Combating drugs requires going beyond punishment – Busingye

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Busingye delivers his remarks during the meeting in Kigali yesterday. T. Kisambira.

The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has said that there is need for collaboration between all the stakeholders to jointly come up with lasting solution to the drug issue which he said has become like an “attack on the nation”.

Busingye said this while opening the first 2017/18 ordinary Justice Sector Leadership Group meeting yesterday.

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Busingye pointed out that there was need to go beyond punishment and think of ways of tackling the issue in terms of prevention.

“There is need to scale up efforts in fighting emerging crimes, specifically drugs. When it comes to drug consumption, we are reaching a crisis point. Saying that we have put in place a 20-year jail sentence in the penal code is one small part.

“We need a policy direction on this so that we can identify what else we need to do. This is something that has the potential of taking the country steps back. We don’t know the origin of these drugs, we are under some sort of attack,” he said.

Currently, Article 594 of the Penal Code punishes any person who unlawfully makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotics and psychotropic substances within the country with a term of imprisonment ranging between three to five years and a fine of between Rwf500,000 and Rwf5 million.

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Elite indulgence

Busingye, who also said that the issues will be examined further during the Justice Reforms Retreat next month, also said that what is worrying is that those who are involved in the vice are mostly elite.

“The Inspector General of Police was giving me a brief yesterday and the fact is, the people using drugs are not the uneducated, those who are socially deprived, or those who had poor upbringing as it is normally assumed. The issue of drug abuse, drug trafficking and drug consumption is serious and those involved include even university students. They are using heroin. All this is happening here in this city,” he said.   

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The president of the Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), Bishop John Rucyahana, told those in attendance that one of the strategies was to discourage the culture of silence.

“We need to name and shame. Even when the person involved has been punished by the law, as a community, we need to talk about those involved in such vices openly so that they are discouraged from continuing to do what they are doing. We must, as society, be open about it,” he said.  

Briefing members of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security on the country’s status on drug abuse, human trafficking and illegal cross-border movement in November last year, the Minister for Local Government, Francis Kaboneka, said that drug abuse was ruining the youth and appealed to the lawmakers to enact tougher laws that reflect the country’s commitment to uprooting the vice.

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“Instead of someone found guilty being sentenced to two years or so, only for them to return to selling drugs, the sentence should be more punitive and I suggest life sentence. That way, it will be deterrent,” he said.

Numbers rise

Drug abuse continues to be the biggest contributor to mental health challenges in the country. Figures from the National Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Ndera, indicate that in 2009, some 440 patients with alcohol and drug induced illnesses made consultation as compared to the 2804 in 2016.

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Between 2013-2014, 3,920 files related to drugs were received and, from 2014-2015, the numbers went up to 4,308 files. From 2015-2016, 4,715 files were received while 5,659 files related to this crime were received in 2016/2017.

The meeting yesterday sought to establish mechanisms for oversight, direction and implementation of the sector strategy; to ensure universal access to justice; to eradicate genocide ideology; promote reconciliation, rule of law, accountability and human right; and maintaining law and order.

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