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Death penalty in Africa



DURUNG the recent reporting period, the abolitionist trend continued on the continent, with Zambia abolishing the death penalty in December 2022, bringing to 26 the number of African states that have formally abolished the death penalty, and now Zimbabwe.

Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tomé-et-Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo and Zambia have abolished the death penalty, while at least 19 states parties still provide for the death penalty in their legislation, but observe a moratorium on executions in practice having not carried out any executions in the last 10 years.

Algeria, Cameroon, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe fit in that category.

However, Zimbabwe through a cabinet resolution recently, took a step further to abolish the death penalty except for a few categorised crimes.

Parliament will now vote on the issue.

Zimbabwe last carried out an execution in 2005, but death sentences have continued to be imposed. 

At Independence, there were nine crimes punishable by death under Zimbabwean law. 

Offenders can currently be sentenced to death for three offences, namely treason; where the act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism results in the death of a person; for murder and for attempted murder or incitement or conspiracy to commit murder.

Sixteen African states have already ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Angola, Benin, Cabo Verde, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tomé-&-Principe, Seychelles, South Africa, Togo.

In this regard, on 15 December 2022, 29 African states (compared to 27 in 2020) voted in favour of the 9th Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

Despite the positive developments, the working group is deeply concerned that the death penalty continues to be used in some countries. 

For example, the working group was informed of cases where the death penalty was imposed in trials held during the period under review in countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. In March 2023, the Ugandan Parliament passed a Bill providing for penalties up to and including the death penalty for the crime of aggravated homosexuality.

It should also be recalled that the mandatory death penalty for certain offences continues to appear in the legislation of some states despite the position of principle reached in this regard by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which in its judgment of 28 November 2019, rendered in the case of Ally Rajabu versus Republic of Tanzania, stated unequivocally that “the mandatory imposition of the death penalty fails to respect due process of law and violates standards of fair trial, by preventing courts of justice from setting a punishment commensurate with the crime committed.”

We note, for information, that consultations are underway with actors to carry out awareness-raising activities for states with the aim of encouraging them to ban the application of the death penalty as a mandatory sanction, it being understood that this practice clearly violates the guiding principles of fair trial as set out in the guidelines issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. – Working Group On Death Penalty, Extrajudicial, Summary Or Arbitrary Executions And Enforced Disappearances In Africa.

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