Rwanda has become the latest country to abolish the death penalty, accelerating the worldwide trend towards ending capital punishment.
It is the first country in Africa's Great Lakes region to call a halt to executions and the 100th country worldwide to abolish the death penalty in law. Another 30 countries are abolitionist in practice. Fourteen countries in Africa, including Rwanda, are now abolitionist for all crimes and a further 18 are abolitionist in practice.
It is hoped that Rwanda's move will spark a pattern towards abolishing the death penalty in Central Africa. There are encouraging signs from Burundi, where a revised version of the Penal Code, currently pending promulgation, has excluded the death penalty as punishment for all crimes.
The last death sentences were imposed in Rwanda in 2003. The last executions took place in 1998, when 22 people found guilty of genocide-related crimes were executed. Rwanda currently holds approximately 600 prisoners on death row, whose sentences are being commuted following this legislation.
The continued existence of the death penalty constituted one of the main obstacles preventing the transfer of detainees held by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), or indicted genocide suspects living abroad, to Rwanda's national jurisdiction.
Other obstacles have been the capability of the Rwandan justice system to provide fair trials as well as additional concerns regarding its independence, impartiality and transparency. The abolition of the death penalty is a step forward.
Amnesty International now calls on the Rwandan government to co-sponsor the resolution on a global moratorium on executions that will be introduced at the United Nations General Assembly this October, and to encourage other countries in the region to support the resolution.