Arusha, 29 January, 2009(FH) - The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Rwandan government to enact legislation to abolish completely life imprisonment in solitary confinement, saying that the punishment was cruel and inhuman treatment.

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In December 2008, the Rwanda Parliament prohibited life in solitary confinement for genocide suspects transferred from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) or extradited from other countries and found guilty by Rwandan courts.

However, the penalty remains on the books for other persons tried and convicted of genocide-related crimes in Rwanda. In its letter, Human Rights Watch outlined its concerns about the December legislation and called on Parliament to bar such a punishment from Rwandan law.

In a letter to the presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, Senior Advisor to the Africa Division at HRW, Dr Alison Des Forges, said

Prolonged solitary confinement was cruel and inhuman treatment.

"Parliament needs to ban this penalty across the board to comply with its international obligations and to show a genuine commitment to human rights,"added Dr Forges in a press statement and a copy availed to Hirondelle Agency Thursday.

The recent legislative move was part of Rwanda's effort to prosecute in Rwanda persons suspected of involvement in the country's 1994 genocide. Until now, its efforts to have suspects sent back to Rwanda for prosecution have been largely unsuccessful.

The ICTR, located in Tanzania, has denied transfer in five cases this year, and France denied extradition in three cases. Another case involving genocide suspects is on appeal in the United Kingdom.

"Rwanda's decision to eliminate solitary confinement only for suspects transferred from other jurisdictions, including those alleged to have played a leading role in the 1994 genocide, also gives Rwandans the impression that different rules apply to different people," said Des Forges. "All suspects tried and convicted in Rwanda should be treated equally and none should be subjected to this punishment."

Rwanda's criminal sentencing scheme came under scrutiny after Rwanda expressed its willingness to receive cases from the ICTR nearly two years ago. At that time, with its trial completion date of 2008 looming, the ICTR undertook to find other jurisdictions to hear remaining cases. Rwanda was among the potential candidates, except that the ICTR cannot transfer cases to a jurisdiction where the death penalty may be imposed.

Rwanda passed a March 2007 law precluding the death penalty for any suspects transferred from the ICTR to Rwandan courts. In July 2007, the legislature adopted legislation abolishing the death penalty. However, the law replaced it with life imprisonment in solitary confinement in certain cases, a sentence that cannot be reviewed or commuted for a period of at least 20 years.

Solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time violates the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Rwanda ratified the African Charter in 1983 and acceded to the ICCPR in 1975 and to the Convention against Torture on December 15, 2008.


© Hirondelle News Agency