Deserting police officers could face tougher penalties of between six to seven years depending on the gravity of the offense, according to the new law governing Rwanda National Police (RNP). This is aimed to discourage security duty abandonment. So far, police officers who desert are given a ‘lenient’ punishment as it has been treated as an administrative fault. The law was passed by the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday, October 6, 2022. It is replacing the law of 2010 determining the powers, responsibilities, organisation and functioning of RNP. But, it will also be tabled before the Senate for consideration and approval. While explaining the relevance of the bill earlier this year, the Minister of Interior, Alfred Gasana, said the law aimed at introducing offences and penalties related to the desertion of police officers. “This is because desertion from police is an issue that needs to be legally addressed by penalising it in order to reduce such acts instead of continuing to punish desertion as an administrative fault,” he said. Speaking to The New Times, RNP Spokesperson, CP John Bosco Kabera, said that the issue of police desertion exists and the law seeks to address it. Currently, he said, desertion was punished with the dismissal of the officer in question without notice. He indicated that police have legally accepted entry and exit provisions. “This is meant to avoid a situation where people may say that they want to join the police in the morning and that the next morning, they want to exit yet it trained them, provided them with skills and capacity,” he said. Desertion by an officer According to the law, an officer who gets absent from his or her unit for more than 15 consecutive days without valid reasons, commits an offence [of desertion]. Upon conviction, he or she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year and not more than two years. In case of aggravating circumstances, the punishment increases to not less than five years, but not more than seven years. Desertion by a non-commissioned officer The law provides that a non-commissioned officer ,who gets absent from his or her unit for more than 15 consecutive days without valid reasons, commits an offence. Upon conviction, he or she is liable to an imprisonment for a term of not less than six months and not more than one year. The punishment increases to not less than three years, but not more than five years when aggravating circumstances are involved. But, when they have spent more than six months without reporting to work, the punishment is increased to not less than five years and not more than seven years. The aggravating circumstances include that an officer or a non-commissioned officer convicted of desertion having crossed Rwandan borders; and has deserted with a gun or any other police equipment, more than six months have passed without reporting, or deserted in conspiracy with more than one police officer. Aggravating factors MP Christine Muhongayire said that a deserted officer should be punished, but wondered why the penalty increases just because six months have elapsed after the desertion occurred. “If a police officer deserts and goes to the countryside to practice agriculture or livestock farming but they get arrested after six months, is that another wrongdoing that adds to the offense to culminate into a tougher penalty?” she asked. Emmanuel Bugingo, Chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security at the Chamber of Deputies, which scrutinised the bill, said “this is a way to deter desertion of police officers. “They have received much training; they know how police carry out operations. Their entry into the society [might pose a public danger],” Bugingo said, pointing out that police might carry out patrols, and they evade them since they are acquainted with their system. Commenting on the tougher punishment for aggravating circumstances, Minister Gasana said that, “it is aimed at ensuring that even the officer who has deserted is encouraged to report themselves, and understand that the longer they delay to report, the higher the consequences on them whenever they are caught.” Meanwhile, among other purposes, the law aims to give RNP the legal authority and powers to carry out basic acts of investigation. Such include powers to conduct search, seizure, collection of evidence and submit a report to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) within 24 hours. It also seeks to give RNP full powers to carry out an investigation of road traffic offences.