By Professor Charles KAMBANDA
On September 15, 2018, the brutal ruler of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, took treachery a notch higher when he announced Executive “clemency” for some Rwandan political prisoners. Kagame’s political intolerance is unmatched. He bumps off to prison any real, potential or imaginary political challenger. Prominent among the recipients of Kagame’s executive clemency is Madam Victorie Ingabire and Kizito Mihigo. Like all political prisoners in Rwanda, the beneficiaries of Kagame’s clemency committed no crime; they sought to exercise their constitutional rights as well as asking Kagame to:
( i) take responsibility for his role in the 1994 massacres, which he conveniently markets as Tutsi genocide and blames it all to his vanquished Hutu foes,
( ii) respect rule of law, constitutionalism, and other democratic values,
( iii) stop forced disappearance and summary executions, among other things.
International pressure, imminent civil war and Kagame’s conflict with all neighboring countries, have all built insurmountable pressure unto Kagame’s disintegrating junta. Is executive clemency, in form of commutation of jail term for Kagame’s political prisoners an appropriate remedy? Does Kagame’s perfidious “clemency” provide a sustainable solution to the country’s political impulse?
Commutation is not an appropriate remedy in this case:
Commutation means cutting short someone’s jail term. The legal significance of commutation is plain. The beneficiary of commutation remains is a convict, and is guilty of the substantive crime, for all purposes. Commutation cuts short jail term without restoring the civil liberties lost upon conviction. A beneficiary of Executive commutation cannot stand for elective office. Most importantly, commutation confirms that the convict (a) has accepted responsibility for the crime(s) he/she committed but (b) he/she has reformed and he/she (c) has expressed the desire that he/she wants to move on.
Kagame used his insane junta, draconic laws and personalized courts of law to torment his political prisoners. Without remorse for tormenting innocent Rwandans, Kagame wants his victims to thank to be grateful for “clemency”. Kagame threw his political opponents to prison because he did not want any of them to challenge him during his sham elections. The same dictator tosses his tormented political opponents out of prison with legal incapacity to stand for elections for any office in the country.
Full pardon would probably make some sense but still not an appropriate remedy:
Unlike commutation, full Executive Pardon wipes out the convicted person’s punishment and restores the convict’s civil rights a convict lost upon conviction. However, full pardon does not expunge the convict’s criminal records. Kagame’s political prisoners committed no crime; they are victims of Kagame’s political intolerance and disrespect for rule of law and constitutionalism. Executive pardon is not for law abiding citizens, whose only “crime” is exercise of their constitutional rights.
Unconditional release for political prisoners is the only proper remedy for Kagame's political prisoners:
All political prisoners in Rwanda are victims of Kagame’s criminal disposition. Kagame cannot provide a sustainable solution to the political crisis his criminal nature created and
cherishes. All Political prisoners in Rwanda deserve ( i) unconditional release, ( ii) compensation for torture Kagame’s dreadful junta has subjected them to and ( ii) expungement of all the mischievous criminal record Kagame junta has created against these law abiding Rwandans.
Transparent and candid national dialogue, under international mediation, is inevitable if Kagame wants to avert the looming civil war. Opening political space, creating public instituions that work for all Rwandans, respect for rule of law, instituionalizing a culture of respect for human rights and other Democratic values is what Rwandans need. Bogus clemency is not a solution to Rwanda’s political disaster in waiting..