The Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye has said that the government has kicked off a project to progressively rehabilitate police stations and build new ones in a move aimed at separating minors from adults in police custody.
He said this on Monday, January 25, while presenting the country's third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council that is based in Geneva.
The review, done virtually, assessed Rwanda's performance in observing human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Busingye told the UPR Working Group which consists of 47 members of the Council, that although the government has successfully implemented its plan to separate female inmates from male inmates, and minors from adults in prisons, efforts are still underway to separate minors from adults in police custody.
"In this regard, the government has embarked on the project to progressively rehabilitate the existing police stations while building new ones where needed. Renovated and new facilities will have separate rooms for minors," he said.
Busingye admitted that the prison population remains relatively high but was quick to attribute this to what he said is the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system in the country.
However, he said that efforts to expand options for non-custodial sentences and diversion from the typical criminal justice channel are being studied for implementation as soon as possible.
He pointed out that short term measures to depopulate prisons including building a new Nyarugenge correctional facility and renovations of three prisons were implemented.
"Between 2015 and 2019, nine new detention police stations were built while 64 were renovated. In 2018, the penalty of community service was adopted as an alternative sentence and the use of electronic bracelets to expand bail options for suspects were introduced," he said.
Busingye also reminded panel that at least 9,442 inmates were released on parole and 110 have been granted Presidential Pardon since 2015.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that the issue of congested prisons has come up. In 2019, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called on the government to decongest the country's correctional facilities, an issue that it says continues to impede the rights of the prisoners.
The commission also found that in the women's wing in Musanze prison, the issue of congestion was causing aeration issues, something that is deemed risky since it is home to young children who are in with their mothers.
In November last year, the Ambassador of the European Union (EU) delegation to Rwanda, Nicola Bellomo called on the government to revamp its criminal justice system and find alternatives to prosecution and imprisonment.
Bellamo expressed his concerns over the size of Rwanda's prison population, which he said is proportionately one of the highest in the world.
"Prosecutors and judges should use more of the existing alternatives to imprisonment without fearing of departing from what is seen as the norm or of being accused of corruption," he said.
He however applauded the reforms made in the justice sector, particularly the development of the first ever criminal justice policy that is in the pipeline.
In 2015, Rwanda was given 83 recommendations but seven were rejected on grounds of incompatibility with domestic laws and the Constitution.
Among the recommendations rejected was becoming a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.
At the time, Busingye said that another 26 recommendations would enjoy the support of Rwanda in principle but could not be accepted for implementation at the time because it was difficult to guarantee that the requirements necessary for their implementation would be readily available within the reporting period.