Renewed efforts to abolish death penalty

HARARE - Human rights groups have re-launched their bid to have the death penalty abolished in Zimbabwe.

The country is one of three southern African nations still upholding the harsh penalty.

As Zimbabwe commemorated the World Day Against the Death Penalty last week, Veritas, Amnesty International and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum canvassed for signatures to petition President Robert Mugabe to direct government to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.

This comes as Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has openly declared that he is against capital punishment, having escaped the guillotine himself during the liberation struggle.

Earlier this year, Mnangagwa blocked recruitment of the country’s hangman, although at least five people had applied for the post, which fell vacant more than a decade ago.

According to official figures as at December 2016, there were 97 inmates on death roll, with Zimbabwe’s last execution having been in 2005.

The rights groups argued that “throughout the world, and particularly in the continent of Africa, the death penalty is being abolished. The majority of African Union member states have legally abolished the death penalty or applied a de facto moratorium on capital punishment; only a minority of 17 States has retained the death penalty”.

“Only three Sadc states continue to carry out the death penalty:  Botswana, the DRC and Lesotho. The other Sadc States have either abolished it in law or do not carry it out in practice. In Zimbabwe there has been no execution since 2005, but persons are still sentenced to death and there are over a hundred prisoners languishing on “death row”, some for nearly 20 years.”

“The death penalty is not a traditional penalty but a colonial relic.  Traditional customary law relied on restorative justice rather than retribution. For this reason the Council of Chiefs, in January 2016, urged that the death penalty be abolished. By abolishing the death penalty Zimbabwe would be making a clear break with its colonial past. In the Zanu election manifesto in 1980 your Party pledged to abolish hanging.”

Harare lawyer, Tendai Biti, who is fighting a legal battle to get the death penalty abolished through litigation, yesterday reiterated that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent against serious crime. Under the new Constitution, the death sentence can be handed down only to male offenders between the ages of 21 and 70 and only in cases of aggravated murder.

“There is unequal treatment of men and women in the death penalty sentence because only men are subjected to capital punishment and the same does not apply to women,” he said during the Women’s Comfort Corner Foundation award ceremony in recognition of Constitutional Court’s abolishment of child marriages.

There has been widespread condemnation of the death penalty among world rights groups, with former United Nations (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s famously remarking that “the death penalty has no place in the 21st century”.

More than 160 member states of the UN, with a variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds, have either abolished the penalty or do not practice it.

“In some countries information about death penalty is a State secret,” UN Human Rights said in a statement.

“Capital trials can be carried out behind closed doors. And in some cases families of those executed may not even have access to their remains. The death penalty has no place in the 21st century, but countries should at least increase transparency and allow for informed public debate.”

Calls for the abolition of the death penalty have been made from different sections of the society.

Last year, several local artistes used the 2016 next week’s World Day Against the Death Penalty commemorations to push for the abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

The event, held in the capital’s Harare Gardens, was graced by artistes, including musician Tehn Diamond, poet Chirikure Chirikure, actors Everson Ndlovu, Stewart Sakarombe and Getrude Munhamo.

Comments (1)

The imposition of a death penalty upon individuals convicted of murder is unconstitutional. It does violence to the right to human dignity and the right of protection against cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment as enshrined in the constitution of the nation. I totally support all pressure groups and human rights institutions advocating for its abolishment.

Allan Manyonga - 11 November 2017

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