Death row: Over 1300 survive gallows

Up to 1,365 convicts on death row have a chance to live after all. They are the first beneficiaries of the recent removal of the death penalty from Rwanda’s laws.

Up to 1,365 convicts on death row have a chance to live after all. They are the first beneficiaries of the recent removal of the death penalty from Rwanda’s laws.In June, MPs voted in favour of abolishing the capital sentence and the new law was gazetted on July 25.Statistics from the National Prison Service shows that one thousand three hundred and sixty-five convicts were sentenced to death between 1998 and 2006.According to a Supreme Court official, this year’s number of convicts condemned to hang before July 25, has not been compiled yet.He said only two convicts were sentenced to death in 2004 but the number shot up sharply to 60 in 2005 and decreased to 33 last year.Sentencing convicts to death ended after the abolition of the death penalty, which was largely motivated by the government’s desire to have Genocide suspects extradited and be tried here.In February, Rwanda assured the international community that the death penalty will no longer be applied.Stephen Rapp, a prosecutor in Special Court for Sierra Leone and former senior trial attorney at International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said that outlawing death penalty considerably improved chances of transferring cases from Arusha to Rwanda.“If Rwanda had not passed the law, it would not be possible (transferring suspects) because we could not send people knowing that they would face death penalty,” Rapp said.He remarked that the new law gives a perception of Rwanda ‘being more just, people want truth and justice.’ The ICTR, which is expected to complete its work by December 2008, has embarked on the process of transferring Genocide cases to Rwandan courts. Before it abolished death penalty altogether, the country enacted a law exonerating ICTR transferees from facing the hang.  Cases to be transferred include those of suspects who are still at large and those already in the tribunal’s custody. Sam Rugege, the vice president of the Supreme Court said the new law provides that death sentences handed down before were automatically commuted to life imprisonment or life imprisonment with special provisions, which denies convicts right to parole unless a prisoner has already served at least 20 years.Rugege said that those convicted of crimes like Genocide, defilement, sexual assault, torture resulting in death and the murder or other killings conducted with dehumanising acts on dead bodies may be subjected to special provisions, which require detention in isolation. “This also affects those who repeat crimes and those who kill witnesses,” Rugege explainedHe said the death sentence waiver had been under discussion for long before.“From the time the new government took over, ways of getting rid of this sentence were thought of because Rwandans had been killed for long in the past,” he said. He said the issue was that killing should not be a punishment and many argued that it is not good.“Those who had lost their people were saying it is not the right time. They argued that those who took other people’s lives should not enjoy theirs,” he said.He said the international community’s push for abolishing the death sentence was not the main reason though he admitted it was one of the factors. He added that the abolition of death punishment cannot cause increase of crimes. In other countries where it was abolished, killings and high level crimes did not increase, he argued.John Bosco Mutangana, spokesman of the Prosecutor General’s office said it was not hard to adopt the new law because it was a positive law. He said that suspects who risked getting death sentence preferred any other sentence other than death.“When one is on death row, they stand to die any time unless only the President decides otherwise. So there is no assurance of tomorrow,” he said, “Our countries is more committed to unity and reconciliation of Rwandans, but with death sentence in place, people will always grumble.He said that apart from taking away life, death sentence does not change or rehabilitate one’s behaviour. Mutangana also said that waiving death penalty was part of the country’s efforts to devise solutions to her own problems. “There are many countries which did not experience Genocide and still apply death sentence, but for us, we know what is good for us even during terrible situations like Genocide.”Genocide survivors have themselves welcomed the new law, and according to Mutangana, survivors have previously seen thousands of Genocide convicts or suspects released.Ends

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