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Rwanda’s Parliament Approves Immunity For Ex-Presidents

Rwanda's parliament unanimously voted to amend the constitution to grant perpetual immunity from prosecution of former presidents. The new constitutional amendment stipulates that a former head of state cannot be prosecuted on charges of for which he was not officially put on trial when he was in office. But critics of President Paul Kagame dismissed the constitutional amendment as a farce claiming that Kagame's allies in parliament want to protect him from future prosecution when his second term of office expires.

Some European countries have reportedly accused President Kagame of complicity in the countries 1994 genocide in which scores of Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives. But Kagame denies the accusations. Jean Bosco Gasasira is the editor of the Umuvugizi Independent Newspaper. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Kigali that Rwandans welcome the new constitutional amendment.

"The Rwandan parliament changed the constitution, and it indicates a clause which suggests that President Kagame can be prosecuted during his term of office, but clears him when he is out of the office. So, any person who has claims or who has allegations against him could take the allegations to court during his term of office. That is the new clause in the Rwandan constitution," Gasasira pointed out.

He said Rwandans welcome the constitutional amendment.

"This could be politically positive, but most especially it is a signal that would be paving way for the succession of President Kagame because most of his predecessors or some presidents in neighboring countries in the Great Lakes or in Africa refuse to leave office for the fear of being prosecuted. So, Rwandans see it in a way that at least he (President Kagame) may be the first president to leave office when his term expires…so Rwandans believe with this constitutional amendment, it would ensure that President Kagame and future presidents could leave office without any fear of future prosecution," he said.

Gasasira said Rwandans are optimistic that President Kagame would leave office after his term expires, which he said is uncommon in the Great Lakes region.

"Rwandans are reluctant to think that President Kagame is trying to protect himself from prosecution. You find them mostly emphasizing that at least compared to other presidents in the region, he (President Kagame) has been doing good and don't forget that under the new clause, with every allegation, he could still be taken to court before his term of office expires," Gasasira noted.

He said the constitutional amendment seems to be specifically skewed in President Kagame's favor.

"From the political point of view, the new law is there to protect his Excellency President Paul Kagame when he is out of the office, and that is all I can say," he said.

Gasasira said the new law could have been implemented due to speculations and accusations of President Kagame's complicity in the country's 1994 genocide.

"You know Rwanda is facing some challenges in our post genocide developmental efforts. There are lots of accusations, a lot of political opposition pressure, so I think this move would be to protect President Paul Kagame when he is out of the office," Gasasira pointed out.