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[ACHPR] Joint Oral Statement on the Death Penalty in AFrica

November 2010

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Statement on behalf of Foundation for International Human Rights (FHRI), International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT), International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) , World organization against Torture (OMCT) and Penal Reform International (PRI)

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 48th Ordinary Session 10 to 24 November 2010: Banjul, The Gambia

Dear Madame Chair,

The Foundation for International Human Rights, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, International Harm Reduction Association, the World organization against Torture (OMCT) and Penal Reform International welcome the African Commission’s commitment to the abolition of the death penalty, and recalls the importance of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as a landmark document contributing to the process of building a human rights culture in the region.

We recall the 1999 resolution adopted at the 26th Ordinary Session in Kigali, Rwanda, which called upon State Parties to consider establishing a moratorium on executions and to reflect on the possibility of abolishing the death penalty. We also recall the 2008 resolution adopted at the 44th Ordinary Session in Abuja, Nigeria, which called on State Parties to observe a moratorium and to include in their periodic reports to the Commission information on the steps they are taking to move towards abolition. These resolutions are important steps towards making the African Union a death penalty-free zone, and we commend the leadership role that the Commission has played in this regard.

We recall the establishment of the Commission’s Working Group on the Death Penalty and commend its recent work, including its intervention in Nigeria to halt the execution of hundreds of death row inmates as a measure to deal with overcrowding in prisons; and its initiative in convening two regional conferences on the question of the death penalty in Africa, in Kigali in September 2009 and in Cotonou, Benin, in April 2010. We are encouraged by the initiative to examine the prospect of adopting an additional protocol on the death penalty to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and urge that those efforts be taken forward in 2011.

Madame Chair,

We note that at least 15 African Union countries are abolitionist in law , and 21 in practice . Burundi and Togo are the most recent states to abolish the death penalty, and Benin, Burkino Faso and Mali have expressed political will to work towards abolition. This is a strong indication that abolition of the death penalty is gaining ground within the African Union.

However, only eight countries of the African Union have ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning abolition of the death penalty , and only a further two have signed it . We urge members of the African Union to confirm their abolitionist status by signing and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol at their earliest opportunity.

Madame Chair,

We recall the 1999 resolution adopted at the 26th Ordinary Session in Kigali, and article 6(2) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which calls upon State Parties to limit the imposition of the death penalty only for the ‘most serious crimes’. Interpretation of ‘most serious crimes’ has lead to restrictions on the number and types of offences for which death sentences can be imposed under international law. In particular, it has been interpreted as not going beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences , and may not include: economic or financial crimes ; drug-related offences ; robbery ; abduction not resulting in death ; non-violent or victimless offences ; sexual relations between consenting adults ; matters of sexual orientation or homosexual acts ; or activities of a religious or political nature .

We note with regret recent reports indicating that the Gambian National Assembly has extended the scope of the death penalty to include human trafficking, robbery, rape and drug-related offences. The extension of the application of the death penalty in Gambia goes beyond the ‘most serious crimes’ restriction, and is in violation of international human rights law and standards. We recommend that the Gambian President refrain from signing this amendment in order to keep this law from coming into force so as to respect international human rights standards and principles, including the African Commission’s own resolutions.

We note that the Ugandan Parliament is in the process of adopting a Bill that envisages capital punishment, among other penalties, for certain homosexual acts. The UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted ‘most serious crimes’ as not including matters of sexual orientation or homosexual acts. We recommend that the Ugandan Parliament refrain from adopting this legislation, and take steps towards abolition of the death penalty.

We also note that Liberia, where no one has been executed since 2000, reinstated the death penalty in 2008 for armed robbery, terrorism or hijacking offences and sent three persons to death row in 2009, despite Liberia’s accession to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in September 2005. The reintroduction of the death penalty is a retrograde step, and we would urge the government of Liberia to at their earliest opportunity irrevocably to abolish the death penalty in law.

Madame Chair,

We note that the treatment of prisoners on death row is often not in compliance with international human rights standards and norms, and in some cases can even amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In states that have abolished the death penalty, we note that the alternative sanction is often life or long-term imprisonment. The processes by which death sentences are replaced with alternative sanctions raise one set of concerns, as cases are rarely individually considered. The implementation of the sentences raises others, both practical concerns and of a human rights nature, particularly when implementation exacerbates the existing and often serious inadequacies of the prison sector in a number of African states.

Often, in relation to such prisoners, the prison’s primary function of rehabilitation is neither acknowledged nor carried out. Sentences which exclude the possibility of consideration for parole raise particular concern. Such sentences, while preserving physical life, remove the possibility of release and therefore deny the offender a meaningful opportunity for rehabilitation. This is incompatible with the ‘essential aim of the penitentiary system’, which Article 10(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states to be ‘reformation and social rehabilitation’ and frequently results in treatment which is not compatible with human dignity.

Foundation for International Human Rights, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, International Harm Reduction Association, OMCT and Penal Reform International call on all African Union States, while continuing to move towards full abolition of the death penalty, to review their policies and practices in relation to those convicted of the worst crimes and to bring them into compliance with international standards and norms.

Thank you, Madame Chair



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