Rwandan controversial constitutional reform commission members sworn in amidst lawsuit

Critics say President Paul Kagame is orchestrating constitutional change to facilitate his stay in power

Critics say President Paul Kagame is orchestrating constitutional change to facilitate his stay in power

The five-man Rwandan constitutional reform commission has been sworn in to oversee looming amendment of the country’s constitution even when there’s a pending lawsuit in the Supreme Court challenging the move aimed at paving way for President Paul Kagame’s third term.

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

One of the opposition parties in the country, Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR), has filed a complaint against the government over the possible constitutional amendment arguing that the process is illegal and unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court has finally agreed to have the case tried.

The Supreme Court in July had declined to take on the case, and the plaintiff had failed to get legal representation in Rwanda.

Justice Minister Johnston Busingye has said that the functions of the special constitutional reform commission are legal and its job description 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.

The commissioners, include Dr. Augustin Iyamuremye (Chairperson), Dr. Usta Kayitesi (Vice chairperson), John Milenge, Aimable Havugiyaremye, lawyer Evode Uwizeyimana, Loyce Bamwine and Beata Mukeshimana.

Despite some few citizens opposing the constitutional amendment, and threats of aid freezing, there is a growing desire to amend article 101 of the constitution to lift the term limits and allow President Kagame to run for the third controversial term.

The opposition in the diaspora, and the international community including the United States has expressed concerns about the commission’s motives of “manipulating” the constitution purposely to extend Kagame’s stay in power.

“We respect the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent; however, we continue to firmly support the principle of democratic transition of power in all countries through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits.” State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said earlier this month.

Kirby added that “We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest.”

It is widely anticipated the Rwandan constitution will be changed to remove the two seven-year term limit that prohibits President Kagame from running for president in 2017.