Kigali, 13 October 2011
Speaking today at the opening of the regional conference on the abolition of the death penalty, President Kagame said that abolishing the death penalty had given Rwandans a new lease on life and contributed to the healing of the society; “Whereas the pain and desire for justice that victims’ families feel is understandable and cannot be ignored, the punishment policy should always be put in a broader context. It is for this reason, and for our specific historical circumstances, that Rwanda took a definite stand on this subject and abolished the death penalty in 2007. When the psychology of a people changes, so does their behaviour; this may even explain the reduction in crime that we have seen over the last five years.”
President Kagame said that Rwanda’s commitment to protecting fundamental human rights for all was a direct departure from the past where some citizens were denied their rights, including the right to life, eventually culminating in the death of more than one million people in the genocide of 1994:
“The law as it existed then provided that those who had committed genocide should suffer the ultimate punishment – death. In practical terms, that would have meant executing more than a million people, after another million had perished in the genocide. Regardless of the extreme circumstances, there is no doubting the social consequences that would have accompanied such a mass execution.”
President Kagame said that what Rwanda needed most was a way to punish crime, end impunity, heal the physical and emotional wounds of survivors of the genocide and deliver justice to all;
“The government could not become a mass executioner in order to correct mass murder. So we chose to break with the past and abolish the death penalty in order to move forward. We were convinced that death could never serve as an instrument of governance. We have never regretted that decision.”
Other keynote speakers at the opening of the conference included Dr. Jean Ping, Chairman of the African Union Commission, Louis Michel, member of the EU Parliament and co-president of the ACP-EU and Aldo Ajello, Honorary President of “Hands Off Cain”, an Italian organization that awarded President Kagame the Abolitionist of the Year award in 2007.