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Rwanda Lawmakers Vote to Scrap Death Penalty
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Rwanda Lawmakers Vote to Scrap Death Penalty



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

The central African nation of Rwanda has long sought the extradition of those accused of involvement in the genocide that swept the country in 1994. Many are in countries, which refused to extradite suspects to countries where they could face execution. So Rwanda's parliament voted yesterday to abolish capital punishment.

NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports the proposal law will not be universally welcomed in the country.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Up to 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and Hutu moderates were massacred during the 100-day genocide in 1994. Once it becomes law, the decision by the Rwandan parliament to abolish the death penalty could speed up the trial of genocide suspects.

Yesterday's search comes as the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda sitting in neighboring Tanzania, nears the end of its mandate next year. The new legislation could encourage the transfer of war crime suspects to face trial back home in Rwanda where the government has been frustrated at the slow pace of the genocide trial proceedings in Arusha, Tanzania. But the death penalty has been a major concern for the Arusha Criminal Court, as well as for countries holding genocide suspects or fugitives in North America, Europe and West Africa.

The decision by the Rwandan parliament to scrap capital punishment would also mean that death sentences on 800 death row suspects within the country would be automatically commuted to life imprisonment. But there's been a mixed reaction to parliament's new law. In a national referendum in 2003, Rwandans voted overwhelmingly to retain the death penalty.

And many ordinary genocide survivors are strongly opposed to the abolition of the death sentence. Like this man, they say parliament has moved too hastily and failed to consult the people first.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) The decision to abolish the death penalty has not come from the Rwandan population. This means that some still want it in place. Maybe for the interests of all Rwandan, they should have waited for a few more years, so that people can prepare to embrace it.

QUIST-ARCTON: However, the Rwandan government argues that capital punishment has not served as a deterrent for crime. And other Rwandans believe it has not helped in national reconciliation or rehabilitation since the genocide.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) this does not ease the pain of the victim.

QUIST-ARCTON: Rwanda's prisons are currently home to thousands of genocide suspects who are still awaiting trial. The death penalty was last used in 1998 when 22 genocide convicts were put to death in front of a firing squad. This prompted international condemnation and petitions from human rights organizations for capital punishment to be suspended in Rwanda.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.

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