Abortion, adultery, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking... just how punitive should these crimes be dealt with in the country?
The answers to these questions start dropping in today at Parliament as review of the draft Penal Code begins. While members of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender have almost 300 articles to scrutinise, crimes categorised as ‘emerging’ are expected to be given special attention.
Prosecutor-General Jean-Bosco Mutangana told the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security on Tuesday that the issue of drug sale and consumption, both of which fall in the emerging crimes category, continues to escalate.
Until the early 2000s, drug trafficking and consumption was not a common crime in Rwanda and Muntangana partly blames globalisation for the sudden surge.
“Selling or even using drugs is not something known anywhere in our culture but with globalisation, many of our youths have become addicted to Western lifestyle where experimenting with such has rendered some of them addicts who can’t do anything useful for themselves or society,” he said.
Figures from the National Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Ndera, indicate that in 2009, only 440 patients with alcohol and drug induced illnesses made consultation as compared to the 2804 in 2016.
However, the numbers have since significantly gone up. Between 2013-2014, 3,920 files related to drugs were received and, from 2014-2015, the numbers went up to 4,308 files. From 2015-2016, 4,715 files were received while 5,659 files related to this crime were received in 2016/2017.
Mutangana appealed for a deeper look into the issue beyond the deterrent and punitive measures, saying that, currently, drug abuse was the largest contributor to domestic violence, murder, theft, bodily harm, among other crimes.
“Prosecution is not happy with such statistics. We need to put deterrent and punitive measures on the weighing scale, review them and see what else we can do because these drugs are destroying the moral fabric of this country. The most affected are young people between ages 14 and 40,” he said.
Challenges and remedies
Drug trafficking, which is currently the third most profitable illicit business after human trafficking and arms trade, has seen the involvement of some leaders within the region earn big, making the crime more challenging to investigate and prosecute.
“Transnational crimes always have a cross-border element, so it is important to have mutual legal assistance from all our neighbours so that we can collectively eliminate it,” Mutangana said.
The Director-General of the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, Anaclet Kalibata, agreed, saying that lack of harmonised laws meant that what is considered a drug in Rwanda may not necessarily be considered one in another country.
“We have illicit alcohol that we, for instance, consider a drug but it isn’t considered so by our neighbours. It becomes difficult if you ban something that is legal right across the border. In the end, it creates demand which also encourages organised crimes,” he said.
According to the Minister in the President’s office, Judith Uwizeye, the Government has invested time and money in fighting drugs, including purchasing equipment that can detect drugs that have been ingested.
“We now have equipment that can detect if someone is a drug mule, carrying drugs around in their stomach. In such a case, they are mostly rushed to hospital and professionally helped to flush them,” she said.
In 2010, the Government set up the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centre where at least 4,000 people, the majority of them drug addicts, are rehabilitated and equipped with hands-on skills at Rwf591,000 per person.
In 2015, the Government set up an inter-ministerial committee responsible for fighting against illicit use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors.
The committee comprises Ministries in charge of Justice, Foreign Affairs and East African Affairs, Education, Gender and Family Promotion, Sports and Culture, Youth, ICT, Agriculture, Defence, Cabinet Affairs, as well as Police to tackle drug abuse.
Banking on punitive measures
Could the Penal Code that is under review be the long awaited answer? Some stakeholders think so.
Currently, Article 594 of the Penal Code punishes any person who unlawfully makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotics and psychotropic substances with a term of imprisonment ranging between three and five years and a fine of between Rwf500,000 and Rwf5 million.
However, stakeholders are seeking more punitive measures. Under the proposed Penal Code, the Government seeks to put in place deterrent laws targeting traffickers more than the consumers.
Article 289 of the proposed Penal Code says that any person who is convicted of eating, drinking, injecting themselves, inhaling narcotic drugs or one who anoints themselves with such substances is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than one year but not exceeding two years and is subject to a penalty community service.
However, any person who unlawfully produces, transforms, transports, stores, gives to another, or sells narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances faces heavier sentences.
“On conviction, they are liable to life in prison and a fine of no less than Rwf20 million but not exceeding Rwf30 million,” the draft law says.
The penalties vary depending on the drug related crime but if acts cited are performed to a child or if they are performed at the international level, the penalty is life imprisonment and a fine between Rwf30 million and Rwf50 million.
Could this finally deal with the issue of drugs once and for all? Perhaps.
Mutangana believes that the law under review has the potential to significantly reduce drug use since it deals with causes instead of consequences; something that he says is akin to treating symptoms, not the disease.