Tirivashe Mundondo

Communications & Advocacy Specialis

Zimbabwe Takes Historic Step to Abolish Death Penalty

In a groundbreaking move, the Zimbabwean government considered and approved the move to abolish the death penalty in 2024, potentially commuting the sentences of 62 individuals currently on death row to life imprisonment. The decision was revealed after the first cabinet meeting of the year, chaired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The abolition is set to be realized through the Private Member's Death Penalty Abolition Bill, which aims to replace capital punishment with lengthy prison sentences without violating the right to life. Hon. Edwin Mushoriwa, Member of Parliament for Dzivarasekwa constituency is sponsoring the Bill which is currently before the National Assembly. The new law is expected to address aggravating circumstances that may warrant life sentences.

Zimbabwe has not executed anyone since 2005, and currently, there is no appointed hangman. The proposed legislation not only seeks to prevent future death sentences but also proposes the re-sentencing of all individuals on death row, with the High Court being granted discretion in determining appropriate sentences.

The Death Penalty Abolition Bill seeks to abolish this practice and proposes various amendments to laws that provide for the death penalty. The bill acknowledges that Section 48 of the Zimbabwe Constitution is permissive, allowing Parliament to decide whether to provide for the death penalty. The proposed law thus seeks to exercise this discretion afresh, abolishing the death penalty without the need for a constitutional amendment.

This monumental decision by the Zimbabwean government to abolish the death penalty is a historic step towards fostering a more just and compassionate society. The move, initiated through the Private Member's Death Penalty Abolition Bill, not only signifies a break from a long-standing practice but also demonstrates a commitment to respecting fundamental human rights.

SAPST's Role in Promoting Legal Reforms

The Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) has played a crucial role in advocating for legal reforms and progressive legislative changes across the Southern African region. With a commitment to promoting good governance and human rights, SAPST has been instrumental in supporting initiatives that align with international standards and contribute to the development of fair and just legal systems.

As Zimbabwe takes this historic step, SAPST's work in promoting parliamentary engagement and supporting legal reforms becomes particularly relevant. The organization has actively engaged with lawmakers, civil society, and the public to ensure that legislative processes are transparent, inclusive, and guided by principles that uphold human dignity.

With regards to the death penalty, SAPST was part of discussions with like-minded organizations such as Amnesty International, Veritas, ZACRO, Zimbabwe Institute, Center for Applied Legal Research, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Creative Arts Project, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, on advocacy around the enactment of the Veritas-drafted Bill to abolish the practice.

Understanding the Significance of the Bill's Provisions

he provisions outlined in the Death Penalty Abolition Bill underscore the commitment to a comprehensive legal overhaul. By explicitly prohibiting courts from imposing the death penalty and granting the High Court discretion in re-sentencing individuals on death row, the bill reflects a nuanced understanding of the complexities surrounding capital punishment.

Key provisions of the Bill include:

  1. Clause Two: Prohibits courts from imposing the death penalty and requires the Supreme Court to replace such sentences with appropriate alternatives upon appeal. The clause also prohibits the execution of any previously imposed death sentence.
  2. Clause Three: Amends the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [Chapter 9:07] by removing references to the death penalty and repealing sections related to its imposition and execution.
  3. Clause Four: Removes reference to the death penalty from the Genocide Act [Chapter 9:20].
  4. Clause Five: Removes references to the death penalty from all sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23], making life imprisonment the maximum penalty for murder.
  5. Clause Six: Removes the death penalty reference from the Geneva Conventions Act [Chapter 11:06], aligning penalties for grave breaches of the Conventions with the proposed abolition.
  6. Clause Seven: Provides for the re-sentencing of prisoners on death row, granting the High Court the power to impose appropriate sentences, taking various factors into account.

Once the bill becomes law, the Justice Ministry, Prosecutor General, and Correctional Service authorities are mandated to bring all death row inmates before the High Court for re-sentencing. Prisoners will have the right to legal representation, and they can appeal to the Supreme Court or seek clemency from the President.

This historic move positions Zimbabwe alongside many African nations that have chosen to abolish the death penalty, reflecting a shift towards more humane and progressive legal frameworks.

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