In every society, laws are put in place to outline what is acceptable and to prescribe punishment for wrongdoing. This is important for order and justice to reign. For this reason, article 3 of the Penal Code of Rwanda says, “A person shall not be punished on account of an act or omission that did not constitute an offence at the time of commission under national or international law.”
This means that a person can only be punished for something they did or failed to do if it is against written laws that apply to him/her as a person or citizen or resident of a specific society. Even if the act is later said to be criminal, the offender cannot be punished because the law does not work in reverse.
Further still, article 3 of the Penal Code says that a person cannot be given a heavier punishment than what is written in the law or be given a punishment that is not provided for by the law. This is to avoid judgments that are made from emotional or personal prejudices.
When a person is accused of a crime, they have the right to defend themselves. They are also presumed to be innocent until there is proof that they are guilty. This is according to article 71 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Further still, the law does not allow someone to bear punishment for another person’s crime as criminal liability is personal.
Article 29 of the constitution of Rwanda details the due process of the law for handling a person who has been accused of committing a crime. Paragraph one says that the alleged offender has to be informed of the nature and cause of charges, and he/she has the right to defense and legal representation.
Paragraph two of article 29 of the constitution of Rwanda says that everyone is “presumed to be innocent until proved guilty by a competent court.” That is why in reporting cases, you’ll see the media use terms such as “allegedly” or “reportedly.”
An accused person has the right to appear before a competent court in order to have their case heard. There are courts for different types of criminal cases. As such, people have to be tried in the courts that are relevant to their crimes. This is according to paragraph three, article 29 of the constitution of Rwanda.
Another aspect of due process of the law is that no one is to be punished for a crime which has reached its statute of limitations. There are some crimes which cannot be punished if they were committed and then went unreported for a certain period of time.
However, according to paragraph eight of article 29 of the constitution of Rwanda, the statute of limitations does not apply to the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.