African countries discuss Rwandan example in abolition of the death penalty


on 22 October 2011

The conference was held by the Rwandan government with Hands off Cain in collaboration with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty under the aegis of the African and European Unions.
Representatives of about twenty African governments were present, as well as various exponents from the international community and many nongovernmental organizations.
“In Rwanda in 1994, death was on every street corner, ” Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama reminisced during the opening ceremony. “The only hope was to survive until the next day. After the genocide we didn’t have judges or prosecutors or police, yet we still achieved justice and not revenge: who would have done this better than us? It was an extraordinary experience, that today we are allowed to live in harmony. We have humbled death by not giving it the dignity of the law.”
The president of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping of Gabon (photo, left), said: “This country, after having suffered so much, knew to arrive at forgiveness. Taking Gabon as an example, we could never have believed Rwanda would abolish the death penalty in turn.
Ping added: “To protect life, the Rule of Law needs to be established and citizens must be educated about democracy. Today the African Union supports abolition or a moratorium in all its efforts.”
Louis Michel, co-president of the ACP-EU parliamentary assembly, emphasised the fact that the country that had known absolute evil had decided to hold the abolitionist conference. “It is a struggle in all people against barbarism. Democracies that want to be defined as such are embarrassed by the continued use of this perverse institution,” he said in relation to capital punishment.

Reconciling the end of impunity and the culture of forgiveness

Aldo Ajello, honorary president of Hands Off Cain, remembered the organization’s long fight as a part of the Radical Party. Ajello also emphasised the courageous act of processing those guilty of genocide without resorting to revenge, rather by reconciling the end of impunity and the culture of forgiveness.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (photo, right – video below) stressed on the importance of the right to life: “There was a time in our history when some Rwandans did not enjoy fundamental rights including the right to life. Over the years this denial culminated in the loss of more than one million people in the genocide of 1994,” he said.

Kagame then spoke of the absolute ineffectiveness of the death penalty for dissuading criminals. “Our experience teaches us that abolition has contributed to harmony, because crime has decreased. We did not put those guilty of genocide to death, instead we preferred to break with the past, and we have never regretted this decision,” the Rwandan president concluded.
The World Coalition was represented by its executive secretary Raphael Chenuil-Hazan (video below). He addressed the issue of the death penalty and public opinion by saying that in order to achieve abolition political courage must be coupled with education.

Italian Parliamentarian and Hands Off Cain treasurer Elisabetta Zamparutti concluded the two-day conference and presented the Kigali resolution.
The conference adopted the resolution unanimously, asking African countries to sign and support treaties and international resolutions on the death penalty and the moratorium on executions, with a commitment by governments to transpose their contents into each country’s legislation.

Photo: Paul Kagame on Flickr

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