After little Bella’s death, should we rethink the death penalty?

THE GRUESOME death of 12-year old Bella Isimbi Uwase, allegedly by the hand of Sylvère Mahoro a house-help she had known her entire life, cut me to the core. First of all, was the fact that such an innocent child, with her future in front of her, was snatched away from her doting family in such a cruel, cruel way.

THE GRUESOME death of 12-year old Bella Isimbi Uwase, allegedly by the hand of Sylvère Mahoro a house-help she had known her entire life, cut me to the core.

First of all, was the fact that such an innocent child, with her future in front of her, was snatched away from her doting family in such a cruel, cruel way.

The manner of her death, by knife to the neck, was horrible and excruciatingly slow.

Secondly, her absolute victimhood touched my heart. Often when there is a murder, at least one tries to make sense of it; yes there is a victim but at least you have a ‘proper’ motive.

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You rationalise the act by saying that the perpetrator was acting in a skewed but logical way. But in this case there is no logic.

She never did anything to him and, if the stories we have heard are true, they were actually quite close. Or as close as child and house-help can be.

So, why would he turn his murderous intentions towards her? It simply did not make sense then and after a week of pondering it, it still doesn’t.

The countless Rwandans, who voiced their outrage on both this newspaper’s comments section and social media, shared my feelings of horror, disgust, sadness and anger. 

The vast majority of Rwandans wanted nothing but either the hangman’s noose or firing squad for him if found guilty. I honestly can understand why they would wish that because at some level, I want blood.

When the death penalty was scrapped in 2007, I supported it for various reasons. First of all, because once the death penalty was enforced, one couldn’t go back from it.

While I haven’t heard of any ‘accidental’ deaths in Rwanda, we only have to look at the issue surrounding the death penalty in the United States to see just how controversial it is.

I’ve heard of cases where someone is executed, and then years later, evidence appears that they, in fact, did not do the crime they were found guilty of.

And interesting enough, guess who the vast majority of people who were sentenced to death were (and still are)? Racial minorities and the poor. If you are poor, black AND suspected of committing a crime that falls under the death penalty, you are plum out of luck.

The chances are, you will get the electric chair.

If you are rich, educated and white, the chances are you won’t. One can argue that it is because of racism, classism or simply a matter of who can afford the best lawyers but at the end of the day the result is the same.

Poor and black? You probably will die. White and rich? You will face some serious jail time…but that’s all.

Leaving alone the issue of erroneous judgments, I had a problem with death sentences on a philosophical level. I mean, what is the difference between the criminal and a justice system that kills the criminal? All of them have ended a life. A life that isn’t theirs to take. 

But I will not pretend that Bella’s murder hasn’t made me question my beliefs. I’ve asked myself; “if there is overwhelming eyewitness and forensic evidence to prove that someone committed murder, wouldn’t the death penalty be okay?

“How about when the crime was so shocking and gruesome that the perpetrator seems inhuman”? “Can’t we justify the death penalty the same way we justify putting down a rabid dog”?

I honestly haven’t come to a conclusion; however, it is my belief that we must debate it. Yes, in 2007 there was a consensus to remove death penalty as then Minister of Justice Karugarama said, but in the wake of Bella’s murder, perhaps the consensus is no more. 

Should we keep the law as is? Or perhaps should we amend it and specify that the death penalty can be carried out in certain horrific cases? Over to you.

Twitter: @sannykigali

 

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