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Between 1959 and 1994, Rwanda was wracked by violence, culminating in the genocide of 1994 where more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Over 130,000 people were put in prison on suspicion of genocide. At the conclusion of the violence, every national institution was affected. More than one million people fled the country and as much as a third of the population was internally displaced. During the turmoil, legal professionals and public officials left the country, leaving Rwanda's criminal justice system in shambles.

The post-genocide Rwandan government is currently trying to rebuild and transform the judicial system. In the justice sector, Rwanda has undertaken a major program of legal modernization and reform, culminating in the abolition of the death penalty in 2007. The Criminal Code was amended in 2004 to give arrestees the right to legal counsel during all stages of criminal proceedings, including initial interrogations.

The Ministry of Justice developed a legal aid policy which ensured universal access to justice in Rwanda. The implementation of this right is frustrated by the presence of only 400 lawyers in the entire country of 8.4 million people. Over 80% of defendants in criminal trials are unrepresented and are not given legal advice.


  • 2009 Prison Population: 59,598, 604 people per 100,000