New Penal code comes into force
President Paul Kagame has assented to the new penal code, ending debate over controversial clauses, including the one on abortion.
And the eventual publication of the new penal code in the Official Gazzette will be seen as victory to some and a blow to others.
But the neutrals say the law strikes a balance on highly controversial issues.
The new penal code was published last week in the Official Gazette, criminalising abortion, but permitting it on four specific grounds.
It incorporates more than 50 areas of legislative intervention, new crimes and legal remedies that were not catered for in the previous code.
Under article 165 of crimes regarding abortion, there is no criminal liability for a woman who induces her own abortion and a medical doctor who aids abortion when a woman conceived as a result of rape; forced marriage; incest in the second degree; and when the continuation of pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the health of the unborn baby or that of the mother.
However, this can only be allowed only if the woman who seeks abortion submits to the doctor an order issued by a competent court.
The court where the complaint is filed hears and decides it as a matter of urgency.
It is estimated that 60, 000 abortions are carried out annually in Rwanda, the majority of which are unsafe, 40 per cent leading to complications that require treatment.
Edouard Munyamariza, the Chairman, Civil Society Platform, however, told The New Times that the new law conflicts with the constitution and children’s rights.
“Allowing abortion is murder of an innocent baby and it doesn’t favour women’s health; this is a foreign idea, which doesn’t suit our culture.
“People, especially women, should have had a say on that issue; we didn’t see any woman coming forward to support the clause (on abortion); this is a government initiative,” said Munyamariza.
He said the new law should have provided tougher punishments to avoid “such criminal acts”.
“Lowering sanctions on abortion is like giving a green light to the youth to do it. Why can’t they give them drugs that prevent pregnancy under the same cases under which abortion is now legitimised?
“Why do they have to wait for two to three months for the victim to prove that they were raped or it is a pregnancy out of incest? he wondered.
But the liberals also think the clause curtails women’s right to choose, since it obliges the permission of a judge even when the pregnancy was conceived under any of the four conditions.
They wanted abortion legalised altogether.
Previously, each side of the divide had appealed to the President to grant their requests.
Article 162 on abortion says that any person who carries out self-induced abortion shall be liable to a jail term of one to three years and a fine of Rwf50, 000 to Rwf200, 000.
Causing a woman to abort without her consent, under the new law, also attracts an imprisonment term of 10 to 15 years. In case of mutual consent, however, a person who causes a woman to abort shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of two years to five years.
A person who administers, delivers or orders a substance to a woman and causes abortion which results into death shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of 15 to 20 years if the woman had consented to the abortion; and to life imprisonment and a fine of between Rwf200, 000 to Rwf2 million, if such a woman had not consented to the abortion.
The new penal code, which provides the English version, unlike the old one which was in Kinyarwanda and French only, replaces the old one, which has been in place since 1977.
The new law provides equal penalties to both sexes, unlike the old penal code which provided severe penalties to female persons than male persons, and punishment for many news offences.
The new law also criminalises prostitution, a practice which several civil society groups had wanted decriminalised.
Defamation and harassment
Meanwhile, any person who commits a press offence, with the intent to undermine public order and territorial integrity, will now face a sentence of five to ten years and a fine of between Rwf1 million Rwf5 million, if convicted, according to article 704 on press offence.
An accomplice also faces the same penalty.
Any journalist who refuses to publish a correction, a reply or a rectification in a newspaper shall be liable to a fine of Rwf100, 000 to Rwf300,000, while a fine levied on a media practitioner who refuses to do the same in an audio or audio visual media, is Rwf 300,000 to Rwf 600,000.
Starting a newspaper illegally will also attract a fine of Rwf100,000 to Rwf500,000, while unlawful establishment of an audio or audiovisual press enterprise warrants a fine ranging between Rwf500,000 and Rwf1 million.
A competent court orders the suspension of the offensive newspaper or press enterprise until official authorisation is granted.
In case of recidivism for offences, the court may withdraw the authorization to establish a press publication or a press enterprise definitely.
A journalist who also publishes an article on the activities in relation to the privacy of an authority when such activities adversely affect public interest shall be exempted from criminal liability, according to article 705 of the same section.
According to article 276, any person who defames or harasses another person on the basis of sex with intent to humiliate them or their work shall be liable to a jail term of at least two months but less than six months and a fine of Rwf200,000 to Rwf500,000 or one of these penalties.
Genocide negationism and revisionism
According to article 116, any person who publicly shows, by their words, writings, images, or by any other means, that they negate genocide committed, rudely minimizes it or attempts to justify or approve its grounds, or any person who hides or destroys its evidence shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of 10 to 15 years.
If the crimes mentioned above are committed by an association or a political organization, it shall be dissolved.
Destroying of remains of genocide victims is also sanctioned with a jail of 10 to 15 years and a fine of Rwf500,000 to Rwf2 million while defacing a genocide memorial site or a genocide cemetery shall be liable to life imprisonment.
Genocide ideology is also a crime that can earn a term of imprisonment between five and nine years and a fine ranging from Rwf100, 000 to Rwf1 million.
The new law also provides punishment for international and cross-border crimes, offences against children rights, offences related to ICT, commercial and tax offences, human trafficking, illegal sale of body parts, and misuse of public property.
The new Penal Code has increased fines with regard to financial crimes, but for other offences penalties have generally been reduced, except for certain grave crimes.
Contact email: bosco.asiimwe[at]newtimes.co.rw