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[Declaration] ACHPR: Oral Statement on behalf of FHRI, FIACAT and PRI on the death penalty in Africa

May 2011

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Statement on behalf of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) and Penal Reform International (PRI).

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 49th Ordinary Session
28 April to 12 May 2011: Banjul, The Gambia

Dear Madame Chair,
The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture and Penal Reform International welcome the African Commission’s continued commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.

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 therefore urge the African Commission to adopt a resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Africa on the ground that it constitutes a violation of the African Charter, specifically as a violation of the right to life (article 4) and the right not to be subject to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment (article 5).

Madame Chair,
We note that Gabon abolished the death penalty in February 2010, bringing the number of African Union countries who have abolished the death penalty in law to 16 . We also welcome the recent news that Gambia abolished the death penalty for drug-related crimes in April 2011.

We note that a number of African Union countries have abolished the mandatory death penalty, including Kenya in 2010, Uganda in 2009, and Malawi in 2007.

Of the 24 countries that were known to have imposed death sentences in 2010, we note that only four countries carried out executions, and 20 African Union countries are abolitionists in practice , in that they have not carried out executions in more than ten years.

However, while almost all 53 Member States of the African Union are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , only eight countries of the African Union have ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR concerning abolition of the death penalty (and one of those states, Liberia, has since reinstated the death penalty), and only an additional two states have signed it.

We urge African States that have not yet done so, to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of the Death Penalty at their earliest opportunity as called for by the African Commission in resolution 136 (2008).

Madame Chair,
We note the adoption of the third United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty which was adopted in December 2010. We welcome the 17 African Union states who voted in favour of the resolution. We note that only 8 African Union countries voted against the resolution, and 26 abstained or were absent. No less that four African Union countries changed their position from voting against the moratorium resolution in 2007, to abstaining in the 2010 resolution.

Madame Chair,
Although the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo stressed before the African Commission in its 48th Session that the death penalty had been abolished through their new Constitution adopted in 2006, the Parliament rejected a Bill aimed at abolishing the death penalty in law on 28 November 2010. The Supreme Court also ruled in February 2011 that the death penalty had not been abolished by the new Constitution. Furthermore, the DRC signed a statement of disassociation in connection with the 2010 UN General Assembly moratorium resolution in March of this year.

The undersigned organisations urge the Democratic Republic of the Congo to clarify its position regarding the death penalty and to implement a moratorium on sentencing people to death.

We also call upon all other African Union states, including Mali, Benin and Burkino Faso, who have made political commitments to abolish the death penalty to expedite the legislative process at their earliest opportunity.

Madame Chair,
We note that transparency as to the procedures surrounding the application of the death penalty can prevent errors or abuses and safeguard fairness at all stages. Without it the rights of those facing the death penalty are undermined. However many countries continue to carry out executions in total secrecy.

Secrecy prevents open and informed public debate about the death penalty, and undermines efforts to reform the criminal justice system. It contradicts the claim that capital punishment is a legitimate act of government.

We recall article 62 of the African Charter, and call upon all African States that still retain the death penalty, when submitting their periodic reports to the Commission, to provide information on the application of the death penalty and on measures taken with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

We also recall the 2010 UN General Assembly resolution 65/206, which calls upon all states to “make available relevant information with regard to their use of the death penalty, which can contribute to possible informed and transparent national debates.”

In this regard, we have the honour to inform you that a “Death Penalty Worldwide Database” has been created by the Northwestern University School of Law from Chicago, USA and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. It is publicly available at www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org

Madame Chair,
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture and Penal Reform International urge all African Union States, while continuing to move towards full abolition of the death penalty, to impose a moratorium on the imposition of death sentences and the carrying out of executions; to commute death sentences already passed into fixed-term or life sentences, depending on the gravity of the circumstances of the offence; and to refrain from resuming executions once they have a moratorium in place.

Thank you, Madame Chair

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