Abolish death sentence

HARARE - On several occasions, Justice and Legal Affairs minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa has expressed consistent revulsion for capital punishment as a person who experienced the excruciating agony of  being consigned to the death row.

And when he vowed not to sign any death certificate brought before him regardless of the consequences to his political and ministerial career, Mnangagwa mirrored that intense aversion to subjecting convicts to such inhuman, barbarous treatment.

The death penalty is not only cruel and barbaric in nature. It is irreversible once the executioner has done his job even when the condemned person is later proved innocent because of mistrial.

There are so many people who are executed when they are innocent, particularly the poor who cannot afford legal representation. Some are accused of capital offenses because of poor police investigation.

Worldwide, death penalty abolitionist groups are critical of legal representation for the poor, asserting that the low rates paid by government to defence lawyers mean only young and inexperienced lawyers take on the difficult job of defending capital cases.

Some prisoners given the death sentence are innocent and face the gallows because they are poor and cannot afford to hire lawyers to defend themselves.

There are also cases of widespread torture during interrogations so some suspects, especially in treason cases, end up admitting to crimes they have not committed.

Aggrieved victims’ relatives believe the death sentence is a deterrent that keeps the incidence of murder in the country low.

But there is no emperial evidence to assign the death penalty such enormous credit anywhere in the turbulent world.

The death sentence has not the slightest correctional effect on the offender by any stretch.

Some years ago, Justice Paddington Garwe suggested modern laws should consider incorporating tenets of customary law that demand those who commit murder ought to compensate victims’ relatives with livestock to atone avenging spirits.

Modernity does not supplant cultural beliefs.

In a polarised political environment obtaining in our country, if we are not careful and are hesitant to abolish capital punishment, we risk losing the moral essence of restorative justice to proponents of the hanging noose.

Mnangagwa’s declaration of commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment is not only a plausible alternative which resonates with modern trends but also subsumes the constitutional provision of right to life.

If the death sentence is meant to rid society of people that commit capital offences, life imprisonment without remission serves a similar purpose without relegating the core purpose of punishing evil deeds.

We cannot claim to be a civilised society when the death sentence howls over our conscience as a form of mandatory punishment for capital crimes.

Comments (1)

Whilst death sentence is cruel, I am one who still believe used fairly it is the only solution to some gruesome murders we hear everyday. I don't like if used to settle political scores, but on callous murders it must stay.

maita - 17 October 2014

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