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Rwanda: Deaf and people with psycho-social disabilities still deprived of access to fair justice

The Geneva recommendations of May 3rd, 2019 to Rwanda expressed in articles 13 and 12 the concerns that people with disabilities could not participate effectively in the justice system, in particular deaf people and people with intellectual or psycho-social disabilities.

The SDG 16 stipulates, « Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels ». It calls countries to promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies, also  to promote the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice for all.

As far as Rwanda is concerned, NUDOR (National Union of Organizations of Disabled People of Rwanda), says that nothing more has yet been done to ensure that the mute and the deaf can effectively access justice, but that they are on their way. These people have continued to face challenges in terms of access to justice and equal recognition before the law.

Jean Baptiste Murema, lawyer for NUDOR, declares that people with a combination of hearing and speech impairment, blindness and deafness, and mental impairment;  often suffer from lack of fair justice, victims of judicial proceedings.

Fair justice at the moon’s distance

Some people with disabilities are being detained and sentenced by the courts, without being tried by a judge to hear what they say or being given the opportunity to be assisted by lawyers in courts.

Murema shares experience, “Lastly, a deaf mute was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was taken to serve his sentence in Mageragere central prison, in Kigali. But afterwards, having learned of his fate, NUDOR intervened in his case, and the court agreed to start the trial again.

As the man did not know the sign language, they first taught it to him (under sponsorship of Leal Aid Forum -LAF). After he had spoken the language, they searched for an interpreter and a lawyer, and he was acquitted and released”.

“Another person like him was sentenced to life imprisonment in Nyanza. Sadly, while philanthropists were on the way to help him, he died in prison”, adds Murema.

During these days of Covid-19, a person with the same impairment was on his way home in Kicukiro, and thieves attacked him. But unable to explain himself to police, he was rather arrested and taken to a stadium. Others learned how to curb the spread of Covid-19, he couldn’t catch anything. The next day, he was fined and returned home.

According to Murema, the blind are also victims of series of crimes. When they go to sue, they are asked for evidence and they miss it. They fail to describe the perpetrator: the size, dressing, age, etc. This is often what happens to women who have been raped but do not know who did it to them.

Nowhere does the judicial system give them a say

When it comes to their cases, legal proceedings no longer respect the principles of access to justice.

From the arrest by the police, the interrogation by the RIB until the surrender to the prosecution and the court, it is rare to hear that a person who is deaf, deaf mute or has a mental disability has been given the chance to defend themselves, as almost all of those institutions do not have staff trained in sign language.

Thus, many are falsely imprisoned, some are beaten and released as if it were a favor for them. Others are tried without being assisted by a lawyer, convicted and imprisoned without them saying a word.

These people want sign language to be included in courses for all the staff in judicial system (Police, RIB, prosecutors, judges, lawyers).

In this regard, in partnership with Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) NUDOR has trained 30 lawyers on disability rights and disability inclusion; then  on sign language.

Furthermore, NUDOR’s advocacy with the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda prompted the ministry to consider the matter and take action.

According to CRD Rwanda (Citizen Rights and Development), “Access to quality justice is one of the priority area Rwanda is striving to uphold”. As it is stated under article 15 of the National Constitution, all persons have equal protection before the law. In realization of this article, government should put more efforts and strengthen the capacity of some lawyers and judges with sign language skills to ensure people with disabilities, particularly deaf and people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities have access to quality justice like any other citizens, in the framework of promoting inclusive justice.

A deaf person in court with no assistance, couldnt communicate. Ten years in Mageragere prison
Thanks to NUDOR and LAF, the deaf is back in court assisted by interpreter and lawyer. He is acquitted and released

Sur Karegeya Jean Baptiste Omar

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