At the end of September, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held its first regional conference on the death penalty in Africa.
Around 60 government representatives, NGO activists, members of African Union bodies and academics met with the members of the African Commission’s Working Group on the death penalty from 23 to 25 September in Kigali, Rwanda. For three days, the participants from all over central, eastern and southern Africa held discussions on the situation of the death penalty on the continent and avenues to explore to make progress towards abolition.
The discussions focused on the prospect of an additional protocol to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights on abolition of the death penalty. Such a treaty would enable African States which wished to do so to use a regional piece of legislation as a tool on the way towards abolition and to create a movement that would attract other countries. Commissioner Sylvie Kaitesi Zaianabou, who chairs the Working Group, said that she would submit a draft text to the African Heads of State and Government after discussions with stakeholders at meetings such as the one in Kigali. Tom Nyanduga Bahame, Acting Chair of the African Commission, called for adoption of this protocol, referring to those already existing at the UN or with the European Convention on Human Rights. The delegates at Kigali also looked into the effectiveness of a moratorium as a tool to fight the death penalty. Professor Carlson Anyangwe, a member of the African Commission Working Group on the death penalty, pointed out that a long-term moratorium is always at risk of being reversed by leaders interested in short-term political gains. “For example, Cameroon resumed executions after 11 years of moratorium and Libya after 23 years,” he said.
“It appeared that a moratorium is an intermediate solution between abolition and the retention of the death penalty,” reported Fabien Safari Bahati, who represented FIACAT and the World Coalition against the death penalty at Kigali. “One can regard the implementation of a moratorium as a step towards abolition.”
The regional conference at Kigali will be followed by a similar event focusing on northern and western Africa at the beginning of 2010. “The views of participants to the conferences will be circulated widely among stakeholders, in particular member states of the African Union”, Commissioner Catherine Dupe Atoki told a recent meeting on the death penalty held on the fringe of the UN General Assembly in New York.