By The Rwandan Analyst


The Rwandan judiciary has been trying people for having betrayed the country and this is provided for by the Rwandan criminal law. In this line, rebels or opposition politicians caught are often prosecuted for this crimes punished by more than 25 years of imprisonment. The present article intends to analyze the legal and political ins and outs of this fleeting crime imputed to suspects who really are political opponents depending upon the extent of their national and international caliber. But prior to such an assessment, there is deemed to succinctly present the notional context of this incrimination.

1.Conceptual framework of the crime of treason

Treason is the crime of attacking a state authority to which one owes allegiance.[1] This typically includes acts such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its governmentspying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor. 

Historically, in common law countries, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife or that of a master by his servant. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a lesser superior was petty treason. As jurisdictions around the world abolished petty treason, “treason” came to refer to what was historically known as high treason.

At times, the term traitor has been used as a political epithet, regardless of any verifiable treasonable action. In a civil war or insurrection, the winners may deem the losers to be traitors. Likewise the term traitor is used in heated political discussion – typically as a slur against political dissidents, or against officials in power who are perceived as failing to act in the best interest of their constituents. In certain cases, as with the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab-in-the-back myth), the accusation of treason towards a large group of people can be a unifying political message.

2.Comparative approach 

 Article 411-1[13] of the French Penal Code defines treason as follows:

The acts defined by articles 411-2 to 411–11 constitute treason where they are committed by a French national or a soldier in the service of France, and constitute espionage where they are committed by any other person.

Article 411-2 prohibits “handing over troops belonging to the French armed forces, or all or part of the national territory, to a foreign power, to a foreign organisation or to an organisation under foreign control, or to their agents”. It is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of 750,000. Generally parole is not available until 18 years of a life sentence have elapsed. 

Articles 411–3 to 411–10 define various other crimes of collaboration with the enemy, sabotage, and the like. These are punishable with imprisonment for between seven and 30 years. Article 411-11 make it a crime to incite any of the above crimes.

Besides treason and espionage, there are many other crimes dealing with national security, insurrection, terrorism and so on. These are all to be found in Book IV of the code.

According to Brazilian law, treason is the crime of disloyalty by a citizen to the Federal Republic of Brazil, applying to combatants of the Brazilian military forces. Treason during wartime is the only crime for which a person can be sentenced to death (see capital punishment in Brazil).

The only military person in the history of Brazil to be convicted of treason was Carlos Lamarca, an army captain who deserted to become the leader of a communist-terrorist guerrilla against the military government.

The British law of treason is entirely statutory and has been so since the Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw. 3 St. 5 c. 2). The Act is written in Norman French, but is more commonly cited in its English translation.

The Treason Act 1351 has since been amended several times, and currently provides for four categories of treasonable offences, namely “when a man doth compass or imagine the death of our lord the King, or of our lady his Queen or of their eldest son and heir”; (following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 this is read to mean the eldest child and heir);”if a man do violate the King’s companion, or the King’s eldest daughter unmarried, or the wife of the King’s eldest son and heir”; (following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 this is read to mean the eldest son if the heir);if a man do levy war against our lord the King in his realm, or be adherent to the King’s enemies in his realm, giving to them aid and comfort in the realm, or elsewhere”; and if a man slea the chancellor, treasurer, or the King’s justices of the one bench or the other, justices in eyre, or justices of assise, and all other justices assigned to hear and determine, being in their places, doing their offices”.

