Culture should not be an impediment to progressive laws

It is problematic when one uses culture as an argument for legal matters. Cultures are not like Ten Commandments cast in stone by the Almighty Himself.

Editor,

RE: “Penal Code review: Provision on mercy killing ignites debate” (The New Times, November 23).

“The general but clear government position is that we cannot support anyone to assist the other to end their life. It is unacceptable. Even our culture does not condone it,” The State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, is quoted as telling parliamentarians.

It is problematic when one uses culture as an argument for legal matters. Cultures are not like Ten Commandments cast in stone by the Almighty Himself. Culture is a set of values, traditions, thoughts, actions etc., that a group of people share. And such values change/evolve over time, in a very natural way. 

The culture of 3rd century Rwanda is unrecognisable, when viewed from the point of view of the culture of today’s Rwanda. Culture today is subject to rapid change, often several cycles of change within a single generation! So, obviously culture is not a constant, and it’s not useful for establishing laws that are meant to carry relevance in society beyond our lifetime. 

Therefore, we should reduce the importance of culture in the determination of legal matters.

Moreover, there is a religious tone which tends to prevail in these topics, be it euthanasia, adultery, abortion and so on. To view these matters through a cultural or religious lens diminishes our objectivity, and is objectivity not central to the determination and application of the law? 

So why this reflex during legislation to rely on culture/religion as an argument, when such cultural/religious arguments have little or no bearing in legal proceedings?

Dayo Ntwari

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