Rwanda backs universal abolition of death penalty

After outlawing death sentence, Rwanda has now rallied behind international efforts to have the capital penalty abolished in all countries.

After outlawing death sentence, Rwanda has now rallied behind international efforts to have the capital penalty abolished in all countries.

Last month, Rwanda scrapped the sentence from the penal code, which saw over 1,350 convicts on death row survive the gallows with their sentences commuted to life in prison.

President Paul Kagame said on Thursday that Rwanda is fully behind the campaign for a universal moratorium on capital executions.

“Rwanda will be happy to work together with other African countries, and to join the European Union in co-sponsoring the resolution at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (due this month), in support of this important initiative,” Kagame said.

He was speaking in Rome, Italy in his acceptance speech after receiving the “Abolitionist of the Year 2007” award.

The award is presented by Hands Off Cain (HOC), an international pressure group leading a worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty.

“We are pleased that Rwanda has joined the family of nations and peoples that reject the death penalty,” Kagame said.

Kagame said that Rwanda’s violent history, which climaxed with a Genocide that killed one million lives in 1994, was the main factor behind the country’s abolition of death penalty.

“When we began the debate on capital punishment, it was heavily influenced by the history of Genocide. Through national dialogue and consultation however, our people realised that they had been historically peace-loving and united, and at no time had they, on their own accord, sought to take the lives of their neighbours,” he said.

He said before 1994, life in Rwanda had lost meaning because the past regimes introduced and promoted a culture of impunity “as exemplified by the periodic massacres that occurred since the late 1950s, and (the 1994) Genocide.”

“The governments that presided over these ugly episodes had neither the moral authority nor the capability to perform the functions of a normal state – that is, protecting and improving lives,” the President said.

He added: “Our liberation struggle aimed at creating an atmosphere and space for Rwandans to engage in their daily lives and determine their own future as free people. This has meant working consistently to build a nation and an economy that is broad-based and productive, as a means of uplifting our people from poverty and ignorance.”“Such an enterprise can only be achieved on a foundation of security, stability, justice, and national reconciliation,” the President further observed.

Kagame linked recent positive change in Rwanda to what he called “progressive developments in Africa.”

“Our continent has over the past decade increasingly rid itself of bad governments, and steadily adopted a developmental agenda that seeks to create greater public good,” he said told the high-profile audience, which included the President of the Italian Government, Romano Prodi.

While he recognised the support Rwanda has received from the international community in the aftermath of the Genocide, Kagame appealed to foreign governments to help deliver justice by apprehending and trying or extraditing Genocide fugitives. 

“It would be helpful if more commitment was shown internationally for resolving this issue through the available channels and means, including handing over the Genocide suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), trying them where they are, or better still returning them to their country for justice,” he appealed.

The country lifted capital sentence shortly after enacting a special law exonerating suspects due to be transferred from the ICTR to local courts from facing executions.

The decision to outlaw death penalty altogether is widely viewed as a significant inducement to foreign governments to hunt down Genocide suspects still at large and extradite them to Rwanda before trial as ICTR’s mandate nears end in December 2008.By scrapping capital punishment, Rwanda became the first country in the Great Lakes Region, and 100th in the world to outlaw what is considered as ultimate irreversible and denial of human rights.

According to Amnesty International, 14 countries in Africa, including Rwanda, are death penalty abolitionist for all crimes while 18 are abolitionist in practice.

The last time Rwanda enacted the  death penalty was in 1998 when 22 Genocide convicts were executed at various places around the country.

“A resolution calling for a global moratorium at the UN General Assembly would be an important milestone towards the worldwide abolition of the death penalty,” Amnesty International said in a statement, while praising Rwanda’s move for scrapping the sentence and urging her to co-sponsor the resolution.Ends

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