The New Times (Kigali)

17 February 2013

Rwanda: Legal Aid Forum Report On Detentions Inaccurate - Govt

Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama has refuted allegations that at least 8,000 suspects are languishing in prisons across the country without trial.

Legal Aid Forum Rwanda (LAF), last week, published findings indicating that some 8,000 people are held in Rwandan prisons without trial. The findings were a result of a study on the impact of pre-detentions on access to justice that LAF commissioned last year.

However, Minister Karugarama said LAF's inflated figures were made to mislead public opinion.

"Under the existing political framework and culture, it's not possible to have such a figure in pre-trial detention. Given our commitment to ensuring that we don't have people in prisons, under no circumstances can these figures be right," he said.

The Deputy Commissioner-General of Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), Mary Gahonzire, also contested the figures, saying LAF could be having 'ill intentions' by releasing false figures.

"There are 4,141 people in prison yet to be sentenced. Majority of these are on trial or appeal level, others are awaiting trial, but they have not exceeded their stay in prison," Gahonzire said.

Figures RCS availed to this paper indicate that currently there are 55,984 people in the 14 correctional facilities in the country.

Detention period

The law establishing RCS allows it to release suspects who exceed the legal time to be prosecuted. Gahonzire said 26 suspects were last year released from various prisons due to delays to prosecute them.

While unveiling the findings, the Executive Director of LAF, Andrews Kananga, said majority of the pre-trial detainees mentioned in his report are petty offenders.

"Some people are detained for up to six months and by the time they are released they have lost their jobs. Some of the 8,000 in pre-trial detention committed serious crimes, but the petty offenders are the majority," he said.

However, Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga said LAF is grossly erroneous in their figures.

"First of all, petty offenders should be defined by the law not people's sentiments. The criminal law stipulates that any suspect accused of committing a crime whose sentence is less than two years cannot be subjected to pre-trial detention. You can't say people who committed crimes whose sentence is above two years are petty offenders," Ngoga said.

He said since Prosecution cleared its backlog last year, suspects have been expeditiously prosecuted.

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