9 May 2012

Rwanda: RCS Clarifies on Release of Elderly Inmates

The proposed release of over 2000 inmates who are aged above 70 years on the grounds of advanced age has drawn debate, with survivors sharply disagreeing on the criteria.

The Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS) argues that elderly inmates with very poor health and are in and out of hospital - deserve release on passionate grounds, but survivors angrily reacted to this.

During a news briefing, yesterday, Major General Paul Rwarakabije, the Commissioner General of RCS, clarified that his institution does not have the mandate to release prisoners as it plays a correctional role.

He added that there are certain conditions that may prompt the correctional service to propose inmates for release, but the Head of State retains the full authority to make a decision. "Reports show that people who constantly fall sick or those who eventually die in prison are those above 70 years. However, we are not insisting that they should automatically be released when they get to that age," Rwarakabije said.

Janvier Forongo, the Executive Secretary of the umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors' associations (IBUKA), says the idea is a total disappointment.

"You realise that most of those inmates above 70 years old are Genocide convicts. Releasing them would be a mockery to the survivors," he said. Forongo said the best way to go about it is engaging everyone by first collecting opinions from the public regarding the issue.

He expressed worries that a person may deliberately commit a crime bearing in mind that he or she will be set free once they clock 70. Meanwhile, Valens Munyabagisha, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Internal Security, has confirmed that a group of 1,421 inmates qualify for conditional release, according to the national constitution.

"Conditional release is a routine practice but it does not necessarily mean that elderly inmates are released basing on their advanced age," Munyabagisha said. Those who qualify for conditional release do not include convicts of aggravated crimes such as rape, Genocide, treason and other crimes against humanity.

The law says they should also have completed at least a quarter of their prison sentences, having exhibited exemplary behaviour and high level of discipline.

This will be the second group of inmates to be released since the National Prisons Service merged with Travaux pour d'Interets Generale, (TIG) to form RCS.

"Every inmate has a disciplinary file and the Ministry of Justice demands that we submit a periodic report indicating those who are liable for conditional release," he explained.

Once inmates are granted conditional release, they are required to report to court every last Friday of the month.

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