Yes to death penalty?

HARARE - Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs minister Emmerson Mnangagwa — who officiated as guest speaker at  commemorations marking World Day Against Death Penalty in Harare recently told anti-death activists that capital punishment must be completely abolished from the country’s statutes as it is inhuman and degrading.

The minister’s call comes barely half a year after the country endorsed a new Constitution which retained the ultimate punishment.

In a press release of October  10, 2013, Amnesty International Zimbabwe said, “Time the former liberation movements show leadership and support the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty.”

There has been a spate of articles, publications and commemorations recently arguing for the abolition of capital punishment.

However, as the opponents of capital punishment appear to command more publicity than those who support it do, it seems quite appropriate to attempt to put forward some contrary views… to attempt to put things back into perspective… to attempt to restate the truth which slowly is being abolished… to attempt to remind the renegade that death penalty is a punishment of human rights violations not human rights violations in itself… to attempt to remind abolitionists that the murderer’s sanctity of life does not carry more weight than that of the victim(s)… to attempt to illustrate the absurdity and repugnancy of giving criminals more rights, more attention, more sympathy without any corresponding concern for the magnitude or the victims of their crimes… to attempt to remind NGOs that as a sovereign nation, Zimbabwe defined its national interest as regard to the death penalty in the new Constitution and no other country, pressure group, resolutions, communiqué and recommendations should define the interest of the country of Zimbabwe… to attempt to argue that contrary to the minister’s sentiments, capital punishment indeed has a place in a civilised society.

In so doing, I am restricting myself to the use of capital punishment for murder.

Countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and China use it for other crimes such as drug trafficking and in such cases where the only purpose for capital punishment can be deterrence.

I do not wish to invite myself into the debate of whether it achieves that end.

When the minister says “…our justice delivery system must rid itself of this odious and obnoxious provision…” does this not shock the national congency? 

The majority of Zimbabweans continue to believe that those who show utter contempt for human life by committing remorseless, premeditated murder justify forfeit the right of their own life.

They forfeit not their right to live amongst us, but their right to live at all.

Capital punishment is a form of societal self-defence.

We ought to choose to mark the seriousness of certain crimes by indicating that those crimes should be death — eligible in certain circumstances. A nation ought to be concerned about the safety and security of its citizens that certain crimes against its people ought to be designated as death — eligible.

So minister…there is nothing ‘odious and obnoxious’ about the death penalty…there is everything ‘odious and obnoxious’ about the crime of murder … there is everything ‘odious and obnoxious’ about an unqualified call for the total abolition of capital punishment.

There are killers of monstrous evil and undoubted guilt for whom any lesser penalty would be a travesty.

The death penalty ‘brings down’ the murderer to the same level as the victim, and expresses solidarity, not only with the victim, but with the maintenance of justice in general.

Society can only express its condemnation of a crime through the nature of a punishment it metes out.

Capital punishment is an expression of society’s moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct.

It is an expression of the community’s disapproval of murder and if this sanction is not given recognition then the disapproval may also disappear.

A community which is too ready to forgive the murderer may end by condoning murder.

Murder is the greatest crime there is… anything short of execution says we don’t value the victim’s life enough to punish the killer fully.

Death penalty support is based upon the sanctity of life just as incarceration is based upon a reverence of freedom. Certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response might be the death penalty.

We the people have expressed solidarity with the spirit of capital punishment by endorsing it in the new Constitution.

We the people have unequivocally expressed that death penalty is the only adequate, appropriate, necessary and meaningful response to unjustified murders.

During swearing-in Mnangagwa swore to obey the Zimbabwean Constitution and not resolutions, communiqué and recommendations of the international community.

A minister is a creation of law and an ideal one ought to abide by the Zimbabwean Constitution.

The just endorsed Constitution does not seem to suggest that it’s time Zimbabwe abolish the death penalty. Perhaps the wise words of former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe Gubbay merit recital at this juncture; “One must not only take

account of the emerging consensus of values in the civilised international community (of which Zimbabwe is a party) as evidenced in the decisions of other courts and the writings of leading academics, but of contemporary norms operative in Zimbabwe and the sensitivities of its people.”

If newspaper reports, surveys and Copac reports and the subsequent referendum are anything to go by it can therefore be asserted with the greatest of confidence that the majority of people are not against capital punishment and that those who call for its abolition are a minority group.

For any system of justice to work, it must be credible in the eyes of the people of the country concerned. For this reason, the courts, the legislature and the Executive’ attitudes should not be radically different from those of society as a whole.

It has been aptly observed that the instinct of retribution is part of the nature of man, and challenging that instinct in the administration of criminal justice serves an important purpose in promoting the stability of a society governed by law.

When people begin to believe that organised society is unwilling or unable to impose upon murderers the punishment they “deserve”, then there are sown the seeds of anarchy, of self-help, vigilante justice and lynch law. If you are too soft on crime you make Zimbabwe become like South Africa.

Nigeria’s Edo State governor Adams A. Oshiomhole while reacting to the UN, EU and others over the hanging of the four armed robbers sentenced to death by hanging by the Supreme Court, has informed the international community that Nigeria as a sovereign nation will always uphold its Constitution. I must confess that I find this approach attractive.

Barely half a year after the people of Zimbabwe endorsed the death penalty, our very own minister starts parroting the same hymn with the minority groups… am I the only one embarrassed?

Am I missing something? Minister, what are you not saying?

Mnangagwa should be sending out a message to Amnesty International and the world that in Zimbabwe we hold murderers accountable.

We incarcerate those who commit violent and repetitive crimes and we execute those who take innocent human lives without justification.

That should send out a message to the murderers and potential murderers that our society has a responsibility to protect citizens from those who commit murder and an obligation to hold accountable those who commit the ultimate crime.

What the death penalty is is a punishment for human rights violation, not human rights violation itself.

Anyone with any amount of moral judgement and coherence would recognise and respect that difference.

All anti-death penalty activists are trying to do is to protect human rights violators at the expense of their victims by trying to pass off the just punishment of human rights itself, an analysis that one would have to be totally lacking in sound moral judgement to accept since it is so obviously contradictory as well as morally and logically skewed indeed it is apparently clear that the drafters of the bill of rights had the moral coherence to recognise the distinction between crimes and punishment which abolitionists try to desperately erase.

Amnesty International calls the death penalty the premeditated and cold blooded killing of a human being by the state.

Abolitionists’ arguments concerning the death penalty always seem grossly unsatisfying.

Concepts of retribution, deterrence and just punishment are discussed in the most thoughtful terms, but nowhere do we find a clear discussion of the crimes at issue.

Nowhere do we find an acknowledgement — one called by common decency — that the murderer is not the victim, and whatever pain the murderer may suffer incident to his execution pales in comparison to the agony and terror he inflicts on his victim.

The crime of murder is somehow conveniently omitted in the discussion for abolition of death penalty. The act of execution becomes the discourse’s heart and soul.

These discussions are like playing Hamlet without the ghost —  reviewing the merits of capital punishment without revealing just what a capital crime is really like and how the victim(s) have been brutalised.

The minister disclosed that 89 people are on death row, consisting of 87 men and two women. It suffices to note that all 89 have been convicted of murder with actual intent or murder in the course of robbery where no extenuating circumstances existed.

Zimbabwe last carried executions in 2004 — the hangman post fell vacant in 2005 following the retirement of the executor — it is with great joy to learn that the post has since been filled.

Now we would want to see government live upto its oath and start effecting these executions… for crying out loud they are long overdue.

Seven countries namely Botswana, Egypt, Equatorial-Guinea, Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia and Sudan are reported to have carried out executions as recent as in 2007. And together with Zambia they all refused to vote in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution 63/166 calling for a moratorium on executions.

Section 48 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe exempts all women, men under 21 at the time of the crime and over 70s from the death penalty.

It also prohibits the imposition the death penalty as a mandatory punishment and for any other crimes than murder “committed in aggravating circumstances.”

*Chigudugudze is a final year Law Student at the University of Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity.

Comments (7)

Tavonga, you are dead wrong on this one. Show me stats anywhere showing that death penalty deters crime? Otherwise there would be no murder in Texas. Meanwhile there are dozens of cases where individuals have been set free because of DNA evidence, for example. You can't right a wrong when the person is dead. There is fundamentally wrong when people advocate the state to take someone else's life. Let's move to the 21st century and do away with barbaric reprisals. What's wrong with life in prison anyways?

Moe - 4 November 2013

There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. No matter how developed a justice system is, it will always remain susceptible to human failure. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. The arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out The death penalty is often used in a disproportional manner against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic, political and religious groups. The death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity The death penalty violates the right to life which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines human dignity which is inherent to every human being.

tawanda - 4 November 2013

well said george.... moral or religious persuasion need not enter the inquiry as to whether the death penalty is necessary or not,,,,, @tawanda with respect to opine that 'innocent people' can be executed due to human error is a fallacious and ill informed standpoint - there remains in our jurisdiction sufficient safeguards to ensure that where there is doubt, one certainly will not face the hangman's noose.... Why should a multiple murderer, for example, have a life sentence at the taxpayer's expense? proponents of anti death penalty fall into the trap of being overly armchair - only when one loses their loved one at the hands of a callous murderer does the injustice of such a murderer not facing a punishment of similar measure hit home

gavin g - 5 November 2013

i do support the death penalty only on serial killers like those who premeditate murders and kill people no mater what the reason is, those who take the right of others to live, their rights to live should not be respected.

takunda collins magova - 5 November 2013

One thing is certain . Only a man who has retired or resigned from the use of reason and adopted a culture of thinking with the wrong organs of the body will surely argue that taxpayers" hard -earned moneys be expended for the useless function and purpose of feeding and prolonging the lives of individuals who would have unjustifiably taken it upon themselves to brutally end the lives of others. Our sense of mercy is not that extravagant . ...Going by the dominant views in the country as reflected in the recently concluded and adopted constitution , our society"s generosity is just not as reckless as to advance an argument that seeks to place the rights of villain above those of the victim ...Life is precious and the only way we can elaborately articulate such a message to the would-be destroyers of life is simply to make it unambiguously clear to them that if they mess with others" lives , they will definitely forfeit their right to theirs as well . Our societal values are a reflection of our sensibilities and sensitivities as a nation and these conceptions of what we define as justice cannot and should not be hoodwinked and arm-twisted into joining the bandwagon of NGO_funded civic groups whose hollow understanding of criminal jurisprudence is only perpetuated by a desire just to sing ,dance, wine or ululate for their supper .. In Zimbabwe we believe that unmitigated first degree murderers have no right to live not only with us in society but even in our prisons ..we just cant keep such people alive if the sanctity of life is to be cherished

phil mutukwa - 5 November 2013

"10,000 INNOCENT PEOPLE CONVICTED EACH YEAR, STUDY ESTIMATES" this is in the United States, with all it's advanced technologies. I concur with those who say that death penalty is not a reversible. Another case study shows that an American man at the age of 56 was found innocent after languishing for 26 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. How does one then rectify this error if you find out that the person was innocent when you have already killed the person.

jetsetter - 7 November 2013

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ? Nelson Mandela

emmanuel - 17 December 2013

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