Rwanda: Kagame is now willing to review the contentious Genocide Law
Kigali: The Rwandan contentious law about genocide ideology is being reviewed in cabinet in the midst of accusations that government is using it to stifle free speech and the opposition, it emerged Monday from government. This could lead to a possible amendment.
Cabinet is discussing the law internally to see if there can be “room for improvement” as a result of a cabinet directive, according to Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama, who revealed this at a presidential press conference. President Paul Kagame had asked him to comment on the law.
Concurrently, the Minister announced, that a study is also ongoing to see all the cases of “whether there has been any abuse” of the law. However, Mr. Karugarama accused the fierce critics of the law of “imputing bad faith” in the debate on the law arguing that it was put in place to misuse it.
Since the passing of a law in 2007 criminalizing negating the Genocide – described here as “Genocide Ideology”, critics and donors have claimed that it has been used keep a curtain on free speech and oppress the opposition. The harshest criticism came last year from the Commonwealth Human rights Initiative, which was strongly opposed to Rwanda’s admission into the British Commonwealth block.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the US government in its annual human rights reports, have repeated the same concerns. The latest came when New York-based Human Rights Watch claimed recently that government was using the law “as a way of targeting and discrediting its critics”.
Amnesty International has also said that the terms of the law criminalizing “genocidal ideology”, are very “vague and ambiguous”. The group also says this law can restrict the ability of the accused to put forward a defence in criminal trials. The offence is punishable by 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.
In February, President Kagame fired back in an address to Parliament branding such criticism as “nonsense”. He said nobody has the right to undermine what happens in Rwanda.
See: Angry Paul Kagame Says Criticism of Rwandan Genocide Law is “nonsense”
However, on Monday, the President came out with a more reconciliatory message directing that the law should be assessed to see why critics continue to have a problem with the law in its current state.
“But I don’t know of any case where it has been abused…that to my knowledge hasn’t come up. That does not even prevent us from looking at what is it really that people are worried about,” said Mr. Kagame.
“Is it said badly? Is it confusing? Maybe we need to fine-tune it to have it clear so that the Grey area is reduced. Maybe that also means the anticipated abuse of the law will probably be narrowed. There is flexibility in my view…I mean we are open to these exchanges…what I don’t accept is the anticipation that everybody will abuse…”
In other changes which could take effect this week, the President indicated that he would prefer not to have state TV continue to show graphic images during the Genocide commemoration period due to start on Wednesday.