A quick look at different laws that were enacted in Rwanda under the colonial administrations from 1885 through 1960s leaves the reader thirstier, wanting to know more about why they were passed.
This topic is of great interest at the moment because the Government has moved to abolish all colonial laws, singling out 1000 legal instruments that were enacted by the colonial regimes but are no longer practical.
Last month, Members of Parliament started analysing the Government’s proposal to abolish all the legal instruments that were enacted by the colonial regime.
The State Minister for Constitutional and Legal affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, said the colonial legal instruments are no longer needed in the country’s laws and reassured MPs that no legal gaps will emerge as a result of repealing them.
“These are not laws that we should be proud of keeping. We don’t see a problem in repealing them,” Uwizeyimana told MPs in the middle of the month.
During an interview with the Chairperson of the Rwanda Law Reform Commission (RLRC), Aimable Havugiyaremye, on Friday, he equally reassured that cancelling the colonial laws won’t leave any legal gaps.
“We won’t have any legal gaps by repealing colonial laws because our legal system now has sufficient legal instruments to regulate both civil and criminal matters,” he told The New Times.
The legal expert also said that should repealing colonial laws leave any minor gaps in terms of written laws, the country’s judiciary will still be able to render justice.
“We also believe that not having a written law doesn’t prevent you from rendering justice because you can use logic, legal precedents, and common sense among other things to render justice and our legal framework allows it especially in civil matters,” he said.
In the draft law to abolish all colonial laws, the Government has proposed to cancel all the legal instruments that were enacted “before the date of independence” – starting with the year 1885 and ending on July 1, 1962, when Rwanda gained independence.
The legal instruments include laws, decree-laws, decrees, legislative ordinances, law-ordinances, ordinances, ordinances of Ruanda-Urundi, royal orders, decrees of the Governor General, orders of the Resident and Special Resident, regulations, presidential orders, ministerial orders, edicts and declarations.
They were enacted by either the German or the Belgian colonial administrations when the country was under occupation by the colonialists.
What are some of these colonial laws?
As Rwanda observes its Independence Day today, The New Times takes a look at some the colonial laws that remain an integral part of the country’s legal regime.
The legal instruments include a decree of July 22, 1930 that prohibited transfer on credit or for free of all alcoholic beverages.
Under article one of the decrees, it was prohibited for establishments serving drinks to sell alcoholic drinks on credit or give them away for free.
Under that law of 1930, alcoholic drinks consumed on the spot of their sale had to be paid for at the bar and traders were not allowed to sell the alcoholic drinks on credit or provide them for free.
One of the legal analysts at the Law Reform Commission told this newspaper that since that law on prohibition to sell alcohol on credit was never officially abolished; some stubborn revellers can still drink to their thirst and refuse to pay debts for alcoholic drinks in case managers of bars were gullible enough to provide the drinks on credit.
Among the colonial laws is also the law that made it possible for Catholic Church missionaries to acquire so much land for the Church and until now it is still in its hands.
That massive land grab by the Church was made possible by a decree of January 24, 1943 on free assignments and concessions to scientific and religious associations and public utility establishments by the Belgian government.
Article one of the decree stated that “under the terms of this order and subject to approval by Royal Order, the Governor General may assign or freely grant to scientific, philanthropic or religious associations and to the institutions in charge of public-interest recognized by the law, up to 10 hectares of urban land and 200 hectares of rural land”.
Havugiyaremye said that the Church can’t give back the land it has acquired today because it’s already an acquired right under the country’s laws but it remains clear that colonial laws were enacted in favour of some colonialists themselves or missionaries.
Many other colonial laws were unfair and reflected racism, segregation, and divisionism against Rwandan people, such as those that provided for separate living areas and neighbourhoods for white people and Rwandans, who were in this case referred to as indigenous people.
Examples for that include Decree-Law no 47/T. P of 05/05/1937 related to the regulations governing the numbering of plots in European neighbourhoods of urban constituencies and Decree-Law no 127 of 15/06/1913 related to the regulation of constructions in European neighbourhoods of urban constituencies.
As for Decree-Law no 375/Hyg. of 10/10/1940, it was related to the hygiene standards in Indigenous Constituencies and Unorganised Traditional Groupings.
The government’s proposal to repeal all the colonial laws is currently under consideration by the parliamentary standing committee on political affairs and gender in the Chamber of Deputies.
Members of the committee will review the draft law and then introduce it back to the Lower House for final review and passing.