World Day Against the Death Penalty was first organised by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2003. It is now observed annually on October 10. Commemoration of such a day mobilises civil society, political actors and leaders, lawyers, opinion leaders and more towards supporting the clarion call for the universal abolition of capital punishment. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum), a coalition of 22 human rights organisations joins the rest of the world in observing this day to complement the existing global movement against the death penalty.
Many organisations and world leaders hold that the death penalty breaches specific human rights, particularly, the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Both imperatives are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
As the world stands up against the death penalty, it is sad to note that it remains a key element of Zimbabwe’s Penal Statute, namely, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23]; the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [Chapter 9:07] as well as the Defence Act [Chapter 11:02]. The supreme law of Zimbabwe (2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe) still imposes the death penalty. Apart from the constitution still embodying such an archaic clause, the provision itself is manifestly discriminatory on the ground of age and gender as it excludes persons below 21 and above 70 years of age and women.
The Forum is particularly concerned with the correlation between the use of the death penalty and torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. In the case of Zimbabwe psychological torture from the mental anguish of anticipating execution resulting from the lack of a hangman and other delays remains a cause for concern. This practice extends to secondary victims such as families or those with close relationships with the sentenced person. Capital punishment consequently encroaches upon a spectrum of constitutional rights and freedoms that include the right to human dignity, the right to personal security which incorporates the right to bodily and psychological integrity, the right to not be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as the right to life.
The Forum notes that no known execution has occurred in Zimbabwe since 22 July 2005. The Forum commends the significant inroads made towards abolishing the death penalty made by the incumbent President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, President Emerson Mnangagwa. Through Clemency Order No. 1 of 2018, President Mnangagwa reduced the sentences of prisoners on death row for more than 10 years to life imprisonment. This meant that any death row inmate sentenced before 10 March 2008 no longer faced execution. Some Zimbabwe death row inmates have also benefited from a 2019 Presidential Amnesty aimed at decongesting prisons in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in 6 death row inmates being set free out of a total of over 4000 prisoners amnesty beneficiaries.
The Forum, however, notes with great concern that despite efforts on the part of the Government to move away from the imposition of the death penalty through the clemency order and presidential amnesty, more than 80 prisoners currently remain on death row. The Forum further notes that although there have been no known executions in Zimbabwe since 22 July 2005, courts have continued to sentence prisoners to death row.
It is against this background that the Forum urges the Government of Zimbabwe to:
- Abolish the death penalty as it undermines human dignity and clearly violates the state’s human rights obligations.
- fulfil its obligations arising from the Constitution, and regional and international treaties to that espouse the respect, protection, promotion and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and
- adhere to international human rights best practices, standards and principles relating to the rights of persons deprived of their liberty and demonstrate such willingness and commitment by:
- immediately refraining from fast-tracking enactment of repressive legislation aimed at constricting what is left of the civic and political space in Zimbabwe and taking proactive steps to officially strike off the death penalty from statute books.
- ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and its Optional Protocol.