Legal and public interest cases that marked 2018

Monday January 7 2019

RIB

A major win was the creation of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau. Secretary-General Col Jeannot Ruhunga (left) and Kalihangabo Isabelle were sworn in April 2018 as the managers of RIB. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

MOSES K. GAHIGI
By MOSES K. GAHIGI
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2018 was a remarkable year as a lot happened across the political, economic and social spheres. Many of the events made it to mainstream media, but some were missed, yet they are of great significance.

Change in infanticide law

A woman who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime of infanticide, attracted attention from a women rights’ organisation, Women’s Link, and her appeal led to changes in the law.

After she was sentenced in 2014, the woman appealed to the high court, but it was only in 2018 that a breakthrough came in her case.

Women’s Link served as amicus curiae and pointed out that the woman had suffered depression, and was not mentally sound by the time she killed her infant.

Based on this, the high court reduced her sentence from life imprisonment to seven years in prison, and also recommended a reform in the infanticide law to take into account the state of the accused’s mental health.

The sentence has been reduced from 20 years imprisonment or life imprisonment to a minimum of five years but not exceeding seven years.

New penal code

Rwanda passed a new law determining offences and penalties, after deliberations on a number of proposed amendments, which started in 2015.

The previous law had 766 articles, but after streamlining and merging articles, it came to 335 articles.

One of the changes that elicited public interest was decriminalisation of defamation, which journalists and civil society groups took as a win. The new penal code also removed solitary confinement as a form of punishment.

Rwanda Investigations Bureau

In a bid to deepen and streamline criminal investigations and boost the justice system, the government established the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB), which started its operations in April last year.

The fact that RIB is an independent body, with its agents working as civilians has helped bridge the gaps that existed before between the citizenry and law enforcement.

LGBTI register some wins

Building on the 2010 decriminalisation of homosexuality by government, the LGBTI community has been trying to test the waters of freedom that this law change brings.

Although they still face systemic stigma and discrimination, for the first time last year they managed to stage a mini parade to exercise their freedom of assembly.

They also opened a church in Nyamirambo called Church of God Rwanda, where pastors are members of the LGBTI community.

Errant contractors, new labour law

For many years trade unionists had been fighting for the labour law to be reviewed, and in July a revised law came into force, but it still didn’t set a new minimum wage.

Labour inspectors were given powers to penalise errant employers who do not implement their recommendations, or obstructs their work, with culprits liable to a penalty between Rwf100,000 to Rwf200,000.

The new law also offers a mechanism to deal with employers who do not pay workers’ social security contributions.

Abortion between woman, doctor

Before, abortion could only be authorised by a judge where a person who intends to have it had to first present a court order, which made it hard for young girls, rape victims and for women whose pregnancies posed healthy risks.

In the new law, a woman only needs authorisation from her doctor. However the new law provides for specific circumstances under which abortion is legal.

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