Supreme Court ruling clarifies on procedures to amend Constitution

The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a petition filed by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) challenging the ongoing process to amend the Constitution.
Chief Justice Rugege (R) delivers the verdict at the Supreme Court yesterday. (F. Niyigena)
Chief Justice Rugege (R) delivers the verdict at the Supreme Court yesterday. (F. Niyigena)

The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a petition filed by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) challenging the ongoing process to amend the Constitution.

The court ruled that the national legal framework could be amended to accommodate the wishes of millions of Rwandans regarding how they want to be led.

The case, filed in June, sought to block a process initiated by members of the public who petitioned Parliament to start the process of amending the Constitution to remove the bottleneck of term limits which bar President Kagame to run after his second seven-year term ends in 2017.

More than 3.7 million Rwandans of voting age from all walks of life, representing over 73 per cent of total voters, had filed the petitions with Parliament.

But Green Party, through its president Frank Habineza, claimed in the petition that the process was unconstitutional and that Article 101 of the Constitution, which prescribes two non-renewable term limits for a sitting president, was not amendable.

Reading the verdict, Chief Justice Sam Rugege said the court had carefully analysed arguments of both parties and made further consultations from different international legal instruments before coming to a conclusion.

“The court observes that Article 101 was subject to change providing that it complies with the provisions of the law, and if the constitution is changed, it would in no way have violated democratic principles in case it follows the laid out procedures.

“The court rules that the petition filed by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda has no legal basis; Article 101 can be subject to amendment as a whole and court has ruled that the court fees deposited by Green Party covered all operational costs of the trial,” Prof. Rugege ruled.

Prof. Rugege made references under which the current Constitution can be changed at the same time quoting a number of articles from African charters on democratic elections.

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Green Party head Habineza (C) reads a copy of the verdict before signing on it in court today, flanked by party lawyer Antoinette Mukamusoni. Looking on, right, is Epimaque Rubango, a senior state attorney who represented the State in the case. (Faustin Niyigena)

The Chief Justice observed that Article 193 does not prohibit change on articles relating to presidential mandate, nor does it say it is impossible, which Green Party did not explicitly demonstrate in its arguments.

He said it would not make sense if a constitution, which is there to serve the people, instead turn to hold them at ransom, adding that, world over, constitutions are amended at the request of the people.

In Rwanda’s case, Prof. Rugege said, the procedures under which the Constitution can can be amended are clearly stipulated.

“On whether the change of Article 101 is against democratic principles and that it can be the leading cause of insecurity within the country, the highest court of the land observed that Rwanda is a republic and independent country that adheres to democratic principles,” he said.

Rugege further stated that Article 2 of the Constitution says that all power belongs to the people and that no group of people or an individual can vest in themselves the exercise of power.

“This means that people have the right to bestow power unto whom they want and choose how they should be governed through their representatives and or referendum. If that is done correctly, it is not violating democratic principles; on the contrary, if the people are restricted to that, it indeed would be undemocratic,” the Chief Justice added.

In their petitions to Parliament, Rwandas outlined different reasons why they still needed President Kagame in office but they all centred on the fragility of the country and that it would be risky to elect an untested leader at this time.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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