Zimbabwe Joins African Trend of Abolishing Capital Punishment

The cabinet approved a bill on Tuesday that would scrap capital punishment for murder offences, almost two decades after the last execution in the country.

by Motoni Olodun

Zimbabwe has become the latest African country to end the death penalty, a practice inherited from British colonial rule. The cabinet approved a bill on Tuesday that would scrap capital punishment for murder offenses, almost two decades after the last execution in the country.

The move follows a growing trend of abolition across the continent, where more than half of the 55 African Union member states have either abolished the death penalty in law or stopped carrying out executions in practice. According to Amnesty International, only four African countries – Egypt, Somalia, South Sudan, and Botswana – carried out executions in 2023, while 17 imposed death sentences.

Zimbabwe’s decision was welcomed by human rights groups and activists, who have long campaigned against the death penalty as a violation of the right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. They also pointed out the flaws and risks of the judicial system, such as wrongful convictions, discrimination, and arbitrariness.

“The death penalty is an outdated and barbaric relic of the past that has no place in the modern world,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa. “We commend Zimbabwe for taking this important step towards fully respecting the dignity and human rights of its people.”

Zimbabwe has not executed anyone since 2005 when the country’s last hangman retired and no replacement was found. However, the death penalty remained on the books for murder, treason, mutiny, and other offenses. According to the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, there were 81 inmates on death row as of December 2023, including two women.

The bill to abolish the death penalty was introduced by a private member of parliament, Tendai Biti, who is also the vice president of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance. Biti, a former finance minister, and a human rights lawyer, argued that the death penalty was inconsistent with Zimbabwe’s constitution, which guarantees the right to life and prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

The bill received support from across the political spectrum, as well as from President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who narrowly escaped the gallows himself during the liberation war against white minority rule in the 1970s. Mnangagwa has previously stated his opposition to the death penalty and his intention to push for its abolition.

The bill will now go to parliament for debate and voting, where it is expected to pass with a majority. If enacted, Zimbabwe will join the ranks of other African countries that have recently abolished the death penalty, such as Chad, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic.

The abolition of the death penalty is seen as a positive sign of Zimbabwe’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, which have been under strain since the 2017 military coup that ousted longtime ruler Robert Mugabe. However, the country still faces many challenges, such as political repression, economic crisis, corruption, and social unrest.

Human rights activists have urged the government to address these issues and to ensure accountability for past and present abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, abductions, and enforced disappearances of government critics and opponents.

“Zimbabwe has taken a historic step towards ending the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment, but there is still much work to be done to protect and promote human rights for all,” said Mwananyanda. “We call on the authorities to build on this momentum and to uphold their obligations under national, regional and international law.”

Source: Bloomberg


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