government: presidential republic
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: new constitution passed by referendum 26 May 2003
legal system: based on German and Belgian law and customary norms
legislative system: bicameral Parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate
judicial system: Supreme Court; High Courts of the Republic; Provincial Courts; District Courts; mediation committees
religion: Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%, Muslim 4.6%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 1.7%
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (aiming to the abolition of the death penalty)
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Rwanda is the first African country in the Great Lakes region to abolish the death penalty.
On January 19 2007, the Rwandan Government approved a bill abolishing the death penalty in the country. After the approval by the Chamber of Deputies on June 8 and the Senate on July 10, the law abolishing the death penalty for all crimes, including genocide, went into effect on July 25 2007, with the ratification by President Paul Kagame and its publication in the Official Gazette of Rwanda.
The abolition was favourably received also by the survivors of the genocide, who rightfully noted that the death penalty existed well before 1994 and “didn’t dissuade people from taking machetes and massacring their fellow citizens.”
In 1994, around 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in just 100 days. The genocide was the worst point of decades of conflict between the Tutsi minority and the politically dominant Hutu majority that had flared in coups and conflicts since independence from Belgium in 1962.
The civil war that broke out in 1990 was interrupted on 30 October 1992 and on 9 January 1993 when power sharing agreements were signed in Arusha, Tanzania, by the Hutu President Juvenal Habiarymana and the Tutsi leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Paul Kagame. This agreement was broken in April 1994 when Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Burundian president were killed after their plane was shot down over Kigali. Extremist Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military forces began the systematic massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The massacre ended only after the intervention of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), that launched a major offensive and by July had overthrown the Hutu regime. The master minders of the genocide fled to Zaire, taking with them around 2 million Hutu refugees, who left the country fearing the Tutsi’s revenge.
On August 25 2003, in Rwanda’s first presidential elections, Paul Kagame was elected to a seven-year term as President of Rwanda. National and local elections were held in September of 2003 and from January to March of 2006, respectively, and were considered by the International Community as the first step towards national reconciliation and democracy.
The government of Rwanda maintains a list of 1994 genocide suspects, which is divided into four categories, ranging from alleged planners and killers to those who looted or committed other less serious crimes.
Of the 120,000 suspects charged with crimes related to the 1994 genocide, only 7,211 cases were completed by the national courts between 1997, when courts began functioning again, and June 2002: 689 people were sentenced to death, 22 of whom were executed in 1998; others received various sentences ranging from life to a few years imprisonment; 1,386 were acquitted. In the first half of 2002, 757 people were on trial for genocide.
In March 2001, the Gacaca justice system was introduced to promote reconciliation. The 250,000 judges who preside these courts were elected in October 2001 and the system began to operate in June 2002. Gacaca is a version of a traditional justice system involving the community that the government of Rwanda has introduced to expedite thousands of genocide trials.
The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that some 89,000 prisoners were still crowded into the jails of Rwanda at the beginning of 2005. Up to 23,000 were released in 2004.
According to the Attorney General’s office, to date, 23 people have been executed after being found guilty of charges relating to the 1994 genocide. The last of these executions was carried out on April 24, 1998, when 22 people including the vice president of the Mouvement Democratique Républicain (MDR), Frodouald Karamira, were publicly executed.
International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) - set up by the United Nations in Arusha, Tanzania - handles the cases of a more serious nature in the perpetration of the genocide. The ICTR has no death penalty.
The abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda could remove the major obstacle to the transfer back home of defendants facing trial over the 1994 genocide.
On December 19, 2016, Rwanda was absent during the vote of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly. In previous years, Rwanda co-sponsored and voted in favour.
On 29 September 2017, Rwanda voted in favor of the resolution on the death penalty (L6/17) at the 36° session of the UN Council on HUman Rights.