20 January 2013

Rwanda: Constitution to Be Amended for the Fourth Time

Photo: F. Kanyesigye
Standing in line to vote (file photo).

Last week, the chamber of deputies voted on a bill to amend the country's Constitution. This is the fourth amendment since it came into force on June 4, 2003. This time, 85 articles are to be amended which reduce the number of articles from 203 to 191.

While presenting the bill in parliament, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Tharcisse Karugarama explained to MPs that this amendment was requested by the President. He said that this amendment will help to solve some conflicting and confusing issues left by the previous amendments.

Karugarama emphasized that while a lot will be amended, the fundamental principles and some articles which request referenda will not be touched, adding that the Constitution contains a lot of unnecessary explanations and details. "It will make it easier to understand and use. For this time, the amendment will make the Constitution fit in the actual Rwanda's context," the Minister told MPs.

Karugarama stressed that the amendments would make the law flexible, clear the mistranslation of some articles in the Constitution and add new issues that have arisen.

In the Constitution amendment bill, though a big number of articles will be removed, there are some others which will be added. The new ones include the fact that the President of the Republic will have to address, once in a year, the people about the country's situation at different levels. This is called the State of the Nation address which is supposed to be an overview of how the country is doing in different sectors including Agriculture, Economy, security, foreign affairs, etc.

"It will make it easier to understand and use. For this time, the amendment will make the Constitution fit in the actual Rwanda's context," the Minister told MPs.

Heated debates erupted when MPs started firing Karugarama questions relating to the amendments. Some of the MPs requested further explanations as to why the Constitution has to amended, saying that they did not clearly understand what has to be reviewed. "I don't understand why we have to remove articles voted by the Rwandan population and by which they wanted to be governed," questioned one opposing MP.

Another deputy suggested that the entire Constitution should be re-written since it has been amended several times. In response, Karugarama told him that the articles concerned were the most urgent, but also advised him to forward a motion through parliament. "The parliament can also propose the entire amendment of the Constitution, but that is if you find it necessary," he said.

However, in the end the House ended up accepting review, which will now go to the Parliamentary standing committee on political affairs was given the bill for further analysis.

Minister Tharcisse Karugarama requested the MPs to speed up the bill because the amended Constitution is needed to be used especially in the upcoming elections of MPs (chamber of deputies) scheduled to take place in September this year.

No change in Presidential term

Rwanda's Constitution came into force on June 4, 2003 after it was voted by the whole Rwandan population. In less than 10 years, it has already been amended three times.

The Constitution was first amended on December 12, 2003 merely six months after it came into force. The next amendments happened in December 2005 and December 2008. All these amendments didn't touch the fundamental principles and other articles requesting a referendum including the review of the Presidential term, which is currently seven years and renewable once.

In the most recent amendment (2008) 50 articles were ratified, portfolios renamed and judicial mandates outlined. Back then, Karugarama said that the changes dealt mainly with the mandates of some government officials that were not clearly defined in the Constitution. The amendments were overwhelmingly passed by the MPs, and also saw a number of portfolios renamed.

At that time, judicial courts were also given new names based on their hierarchy - below the High Court there is the Higher Instance Court and the Lower Instance Court. The Higher Instance Court was renamed Intermediate Court, while the Lower Instance Court the Primary Court. The new amendments also stipulated the mandates of judges that were not initially mentioned in the Constitution.

Other issues mentioned in the previous amendments include precision and emphasis on the exact naming of the Rwandan Genocide, which was renamed 'Genocide against Tutsis.'

The Rwandan Constitution provides for a presidential system of government, with separation of powers between the three branches (executive, legislative and judiciary). It condemns the Genocide against the Tutsis in the preamble, expressing hope for reconciliation and prosperity.

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