Rwanda's Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama has expressed optimism that countries hosting genocide suspects would soon expedite their transfer to Kigali now the death penalty has been abolished.
"We have already signed extradition agreements with many countries in Africa, Europe and in North America," he said on 2 August in the capital, Kigali. "We are hoping that those countries will cooperate to bring to trial all genocide suspects, or to extradite their cases before Rwandan justice."
Before the legal reforms, which came into force on 25 July, countries such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland had refused to extradite suspects linked to the 1994 genocide over fears they would be executed after trial in Rwanda.
These countries preferred, instead, to prosecute in their national courts, with only the United States – which allows the death penalty – having extradited a genocide suspect to Rwanda.
The United Nations expects its Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to wind up by December 2008, and tribunal officials have indicated that the transfer of cases against 17 suspects in its custody to Kigali, would soon be made.
"The death penalty was abolished according to an organic law promulgated by President Paul Kagame and published in the Official Gazette of 25 July," Karugarama told IRIN. "Death sentences pronounced before the [recent] law came into force are hereby commuted to life imprisonment or life imprisonment with special provisions."
According to the new law, a person convicted to life imprisonment with special provisions should be kept in isolation.
"This category of prisoners can, also, no longer benefit from any kind of mercy, conditional release or rehabilitation, unless they have served at least 20 years of imprisonment," an official source said.
|Death sentences pronounced before the law came into force are hereby commuted to life imprisonment or life imprisonment with special provisions|
The law specifies the categories of crimes committed during the genocide. They include: genocide, crimes against humanity, torture resulting in death, and murder or other killings conducted with dehumanising acts on dead bodies. These crimes are subject to life imprisonment with special provisions.
"Also included in this category are the acts of terrorism resulting in deaths, rape of children, sexual torture and establishing or running a criminal organisation aimed at killing people," the source added.
Rwanda cannot extradite a genocide suspect to a country where he or she would face the death penalty, according to the new law.
In 1998, 22 prisoners found guilty of masterminding the genocide were sentenced to death and publicly executed in Rwanda. Currently, at least 650 prisoners are on death row in the country's overcrowded prisons, according to the Justice Ministry.
Some 40 people were sentenced to death in 2002 for crimes committed during the genocide, and another 18 in 2003 for perpetrating the genocide, which, according to government estimates, resulted in the death of at least 970,000 people, mostly Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.