Rwandan President Paul Kagame has pardoned 367 women and girls jailed for abortion related offences.
Ordering their release last week, President Kagame noted in a statement that the move was within the powers bestowed on him as President of Rwanda.
“Pursuant to the powers conferred upon him by the laws … the president of the republic informed the cabinet meeting that he has exercised his prerogative of mercy and pardoned 367 persons convicted for the offences of abortion, complicity in abortion and infanticide,” read a statement published after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, when the decision was approved.
The move was welcomed by women’s rights activists in the country, who hailed the President for what they termed a step towards realization of sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in Rwanda.
Athanase Rukundo, director of programmes at Health Development Initiative said: “We are very pleased by the decision taken by the president, Paul Kagame, as it reflects the rights and freedoms of women and girls enshrined under the constitution of Rwanda, regional and international human rights instruments, and particularly the Maputo protocol. It is a positive step, taken to realize the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in Rwanda.”
The sentiments were echoed by Asia Russell, executive director of the Health Global Access Project, who said the government went against the rights of the women, by imprisoning them.
“Rwanda is responding to the public health and human rights crisis that is created as a result of criminalising access to abortion. Of course, those people never should have been the target of criminal proceedings in the first place, and much more must be done to ensure the bodily integrity and human rights of women,” the officer said.
On his part, Tom Mulisa, executive director for the Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development,commended the government for the move.
Mulisa, however, said more needs to be done to stop the government from arresting and charging women for seeking health services.
“Although we cannot comment on the particular cases, in general, there is an ongoing trend of charging women for infanticide when that is factually incorrect. A study conducted by Great Lakes initiative found that women were being charged for infanticide and murder, while some were arrested for abortions when in fact they miscarried. Imprisoning women for seeking a health service is a clear violation of their human rights,” he said.
In August last year, Rwanda reviewed its penal code on abortion, which criminalized abortion.
In the new law, abortion is allowed in cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, or instances where the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or fetus.
However, the new regulations requires that the procedure be carried out after consultation with a doctor.
Prior to the decision, a survey carried out published by the Guttmacher Institute in the year 2013 indicated that over 60,000 women and girls procure abortion annually.
The study categorized most of the abortions as unsafe.
The survey also found out that an estimated 22% of all unintended pregnancies end in abortions, while 63% result in unplanned births and 15% end in miscarriage.