Rwanda opposition wants constitutional reform commission activities halted

Green Party's Frank Habineza (2nd from L)and his legal team before the Supre Court Wednesday.

Green Party’s Frank Habineza (2nd from L)and his legal team before the Supre Court Wednesday.

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) has asked the Supreme Court of Rwanda to stop the activities of the newly appointed Constitutional Reform commission saying that its functions are contrary to the constitution.

Green Party led by its president, Frank Habineza was Wednesday given a chance to make its case against the government’s efforts of altering the constitution in order to lift the term limit provision and allow President Paul Kagame to run for the third term.

In their argument, the party defense team said that the vocabulary used in Article 101 is not precise to avoid contempt and personal interests and “the constitution is not for people but the republic, and lifting of the term limit provision could lead to violence as seen in the region today.”

“There is no reason that can be provided by anyone for the change of the constitution. This is clear in the last paragraphs of the article. It is not acceptable” Dr. Habineza told the court.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Antoinette Mukamusoni also said that at the time when the constitution was put in place, it was clear in vocabulary that it is prohibited to try to amend this specific article. “Why are they changing this now, yet it’s very clear-it is prohibited” she said.

The government defense team however stated that there is nothing new or surprising in wanting to change the constitution as the people of Rwanda have expressed their will by asking the constitution be changed.

The case has been postponed for the final verdict in 8th October, 2015 and meanwhile the constitutional reform commission has so far began its duties of guiding lawmakers as they go about changing the constitution.

The commission, which was approved by the cabinet meeting on September 9, is expected to guide the Rwandan parliament in the legal process of amending the constitution and make several recommendations during its four-month renewable tenure.

Rwanda’s Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye has said that the functions of the special constitutional commission are legal and won’t interfere with the supreme court case.

“The commission is legal and it has a job to do that is more than just amending one article. We do not expect the outcomes of the court case to affect the work of the commission. This is a judicial proceeding which is legal and so is the commission,” Busingye said.

Green Party is the only opposition organization to speak out and file suit against the looming constitutional change and Kagame’s third term move, but observers say their court case is a waste of time and resources as the ruling RPF is determined to change the constitution and they have all the means to do it despite Green Party’s “noise”.

Over three million people, including opposition politicians have petitioned parliament to debate and lift term limit to facilitate Kagame’s third term run and the legislature has agreed to debate the issue.

The United States has expressed concerns over the constitutional commission and Kigali’s impending move to change the constitution to facilitate Kagame’s third term bid.