Rwandans begin debating the abolition of the death penalty today. The move, spearheaded by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) would clear the way for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and western countries to extradite genocide suspects back to Rwanda. Meanwhile genocide survivors are opposed to removing the death sentence, saying it will create a large loophole for perpetrators of crimes to get lesser penalties.

Tharcise Karugarama is Rwanda?s minister of Justice. He spoke with VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey about the death penalty debate.

?The cabinet thinks that the death penalty should be abolished because of very many reasons. And so it recommended that debate should be opened up so that the rest of the population across the country are involved in the process because the death penalty is contained in our laws and because the people had voted overwhelmingly to retain it. So that idea is to have the population in different fora discuss the death penalty with the view to have them being persuaded to have the death penalty abolished,? Karugarama said.

Karugarama says he disagrees that abolishing the death penalty would be an insult to genocide survivors.

?The fact that some people lost relatives does not in any way mean that removing the death penalty is an affront to them. It?s actually giving life hope, giving life more meaning in the country and that is the message that the Rwandan government would wish to communicate to its citizens and the rest of the world,? he noted.

Karugarama says the Rwandan government is proud to urge Rwandans to participate in the death penalty debate.

?The Rwandan government would not feel ashamed to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Yes indeed the death penalty has been incorporated in the Constitution and other enabling laws in the country but that?s a historical fact. The death penalty is not being debated for the first time in Rwanda. It has been under debate; the only thing is that there has not been clear and unequivocal direction by the government and the RPF party. The time has come after reflections, after a lot of painstaking consultations, the ruling party feels that it should give a clear and unequivocal message to its population and the rest of the world that it would like to give life hope,? he noted.

Tharcise Karugarama says the Rwandan government is right in encouraging a campaign to debate abolition of the death sentence.

?I think the government of Rwanda believes that it is doing the right thing. It?s on the right track to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in a country that has known so much hemorrhage and death,? Karugarama said.

Meanwhile, Rwanda sources say an RPF political bureau meeting, chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, resolved that the party would support legislation abolishing capital punishment for all crimes.

The RPF controls both chambers of parliament, the Senate and the House of Deputies, with more than 70 percent representation. 

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