HUMAN Rights Commission chairperson Mudford Mwandenga says sustainable way of eliminating all forms of discrimination in matters relating to capital offences is to completely abolish the death penalty.
Speaking during the commemoration of the World Day against the Death Penalty held at Radisson Blu hotel in Lusaka yesterday, Mwandenga said this year’s theme seeks to expose the inherent discriminatory nature of the death penalty against vulnerable and marginalised groupings due to societal prejudices and stigmatisation that may find its way into the criminal justice system.
This year’s theme is “Women and the death penalty, an invisible reality”.
He said the day is observed every October 10 to raise global awareness on the continued
adverse impact of the death penalty on a wide range of human rights and the need to abolish it.
Mwandenga said this year’s theme was aimed at highlighting the plight of women who
risk being sentenced to death, “who have been sentenced to death, who have been executed, and to those who have had their death sentences commuted or pardoned or those that have been exonerated”.
He said the Commission had over the years been engaging both duty bearers and rights holders with a view of supporting efforts towards the abolition of the death penalty in Zambia.
Mwandenga said death penalty violates the right to life.
He said death penalty is also a torturous, cruel, inhuman or degrading way of treating or punishing of a human being.
“I wish to hasten to state that in addition to grave violation of human rights that the death penalty causes, the Commission’s opposition to the death penalty is also based on the ground-breaking global research that the death penalty does not deter commission of atrocious crimes more than life sentences,” he said. “Therefore, we are not saying that those found guilty of committing capital offences should go scot-free, but that they should be sentenced to life imprisonment, which has globally been considered to be adequate punishment for capital offences.”
Mwandenga added that the Commission is also opposed to the death penalty because it is an absolute, irreversible, irreparable and terminal form of punishment.
He noted that once a death penalty is carried out, life lost can never be restored even if it was later discovered that the person executed was innocent.
“However, the Commission, like other stakeholders is encouraged that for the past 24 years, there has been no single person that has been executed by the Government of the Republic of Zambia,” Mwandenga said. “This is because since 1997 when the last executions took place, no Republican president has signed a death warrant to authorise execution of inmates convicted of capital offences that attract death sentence in Zambia, which are murder, treason and aggravated robbery. This demonstrates the firm belief at a highest political leadership that life is too sacred to be taken away by any means and by any individual or institution.”
He called upon the new dawn administration to maintain Zambia’s executive position of a moratorium on the death penalty.
Mwandenga noted that Zambia has in practice suspended the implementation of the death penalty for the past 24 years.
He said at international level, a country that has not carried out executions for 10 years and above is considered to have abolished the death penalty in practice.
“As such, Zambia is considered as a death penalty de facto abolitionist country because she has not carried out executions for more than two decades so far,” Mwandenga said. “This is a great milestone towards the abolition of the death penalty. It will be a tragedy of national and international monumental magnitude for Zambia to resume executions of inmates sentenced to death after achieving such a milestone towards enhancing the protection of the right to life.”
Mwandenga urged that Zambia must ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which abolishes the death penalty.
He also said the Commission was fully aware that the provision of the law that permits death sentence is entrenched under Article 12 of the Bill of Rights which requires holding of a national referendum to amend it.
“However, as a demonstration of good faith efforts and commitment to abolishing the death penalty, the Commission is urging the government to facilitate the repealing of the sections of the penal code Act, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia, and the criminal procedure code Act, Chapter 88 of the Laws of Zambia that give effect to death penalty as that is within the powers of the executive and legislative wings of government,” said Mwandenga.
And justice minister Mulambo Haimbe said the government will endeavour to facilitate review of various legal instruments, including broadening the Bill of Rights to include third generational rights to enhance legal guarantees on protecting human rights.
Haimbe said the global movement towards abolishing the death penalty is very clear.
He noted that statistics show that by the end of the year 2020, out of the 195 countries in the world, at least 107 had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while 54 still retained it.
Haimbe said 27 countries including Zambia had abolished death penalty in practice, while seven others still retained it for special crimes such as war crimes.
He noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, as at the end of 2020, at least 21 countries had abolished the death penalty.
Haimbe added that the commitment of the government on protecting the right to life is guaranteed.
“As a government, we will provide clear political leadership, through a consultative process towards matching global trends while enhancing public security and safety in the country,” he said. “It is, therefore, the responsibility of everyone to support the government’s commitment by sensitising the general members of the public and engaging key stakeholders to improve understanding and appreciation of the need to protect the right to life.”
Haimbe said commutation of death sentences to life imprisonment and pardoning of inmates serving various sentences, including death, would continue without any form of discrimination.
“The new dawn administration will keep and maintain an open-door policy on the question of abolishing the death penalty. It will continue seeking expert advice and monitoring cultural trends while providing national leadership on the subject-matter,” he said. “The government will also take time to study the prevailing regional and international movements towards abolition of the death penalty to inform the national decision.”
Haimbe called upon the Human Rights Commission, faith-based organisations, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to freely engage the government to come up with a decision that would have legitimacy and broad-based consensus.
“It is my sincere belief that through this process, the government will come up with an official decision on the question of abolition of the death penalty in the not too distant future,” Haimbe said.
He said the government would always treasure stakeholders’ contribution to the governance of the country for the common good.