In Rwandan law treason is often confused with espionage with the sole difference that the traitor is a national citizen while the spy is a foreign. As per article 191 and 192 of Rwandan law no68/2018 determining offences and penalties in general, any Rwandan who: 1º uses terrorism, subversion, armed attacks or threats of violence, with intention to annex Rwanda or its part to a foreign country; 2º attempts to annex the Republic of Rwanda or its part under foreign domination; 3º wages a war against the Government; commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty (20) years and not more than twenty five (25) years. Any person who: 1º discloses deliberately a State secret by any means with the intention to hurt the interests of the Republic of Rwanda; 2º seeks and obtains a State secret with a view of disclosing it; 3º destroys or allows another person to destroy anything that contains a State secret with intent to favour another country; 4º is entitled to have access to State secret and uses it illegally; 5º deliberately discloses to a person not entitled to receive a State secret that he/she obtained in the course of his/her duties or functions; 6º establishes, maintains or keeps relations with a foreign State, political organization, association, foreign institutions or any person working for them with a purpose of disclosing State secrets 7º commits acts of treason with an intention of undermining national defence, diplomatic relations or essential economic interest of the Rwandan Government; commits the offence of treason when the offender is a Rwandan or of espionage when the offender is a foreigner. Upon conviction, he/she is liable, in wartime, to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty (20) years and not more than twenty (25) years. In peacetime, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten (10) years to fifteen (15) years. If acts mentioned in Paragraph One of this Article are performed due to clumsiness, recklessness or negligence, the penalty, during wartime, is an imprisonment for a term of more than five (5) years and not more than seven (7) years. In peacetime, the penalty is an imprisonment for a term of not less than one (1) year and not more than three (3) years. In this Law, State secret is any act or all acts, knowledge, any documents where they may be or any explanations prohibited by the law for purposes of defending the nation.

3. application in Rwandan judiciary  

Rwandan prosecutors on Wednesday charged 25 men with treason and other crimes related to their alleged activities in a rebel group founded by a South African-based dissident.The men appeared in a military court in the capital Kigali for the first time since they were repatriated in June from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they were captured.The suspects included Habibu Mudathiru a former Rwandan soldier who prosecutors say was in charge of operations and training in Congo for the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a rebel group founded by Kayumba Nyamwasa.Nyamwasa, a former ally of President Paul Kagame, is now a Rwandese dissident based in South Africa.Appearing in court, Mudathiru had an injured and bandaged right leg and walked on crutches with support from two army officers who held his arms on either sideHe sat throughout the session and was given a pillow to lay his leg on.Prosecution also said some of the suspects were Burundians while others were Ugandans.None of all suspects had a lawyer and they are expected to return to court on Thursday to make a plea.“I did not get enough time to get a lawyer,” Muthatiru told the court.Rwanda has in the past accused Uganda and Burundi of working with Kayumba’s RNC in a bid to remove Kagame. Relations between Rwanda and its two neighbors have since been strained.The prosecution said the suspects received transport and ammunition support from both Uganda and Burundi.Various groups opposed to Rwanda have over the years found sanctuary in DRC’s vast eastern jungles, including the FDLR, composed of former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu militias who fled after committing Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.Congo’s military said last month it had killed Sylvestre Mudacumura, FDLR’s leader.


The crime of treason is just a political one because expressing dissenting opinions against the regime becomes automatically treason. Thus,the declaration recently made by the founder of PS-Imberakuri Me NTAGANDA Bernard and the president Dalfa-umurinzi Mme INGABIRE Victoire supporting report from the UK government on violations of fundamental rights in Rwanda can easily be taken as evidence of treason as such and trigger their severe prosecution and sentencing to all those years of imprisonment.

2º Offence on complaint

Offences prosecuted on complaint are normally less serious crimes, such as vandalism, petty theft or common assault. The victim must file a criminal complaint with the police. If no complaint is made, the offence will not be prosecuted. On the contrary, this crime is seriously repressed and  is prosecuted when the complaint is initiated by the services of intelligence, ministry of defence and other services in charge of national security whereas  offences prosecuted ex-officio are normally serious crimes, such as homicide, robbery, arson, or indecent assault. Ex-officio means the authorities will pursue the case irrespective of the wishes of the victim.

This confirms the discretionary character of the complainants who appreciates the opportunity of prosecuting and can anytime remove it from judicial institutions.


Treason is in non democratic states considered as opposition and it lacks objective grounds but unfortunately object of speculations and subjectivity. Rwandan opponents are exposed to this political arm of intimidation legalized by the Rwandan government to muzzle them.


1 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

2 Gold, Samantha (February 28, 2017). “Treason: A Crash Course on the Gravest National Crime”Forget the Box Media. Retrieved January 28, 2019. 

3 Gani, Aisha (2014-10-17). “Treason Act: the facts”The GuardianISSN 0261-3077

4 Official Gazette no. Special of 27/09/2018