The government will soon broaden the community service programme to cover convicted petty criminals, in a bid to decongest correctional facilities in the country.
The other rationale is to give convicts a chance to turn their lives around.
Community service, or Travaux d’Interets Generaux (TIG), is currently being used on those convicted for their role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi under which they serve part of their sentence in jail while the other half is commuted to community developmental works.
The development was announced on Wednesday by the State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, while appearing before the members of the Senatorial standing committe on Social Affairs to provide an update on different issues within the justice sector.
TIG currently only concerns people found guilty of participating in the Genocide.
Uwizeyimana said that the plan was to reform community service and give an opportunity to Rwandans who have committed ordinary crimes to turn their lives around, without necessarily being held in correctional facilities.
“We should do away with the mentality of incarceration, especially for simple crimes. We are thinking of other ways of punishment and are reforming community service and including it in primary punishment so that, for instance, people can have their punishment commuted to manual labour but allowed to do this while living at home,” he said.
Uwizeyimana also said that the government was reviewing the system so that time spent in correctional facilities is beneficial to the convict as one of the ways to avoid long term issues of repeat offenders.
“There is no need for some of these people to sit in jail and become a burden to the government. We are changing the system where we are reviewing how correctional services are administered so that people can walk out of prison when they are better. Otherwise, continuing to imprison people is something that poses bigger risks in future,” he said.
In some countries like the United States, community service is primarily reserved for non-violent and non-repeat offenders. A person convicted of a crime is sentenced to perform a specified number of hours of service to the community.
While inmates work in public parks, community centres and public hospitals for a number of hours set by a judge, in Rwanda, most community work includes activities such as road and bridge construction, construction of houses for the vulnerable, farming, construction of schools and hospitals, among others.
Addressing the issue of reparations from the Gacaca courts, Minister Uwizeyimana said that there were different issues that were getting in the way of achieving this.
“We have issues of people who were ordered to pay and they simply cannot afford it. Others have adamantly refused to pay and that is being looked into and then there are those who were sentenced in absentia who left nothing behind that can be sold,” he said.
Senator Marie-Claire Mukasine tasked the minister with concluding Gacaca issues, pointing out that the Gacaca chapter needs to be closed.
“When it comes to the law, the accused and the accuser should all get what the law stipulates. I am hoping that we do not meet here again in the future to discuss Gacaca court cases. A lot of work has been done, many sacrifices have been made. This chapter needs to be closed once and for all,” she said.
The chairperson of the committe, Senator Gallican Niyingana, said that while Gacaca courts achieved a lot in a short time, there was need for a timeline on how to deal with the issues that were left behind when the courts closed a few years ago.
“This talk of the last census concerning Gacaca court cases needs to stop. There should be a timeline because this census has been talked about for years. You need to sit with other stakeholders and come up with a schedule,” he said.
Today, there are about 443 convicts that are still involved in TIG, 4000 escaped before they could complete, and about 352 are said to have died before they completed their sentences.