African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 52nd Ordinary Session
9 - 22 October 2012: Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire
Item 9: Reports of the Members of the African Commission and Special Mechanisms on 25 Years of the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Africa - Working Group on the Death Penalty
Statement of the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Penal Reform International (PRI)
The Death Penalty in Africa
13 October 2012
The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, the International Federation for Human Rights and Penal Reform International, all members of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty would like to congratulate the African Commission’s launch of the “Study on the Question of the Death Penalty in Africa” at its 51st Ordinary Session in Banjul.
The member associations of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty recall the 1999 resolution adopted at the 26th Ordinary Session in Kigali, Rwanda, which not only urged States Parties to the African Charter to implement a moratorium on the death penalty, but also to reflect on the possibility of abolishing it. The “Study on the Question of the Death Penalty in Africa” deals with this particular issue and is a direct consequence of the African Commission’s comprehensive research on the possibility of abolishing the death penalty across the African region. The Study sets out a number of concrete strategies that the African Commission has agreed to pursue which, if fully implemented, would be an important step towards making the African Union a death penalty-free zone. We commend the leadership role that the Commission has played in this regard. In particular, we note that the African Commission agreed a strategy to make recommendations to the African Union and to State Parties to adopt a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa under any circumstances.
While almost all Member States of the African Union are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , only nine  African Union States have ratified its Second Optional Protocol (and one of those states, Liberia, has since reinstated the death penalty), three additional states  have also signed but not ratified the Second Optional Protocol.
We note that Benin ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on 5 July 2012, and during the recent Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe expressed their intention to ratify this Protocol. We also note that Madagascar signed the Protocol last 24 September, on the occasion of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
The Côte d’Ivoire abolished the death penalty in its Constitution in 2000, but, since then, has not ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Furthermore, the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure have never been harmonised and still refer to the death penalty in many articles. The member associations of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty urge the Government of Cote d’Ivoire to ratify the Second Optional Protocol and to amend its criminal legislation.
A Protocol to the African Charter would strengthen the regional human rights framework and could expand on Article 4 of the African Charter, the right to life, and the restrictions on the death penalty set forth in the Protocol of the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It could incorporate an emphasis on restorative rather than retributive justice stronger than in the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Protocol would help to localise the international human rights norms and standards on the death penalty, reflecting the particular human rights concerns of Africa.
It would also reflect the trend among African Union states not to carry out executions. We note that of the 54 African Union Member States, 36 are either abolitionist in law  or abolitionist in practice , meaning that they have not carried out executions in more than ten years. Of the 26 African Union countries that were known to have imposed death sentences in 2011 , we note that only four countries carried out executions. 
We urge African States to take a lead in working with the African Commission to adopt a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa under any circumstances, and urge all states that have not yet done so, to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the Death Penalty at their earliest opportunity as called for by the African Commission in Resolution 136 of 2008.
On the occasion of the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission, we urge the Republic of the Gambia to clarify its position regarding the death penalty. Gambia had applied a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1985, until the government announced that it would execute all prisoners on death row in a move to curb crime. Nine death row prisoners were executed by firing squad on 26 August 2012. Thirty-eight inmates remain at risk of execution on death row.
While we welcome the announcement by President Jammeh on 14 September to halt executions, the moratorium is dependent upon violent crime rates not increasing. Making the lives of those people on death row dependent on developments they have no power over is arbitrary and a violation of their right to life. We urge the Republic of the Gambia to make the moratorium permanent, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in law.
We also call upon all other African Union states, including Burkina Faso and Tunisia who have made political commitments to abolish the death penalty to expedite the legislative process at their earliest opportunity.
We note that the fourth United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty will be tabled in December 2012. We urge all African Union states to vote in favour of the resolution, or at a minimum, to abstain from voting.
The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, the International Federation for Human Rights 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 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.