Parliament passes new penal code

The new penal code includes adjustments to the country’s laws on issues such as abortion, adultery, prostitution, as well as corruption and embezzlement.
MP Juvenal Nkusi makes a point during a plenary session. Members of parliament passed the country’s Penal Code yesterday. Sam Ngendahimana.

Parliament yesterday passed the long-awaited new law that determines general offenses and their penalties, a move that has put the long process to amend the country’s Penal Code very close to the end.

With Parliament’s final approval, the new penal law now awaits presidential assent before it can be published in the Official Gazette as a law of the land.

The government, through the Rwanda Law Reform Commission, had embarked on reviewing the country’s penal code in 2015 as part of efforts to keep the country’s laws up-to-date.

The state minister for Constitutional and Legal affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, described yesterday’s final passing of the new penal code as a success for both the government’s efforts and for current legislators who worked extensively to enact the law.

“I’m really satisfied; this is a success. Reviewing the Penal Code has been pending for a long time; so we are happy that it has finally been passed. It’s a great achievement for this parliament,” he said.

Unlike the current Penal Code, which has 766 articles in total and remains a collection of all offences and penalties that were in different specific laws, the new legislation passed yesterday has 335 articles.

Among other changes, it includes adjustments to the country’s laws on issues such as abortion, adultery, prostitution, as well as corruption and embezzlement.

Regarding abortion, the new law has done away with having to get court permission before procuring abortion when it’s legally accepted in specific cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, or when it could be dangerous to the health of the baby or the mother.

On prostitution, the amendment has not only kept it illegal but also criminalised those who lure young people, especially girls, into the activity, a move officials have said aims to protect the country’s youth from pimps.

With regards to the crime of adultery, the new element that was proposed by the government is that a spouse’s forgiveness toward their unfaithful partner will not automatically bring prosecution to a halt since court will be given a prerogative to accept or reject the forgiveness.

The proposed amendment to the Penal Code had also sought to include embezzlement among forms of corruption so it can be punished as a corruption case similar to bribery.

The amendments also sought to introduce heavy punishments for emerging and sophisticated crimes in today’s Rwandan and global society such as human trafficking, offences against children, terrorism, and those related to cyber security.

As part of amendments to the current Penal Code, some offences and penalties were removed from the country’s penal law and inserted in sector-specific laws, which is the reason why the new penal law has fewer articles.

Those specific laws were also enacted in the process and there are about 24 of them, including the law relating to the rights and protection of the child, organic law determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of environment in Rwanda, as well as the law relating to arms among others.

Other special laws whose related offences and penalties were taken out of the Penal Code include the law on mining and quarry operations, law governing electricity in Rwanda, law regulating therapeutic, educational and scientific utilisation of organs and products of the human body, and the law relating to elections.

Tabled by the government in the Lower Chamber of Parliament in October last year, the new penal law was scrutinised by the House’s Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender before it was sent back to all the legislators for final voting.