released are charged with crimes related to the 1994 genocide. In those categories of people, there has been a criteria established of who gets released and these include: one category of people who are very old, and people who are very sic or terminally sick…This release does not, and I repeat, it does not mean acquittal,” Karugarama noted.
He denied that the government’s policy to decongest the overcrowded prison runs contrary to efforts to bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice.
“Government’s program doesn’t run in a tunnel and is not a straight jacket. Government policy is based on broad consideration of national building… now the question of arresting people outside the country is another aspect in the overall broader picture of fighting impunity and of tracking down mass killers,” he said.
Karugarama insisted that there is no contradiction on in the governments program.
“The government’s program of tracking down the mass killers and the prison decongesting does not mean there is a contradiction in the two policies. On the contrary, I think the two are supplementing each other,” he said.
Karugarama said the government is not tampering with the judicial system as speculated by opponents of the president.
“That cannot be true. If you look backward in 1994, this country was holding more than 22 hundred thousand detainees. Progressively these have been released either through court action, through investigation and through all sorts of interventions such as this current releases. And we are now having about fifty thousand detainees,” he said.
He said the prisoners release forms part of the government’s drive to heal the nation.
“Part of national building is that you create condition, broad conditions over which Rwandans can reconstruct their country, can establish minimum standards of transparency in the trials, minimum standards in coexistence, minimum standards of forgiveness, minimum standards of unity ands reconciliation,” he said.