Parliament yesterday approved the basis of a government bill that seeks to amend the Penal Code, paving way for the examination of the draft legislation by the House and its eventual enactment into law.
A draft of proposed amendments to the code was endorsed by cabinet early this month.
The government, through the Rwanda Law Reform Commission, embarked on reviewing the penal law 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, tabled the bill before the Lower House Wednesday, explaining that the changes aim to make the Penal Code easier to use and make it more effective in deterring crime, punishing convicts, and rehabilitating offenders.
To achieve that goal, the proposed Penal Code will include offences and penalties for general crimes while special crimes and offences will be moved to special laws on the specific sectors.
“The current Penal Code contains offences and penalties for genocide, and rape among other topics. It wasn’t smart putting all of the unrelated things together. As a result, using the Penal Code wasn’t easy,” he told MPs.
In the proposed amendments to the Penal Code, some offences and penalties will be removed from the Organic Law of 2012 instituting the Penal Code and inserted in special laws.
Those special laws will also be tabled in Parliament soon, the state minister said.
They include 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.
“Specific laws will be enacted at the same time as the new Penal Code to avoid legal gaps,” Uwizeyimana said.
If passed by Parliament as it is today, the proposed Penal Code will also exclude offences and penalties related to use, conservation, protection and management of water resources regulation because they will be in a special law about the sector.
Other special laws whose related offences and penalties will be 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.
The special laws will also include the organic law governing political organisations and politicians, law regulating media, law on public procurement, law on the leadership code of conduct, law on prevention and suppression of money laundering and financing of terrorism, and law regulating capital market in Rwanda, among others.
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 proposed Penal Code has 360 articles.
The proposed Penal Code also includes adjustments to the country’s laws on issues such as abortion, adultery, prostitution, as well as corruption and embezzlement.
Regarding abortion, the draft law seeks to do 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 seeks to criminalise those who lure young people, especially girls, into the activity, a move officials say aims to protect the country’s youth from pimps.
With regards to the crime of adultery, the new element being 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 also seeks to include embezzlement among forms of corruption so it can be punished as a corruption case similar to bribery.
The bill also seeks 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.
During yesterday’s session, many MPs suggested that Parliament should carry out extensive consultation with citizens and experts in different areas to hear their views on the amendments before passing the bill.
“MPs should carry out extensive discussions with citizens while analysing this bill because the Penal Code is an important law for the country and needs to be smart enough to address contemporary challenges facing citizens,” said MP Theobald Mporanyi.
MP Rose Mukantabana said that passing specific laws should be fast-tracked to avoid legal gaps as a result of amending the penal code.
She also disagreed with those who suggest that the current Penal Code was not easy to use, explaining that it was designed to address issues that were relevant when it was passed in 2012.
“It is exaggeration to say that this law was disorganised,” she said.
Following yesterday’s sitting, debates on the draft law will proceed at parliamentary committee level for deeper scrutiny before returning to plenary for final voting.