The government is proposing to reduce punishments given to convicts of genocide ideology crime but the umbrella body of genocide survivors has vowed to continue advocating for tighter punishments.
The new amendments in the genocide ideology law which was enacted in 2008 seek to reduce sentences to between 5 and 9 years from a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The bill carrying the proposed amendments was presented to the parliament by Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama on November 2.
"It seems like people have not taken lessons from what happened in the country," says Naphtali Ahishakiye, the Executive Secretary of IBUKA, the umbrella body for the genocide survivors. Over one million people were killed in the genocide in 1994.
However, Ahishakiye agrees that laws cannot be universally agreed on by all the people and that the organisation will accept the new penalties if the amendments are considered.
Of the 57 Members of Parliament (MPs) present during the plenary session, 40 accepted to debate the bill while 17 voted against it. The bill will now be sent to the parliamentary committee on national unity, human rights and fight against genocide.
While presenting the draft law, Karugarama admitted that the amended legislation will do away with all forms of ambiguities related to the current law. The law has faced criticisms since its adoption over its 'ambiguity'.
"Our courts have been having problems with this and Judges were acquitting almost 98% of cases referred to the courts,"Karugarama told parliamentarians.
The draft suggests that only conducts should be punished if they are manifested with intention in public. The existing law punishes thoughts or ideas.
"Internationally, a crime is complete when intention and action come together....this was lacking....we are removing this ambiguity...," the minister said.
Many western countries and organisations have in the past insinuated that the genocide ideology laws are used to stifle opposition groups but Karugarama said that this will no longer happen since the government consulted widely with different groups before drafting the law.
Experts from the US, UK, civil societies and oppositions parties were widely consulted according to Karugarama on the proposed new law, which will enable courts establish the causal link between the offence committed and the intention which makes it easy to detect the sequence of the commission of the offense of genocide ideology and other related offences.
Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, the Dean of law faculty at the National University of Rwanda says the previous genocide ideology law was ambiguous and not clearly defined.
"Some laws are bound to be seen to be vague due to the substance matter that they are meant to deal with. Genocide as a term is difficult to define.
Imagine trying to define what genocide ideology is, if genocide as term is difficult to define,"Ugirashebuja says adding that the new genocide ideology laws are definitive.
Karugarama said the new law shall remove overdrive and excesses and differentiate fair comment from genocide ideology. Justifying the bill, Karugarama said that though the Penal Code provides for penalties on the offence of genocide ideology and other related offences, it does not define what genocide ideology means.
Under the new law the gravest offence is the theft or destruction of the remains of a victim of genocide which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years and a fine not exceeding 2 million. Rwanda enacted the current law on genocide ideology in 2008.
The curious case of Victorie Ingabire
Ingabire who was convicted of among other crimes minimizing the genocide by the High court on October 30 challenged the ideology laws citing their ambiguity and not being precise in the Supreme Court and lost the case. Ingabire and her lawyer Gatera Gashabana argued that article 2 of law No 18 of 23/07/2008 relating to the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology which states that "Genocide Ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterized by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating..." is a mismatch with articles 20, 33, 34 and 35 of the constitution.
Article 33 of the constitution states that "Freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, religion, worship and the public manifestation thereof is guaranteed by the State in accordance with conditions determined by law." The FDU leader also said that the punishments were too heavy for the crimes, something that Justice Minister Karugarama also recognized when tabling the new draft law on genocide ideology laws. While defending his client, Gashabana told the nine member of the Supreme Court panel that the sentence for someone convicted of genocide ideology starts from 10 years to 25 years to life in prison and fines of Rwf200.000 to Rwf1million even when the crime is threatening, intimidating, and degrading of genocide. "Surely can that also carry such a heavy sentence?"I don't think so," asked Gashabana.