5 December 2018

Rwanda: Inmates Tipped on Their Rights

Rwanda Correctional Services has launched Inmate Rights Awareness Campaign in Rwamagana Prison in order to deepen prisoners' knowledge about their rights in the criminal justice system, especially rights of a suspect.

The campaign's theme is about presumption of innocence; "You are innocent until officially proven guilty by court."

Most people currently in prison were detained before the creation of Rwanda Investigation Bureau, and the campaign was the opportunity to tell inmates more about it; how it operates, and how it respects rights of the suspect.

The campaign is being conducted in partnership with Foundation Dignity in Detention (DIDE), and Rwanda Bridges to Justice (RBJ).

"Inmates rights are respected at all levels and in all domains as the law establishing RCS requires us, plus what 'Nelson Mandela Rules' oblige, we implement all of them," said CP Jean Bosco Kabanda, RCS division manager.

The official declared that the suspects and those already convicted of crimes are treated differently depending on their category, their clothes for example; the convicted put on orange clothes while those awaiting trial wear pink.

Odette Mukansoro, the coordinator of Dignity in Detention Foundation, told the inmates that criminals are those convicted by court.

"Being detained or being summoned [by RIB] does not mean you are a criminal, you become a criminal when the court has found you guilty. Whenever the trial is not over yet, whenever you are not yet convicted, you are still innocent," she explained.

The organisation deals with psychosocial trauma in Nyarugenge prison that has men and women inmates, Rwamagana prison for men, Ngoma women's prison and Nyagatare prison for male and female teenage inmates.

"When persons find themselves on the wrong side of the law, their mental health is often affected. That is why the foundation will focus on raising awareness among citizens and people living in prison that whenever they are required to appear before justice they should not be upset," said Mukansoro.

She said that inmates' rights are respected in Rwanda, especially when she compares 2018 with the situation in 1998 when their organisation started.

"The more the country builds itself, the more laws are put in place to protect citizens, and human rights keep improving. We are all working together and positive changes are visible," she said.

Augustin Gashumba, an inmate, said suspects and convicts live cordially and those not yet convicted are facilitated to prepare for their trials.

"Inside the prison we have people we call judicial persons, they help others, they help people write letters they are required to write, they train them, enlighten them. Even before the judiciary reaches them, they already have some knowledge that could help them in court," he said.

"There are even those who are illiterate and the facilitators help them a lot, it gives them confidence to stand before court," said Gashumba.

Prosecutor's role

Officials who conducted the campaign carried out a pre-event survey to find inmates' knowledge about their rights.

Most believed the sole responsibility of a prosecutor is to accuse, but the trainers informed them that a prosecutor also has a duty to bring to court evidence proving the suspect's innocence, if any.

John Bosco Bugingo, CEO at Rwanda Bridges to Justice, an NGO that gives legal services to underprivileged suspects, said this proves that they still have a duty to inform inmates on their rights.

RBJ has helped 114 suspects from the investigation stage and prosecution to trial stage, and in partnership with Dignity in Detention, they are helping 210 detainees overcome psychosocial trauma, including women and children.

"Some of us already know about our rights; the right to be visited by our families among others. However, there are those who do not know the existence of such rights, so this campaign is timely," said Emmanuel Murenzi, another inmate.

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