Pardoning of Genocide convicts sparks debate
The proposal to release elderly Genocide convicts, last week, opened old wounds among survivors who believe the elderly epitomised the genocide ideology.
The proposal, which is yet to be endorsed by the President, will, if passed, see all inmates above the age of 70 released on compassionate grounds due to advanced age.
Currently, the Rwanda Correctional Service says that at least 2,000 inmates fall under this age bracket, and the majority of them are convicts of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Though, some observers see the release of Genocide convicts on compassionate grounds as a sign that Rwanda is getting over its troubled, ethnically divided past, survivors, on the other hand, see it as escaping justice considering the atrocities they committed.
“I would say it is okay to release people on compassionate grounds, but I would also add that they were honoured, as Genocide convicts, to escape death penalty after its abolition,” said a survivor, who gave his name only as Jean Pierre.
Elderly people are believed to be the fore bearers behind the Genocide crimes and perpetuation of the ideology that was upheld for decades and culminated into the wanton killings in which more than one million people were butchered in a period of 100 days.
“You realise that most of those inmates above 70 years old are Genocide convicts. Releasing them would be a mockery to the survivors,” Janvier Forongo, the Executive Secretary of the umbrella organisation of all Genocide survivors’ associations, IBUKA, said.
However, the RCS paints the elderly as sickly people who deserve conditional pardon.
“Reports show that people who constantly fall sick or those who eventually die in prison are those above 70 years. However, we are not insisting that they should automatically be released when they get to that age,” Major General Paul Rwarakabije, the Commissioner General of RCS, told reporters.
A commissioner at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), who asked not be named because he does not speak for the Commission, believes releasing Genocide criminals on compassionate grounds, if it is endorsed, underlines Rwanda’s commitment to national reconciliation that arguably is steering the country to the current development.
“And reconciliation may not mean that you agree on all things as is seen from the raging debate about the proposal to release inmates of advanced age. The anger among survivors about a proposal to release the said inmates is valid. But the challenge is not to forget that there is this reconciliation drive, its work in progress,” he said.
“We might lose sight of the overall drive of creating a united nation if we focus too much on not making people angry”.
Talking to The New Times, yesterday, retired Bishop John Rucyahana, the president of the NURC, said there may be need to review the laws on the criteria used.
“Otherwise, in principle, everybody should be punished for crimes committed to avoid impunity,” he said.
On whether it’s a test to reconciliation, he said, “Reconciliation is based on individual willingness and everybody should be given a chance.”
Contact email: james.tasamba[at]newtimes.co.rw