The Human Rights Commission welcomes the statement by Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, the President of the Republic of Zambia, that Government has taken a decision to abolish the death penalty.
The statement by the President delivered on the eve of Africa Freedom Day inter alia that the Government had resolved to abolish the death penalty and that it will work with the National Assembly to actualize that resolution is a landmark step towards enhancing the promotion and protection of the right to life. Death Penalty constitutes the ultimate and irreversible gross violation of human rights which should never be practiced anywhere in the world in the 21st century.
Zambia has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1997 when the last executions took place. Zambia is therefore considered a de facto death penalty abolitionist country as it has not implemented the cruel and inhuman practice for more than 10 years which is the internationally recognised threshold for a country to be considered to have abolished the death penalty in practice. By abolishing the death penalty both in practice and law, Zambia will join the increasing global movement in which, a total of 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Therefore, the President and his administration are within the ambit of the universally accepted best practices on abolishing the death penalty.
It is the expectation of the Commission that the progressive Presidential pronouncement on abolishing the death penalty will be followed with tangible action on legal reforms. In this regard the Commission is cognizant of the fact that the death penalty is permissible under Article 12 of the Constitution, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia, in the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the law in force in Zambia of which a person has been convicted. In this regard Section 24 of the Penal Code, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia provides that the death sentence is one of the punishments that can be inflicted by a Court for certain offences. Therefore, the policy pronouncement by the President can be actualized through the amendment of penal laws such as the Penal Code Act and indeed the Criminal Procedure Code Act Chapter 88 of the Laws of Zambia.
Finally, the Commission wishes to commend President Hichilema for pardoning 2,652 inmates and commuting 30 death row sentences to life imprisonment in accordance with powers bestowed on him by Article 97 of the Constitution.
The gesture by the President is an affirmation of Zambia’s transition from retributive to restorative justice and a demonstration of the reason behind the constitutional change in the name of the institution that is mandated to manage the welfare and rehabilitation of inmates from Zambia Prisons Service to Zambia Correctional Service and it is hoped that this will result in rehabilitating of inmates and preservation of lives of those that hitherto have been sentenced to death.
Mudford Z. Mwandenga
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION