The decision by Rwanda to repeal all legal
instruments brought into force before independence
is a tremendous legislative achievement.
The aspects of these legal instruments date back to
the colonial era.
Rwanda was initially colonised by Germany from
1894 until 1918, as part of German East Africa.
Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Rwanda
was made a Belgian protectorate under the League
of Nations, as part of the “Territory of Ruanda-
Between 1919 and 1962, the central legal
instruments enacted by Belgian authorities were
reflective of Belgian traditional laws and practices.
Ignoring the unique
characteristics of Rwandan
society, Belgium imported the civil and criminal
codes of the then Belgian Congo.
On July 1, 1962, Rwanda, like many other African
countries that were under colonial rule, gained
independence from Belgium to become Rwanda.
This effectively made it a sovereign State with an
inherent international legal personality.
Under international law, it is recognised or accepted
as being capable of exercising international rights
In particular, under general criteria of international
law, rights and duties of a State are indicative of
the criteria required to be established as a State in
the eyes of the international law.
As such, a state, as an international legal person,
possess the following qualifications: a permanent
population, a defined territory, government (perhaps
effective) and capacity to enter into relations with
the other states.
Naturally, the State is endowed with fundamental
rights, such as sovereignty, signifying that it’s
entitled to exercise political control within its
territory and in relation to its citizens.
It also enjoys
the right to independence.
Ideally, the concepts of sovereignty and
independence are inseparably linked.
However, independence is defined, under the Draft
Declaration on the Rights and Duties of States
prepared in 1949 by the International Law
Commission, as the capacity of a state to provide
for its own well-being and development free from
the domination of other states, providing it does not
impair or violate their legitimate rights.
The notion of independence in international law
implies a number of rights and duties: for example,
the right of a state to exercise jurisdiction over its
territory and permanent population, or the right to
engage upon an act of self-defence in certain
situations. It implies also a duty not to intervene in
the internal affairs of other sovereign states.
In the course of the struggle to gain independence,
Rwandans were entitled to the right of all peoples
This principle is spelt out in the UN Charter,
Article 1, paragraph 2, which states
‘to develop friendly relations among nations
based on respect for the principle of equal rights
and self-determination of peoples, and to take other
appropriate measures to strengthen universal
Equally, the principle of sovereign equality of States
is embodied in Declaration on Principles of
International Law Friendly Relations principle.
As an independent state, Rwanda is entitled to the
right to equality of states before the law.
This is a long-held principle of international law.
More particularly, it is unarguably accepted by
states in the sense of equality of legal personality
The principle of equality is enshrined in Article 2,
paragraph 1, of the UN Charter that ‘The
Organization is based on the principle of the
sovereign equality of all its Members’.
Back to pre-independence legal instruments, this
new law repealing of all legal instruments brought
into force prior to the date of independence of
Rwanda is absolutely paramount, as it does away
with the pre-colonial rule-driven laws.
But, in my view, the single most persuasive reason
to repeal these pre-independence legal instruments
were no longer relevant to the current context.
In other words, some of the laws have no place in
modern, dynamic and democratic Rwanda. Imagine
these legal instruments were running the year 1885
until were repealed most recently. In any event,
such instruments would not be still relevant today.
As a matter of social justice and human rights, it
was irrelevant for Rwandan to continue being
subjected to a decree of a colonial governor or
Another reason, why laws may need to change, is
due to changing community contexts and values.
Contexts across society change over time.
What people in society may consider important and
relevant within one generation may alter over a
period of time. In order to remain relevant, the law
must uphold and reflect the contexts, values, and
beliefs of society in the present time.
For example, people’s perspectives revolving
around family matters prior to independence must
have changed over time.
Another reason why laws may need to change or
repeal is due to the change expectations towards
the country’s legal system.
As a matter of belief, laws are expected to regulate
behaviour, however, people now expect the law to
uphold individual rights as well as protect people
As such, the pre-independence legal instruments
needed to be repealed and to create an ideal
opportunity for enacting new laws that would be
relevant to the current context.