In the wake of the ongoing debate on drunk-driving incidents involving MP Gamariel Mbonimana, the topic of parliamentary immunity has attracted a lot of interest. The lawmaker resigned this week after President Paul Kagame expressed concerns about “one MP” that has been caught six times, drunk-driving. The President said that he was informed that the lawmaker was not sanctioned because he has immunity. Kagame went on to challenge authorities asking them if someone who has immunity has a right to endanger his life and the lives of others. The New Times has since explored the limits of immunity, who has it, where it applies, and how it can be lost. What is immunity? Immunity from prosecution is a legal status wherein certain officials or entities are protected from prosecution in order to avoid interference with the fulfillment of their official responsibilities. Why are some officials given immunity? Jean Pierre Tuyishime a Rwandan lawyer and lecturer of Law at the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) says immunity is a privilege some officials are given so that they can be able to discharge their duties without any interference, due to the nature and the importance of the responsibilities. For example, the law determining the statute of judges and judicial personnel says, “A judge cannot be detained temporarily unless he or she is caught red-handed committing a felony or a misdemeanor. However, a judge suspected of committing a felony or a misdemeanor may be detained temporarily in case the Bureau of the High Council of the Judiciary, upon request of the organ competent for arresting and detaining, suspends him or her from his or her duties for being prosecuted.” Tuyishime says the officials are also supposed to obey laws like other citizens. “Abuse means that they are violating the law. If they are involved in a crime, that is abuse. It is abuse because immunity is there to protect them from unnecessary prosecution. It is worth noting that immunity is given to someone in the general interest of the community. It is not the interest of the office holder but the interest of the assignments that they are supposed to discharge for the general public,” he noted. Who are some of the officials enjoying immunity? Some of the people that enjoy immunity in Rwanda include the President of the Republic and top executive leaders like the Prime Minister, diplomats, court judges, and members of Parliament – both deputies and senators. Such officials may not be prosecuted unless caught in the very act of committing an offense. Rwanda does not have a specific law on immunity, but there are various laws that have provisions on immunity. For example, article 68 of the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda (of 2003 revised in 2015), for example, states that “No member of Parliament may be prosecuted, pursued, arrested, detained or judged for his or her opinion expressed or vote cast in the exercise of his or her duties.” Grounds on which one can lose immunity Tuyishime told The New Times that if somebody who has immunity is caught committing misdemeanors or felonies, their immunity can be lost. The Constitution provides that no member of Parliament suspected of a felony or misdemeanor may be prosecuted or arrested without the authorization of the Chamber of which he or she is a member by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of members present unless he or she is caught red-handed committing a felony or misdemeanor. According to the Organic Law determining the functioning of the Chamber of Deputies, which was enacted in 2018, what must follow is that the Prosecutor General prepares the letter requesting authorization to prosecute a Deputy and submits it to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.