26 November 2012

Rwanda: Prisoners' Rights Raise MPs' Concerns

About 88 prisoners are still in jail even though they have completed their sentences. Another 88 prisoners had spent more than two years in various prisons countrywide without appearing before any court.

The damning statistics presented by the National Commission on Human Rights to both chambers of Parliament recently also revealed that as of June 30, 2012, 386 prisoners did not have their files while Gacaca courts tried 610 prisoners in their absence and requested a review of their cases. The commission also revealed that 71 prisoners' trials were postponed indefinitely, 121 prisoners have sentenced like adults yet they committed the crimes while still minor and 129 were sentenced to public service work but their sentence was never executed.

All these observations raised questions among lawmakers, who said prisoners are also human and should be treated with respect and be guaranteed their rights. "I had never imagined that our prisoners are still experiencing such issues," said an MP after the commission's head Madeleine Nirere presented the report.

Nirere tried to water down the gravity of the matter, by saying that visits to prisons and police stations show that inmates' rights were respected.

"How can you tell us that their rights are respected with these figures?" countered MP Theobard Mporanyi, adding that the commission seems to ignore how harmful this can be for the country's human rights status. "Do you ever think about all those prisoners who are still waiting for justice? Do you ever think about their families? Maybe not, because if you did, you should not have underestimated this issue."

However, Nirere said the issues in prisons are related to the country's history, where due to the 1994 genocide, the number of prisoners skyrocketed even though the country's justice department worked tirelessly to get rid of backlog. "We are still facing those consequences," Nirere said.

The commission has from July 2011 to June 2012 followed up 596 cases and received 1,925 new ones. "This means that we had a total of 2,521. Among them, 1,021 were investigated and the commission decided to refer them to other competent institutions. 154 cases were rejected as they did not fulfill the requirements for a case to be followed and analyzed by the commission," Nirere said.

MP Desire Nyandwi raised the issue of illegal detention and arrest cases and requested that the commission follows up on the issues. "We have been having a number of prisoners complain about that, you should know more about it, and if possible refer the cases to competent courts," he said.

The human rights commission was also requested to do a national survey on human rights' awareness in the Rwandan community and how it as impacted Rwandans' lives.

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