The right to a clean environment

Rwanda is renowned for its clean streets, zero tolerance for careless waste dumping and outlawing the use of environmentally harmful products such as polythene bags. This is in line article 22 of the Constitution which stays: “Everyone has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment.”

It’s also in line with article 6 paragraph one of N° 18/2016 of 18/05/2016 Law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda which prohibits the emission of chemicals, materials, gas or hazardous substances.

This is unless it is authorized by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) which is in charge of environmental protection.

Even with authorization article 6, paragraph two of N° 18/2016 of 18/05/2016 says that a person who produces, transports, trades, uses, stores or possesses chemicals, toxic substances, inflammable or explosive substances must preserve the safety for humans and other living beings and avoid causing environmental degradation.

The responsibility of preserving air quality is not just for the government or companies which are likely to release toxic waste to the atmosphere. It is for everyone. This is according to article 15 of the law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda.

The Penal Code prescribes serious punishments for those who tamper with the right to a clean and healthy environment.

According to article 161 of the Penal Code, it is unlawful to throw at another person anything likely to disturb or dirty him/her. The punishment for a person who commits this crime is “a term of imprisonment of eight (8) days to two (2) months and a fine of fifty thousand (50,000) to two hundred thousand (200,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties.”

Article 388 of the Penal Code prohibits polluting inland waters through dumping, spilling or depositing chemicals of any nature into water if they are likely to cause water pollution. The minimum punishment for going against this law is a term of imprisonment of six months and a fine of two million Rwandan francs.

However, if the pollution results in an incurable disease or disability, the convict goes to prison for a minimum of ten years. If pollution results in death, the punishment is life imprisonment. In addition to imprisonment and fines, the offender may be ordered to rehabilitate the polluted area directly or through payment for the rehabilitation.

Unlawful dumping of waste is a threat to living in a clean and health environment. For this reason, it is prohibited under article 423 of the Penal Code.

Burning waste and polluting the atmosphere is also illegal according to article 428 of the Penal Code. Any person who pollutes the artmosphere by burning domestic waste, crop residues, tyres and plastic material or owns a car that produces harmful smoke and gas or smokes in public is liable to a fine. The fine ranges from ten thousand to fifty thousand Rwandan francs.

The prohibition of activities that degrade the environment is necessary because degredation has serious health consequences.