Ugandan Lawmakers to enact against Death Penalty
By Solomon Lubambula
31st March 2013
Today there over 15 criminal cases that can earn an offender a death penalty according to the law of Uganda. This means depriving one’s life as they are supposed to be serving a punishment for committing offence. Human Rights defenders are against this form of sentence, saying it is inhumane and it must be put to an end.Now a section of Members of parliament have come up with efforts to gradually abolish the death penalty that is unbearable and inhumane treatment. Through a private members bill the legislators seek to amend some laws to remove all references to the mandatory death penalty as a measure of upholding the right to life.Interfacing with a section of MPs, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative argue that despite the 2009 ruling of the constitutional court that outlawed the mandatory death sentences, the penal code act, the anti-terrorism Act among other laws still provide for death sentence as penalties for criminal matters.
Despite the Constitutional court ruling in a case filed by Susan Kigula and 416 other Inmates against the Attorney General, the parliament of Uganda has not since effected changes in the laws to stop application of mandatory death sentence.
After ruling that the Mandatory Death penalty is unconstitutional, the court asked parliament to reconsider the debate on the desirability of the death penalty in the Ugandan Constitution. This came from the background that for so many years no death sentences have been executed yet individuals concerned continued to be incarcerated on death row without knowing whether they were pardoned or are to be executed.
It is upon this background that some concerned lawmakers have proposed amendments in the several laws to progressively abolish the death penalty.
Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso explains that the object of the amendments in her Private Members bill to be presented before parliament soon seeks to remove the mandatory death sentence and leave it to the discretion of the judge.
Alaso explains three grounds why mandatory death Penalty must be withdrawn for the law.
First she stresses that the unconstitutionality of mandatory death sentence saying there several provisions in our laws that have the mandatory Death Penalty, this ties the hand of the judge yet judicial officers are meant to be independent.
“the judge cannot even examine the facts surrounding the commission of a particular offence all he has to do is to sentence someone to death since the law prescribes it for that particular offence. It doesn’t give room to examine these other circumstances”-said Alaso.
Alaso adds that there is need to shift from mandatory to discretionary sentencing because that is also in line with the constitution. According to the constitution that the officers in courts have to work without directives, but with the mandatory sentence in law means they are already directed and they must give death sentences whether the circumstances demand for it or not.
Secondly Uganda is a signatory to the International covenant on civil and political rights, in that covenant explicit provisions have been made in handing down the death Penalty and they specifically talk about the most serious crime standard and so Uganda cannot continue handing in death penalty to all sorts of crimes.
For instance Uganda has over 28 provisions that hand the gruesome penalty to different crimes like rape, defilement, murder, treason among others. Alaso said that we would like the bill to subject the mandatory death sentence to serious crime as per the international standards.
“And moreover we have signed into the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court does not hand in death sentences , so we find ourselves in a network of undertakings with international community where we have to be held accountable by our word”-Alaso emphasizes
Thirdly nobody is executing the people given death penalty, there over 505 of them in our prisons now. And some of them have been there for 20 year so they are serving now almost 2 sentences, which to human rights defenders say it’s unfair.
Alaso said that such inmates on death row are serving a sentence of almost life imprisonment and a burden of being killed someday is hanging over their head.
“So given that we are not executing anybody why should we continue with this provision of mandatory death sentence in our books?” Alaso asked
However she quickly adds that the proposal is that the parliament makes death sentences discretionary so that the judge has room to examine the circumstance s and decide on what is very appropriate.
She says that parliament should also narrow death sentences to the most serious crimes such that the people prosecuting the offenders of the law do not abuse the provisions in the law.
The private member’s Bill currently being discussed by a select group of MPs before it surfaces on the floor of parliament is strongly supported by Human Rights Groups.
The executive director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Livingstone Ssewanyana welcomed the move by the lawmakers saying that the death penalty is an outdated form of punishment which infringes on fundamental human rights that should be scrapped from Uganda’s statutory law books.
Ssewanyana says that the death penalty hinge on the right to fair trail, proper justice system, it has a lot to don on how the nation treats its own and the whole value of life.
He also notes a country that works towards depending democracy it high time that we join the global campaign against death penalty.
As Human Rights defender Ssewanyana wants the proposed law also address the apparent conflict between the Prison’s Act section 86 sub section 3 and what prevails in the constitution and the supreme court ruling.
“Through this bill we need to harmonize what actually life imprisonment mean” –Ssewanyana
Ssewanyana is optimistic that the proposed be will be in position to tackle public outcries regarding the sort of sentences being awarded in cases that would otherwise merit the death penalty. Courts have sentenced some people to 30-50 years and even natural life of imprisonment which raises an issue for lawmakers to deliberate on.
“We hope that with the new sentencing guidelines that have been recently adopted by courts of Uganda we should be able to put this matter to rest”-Ssewanyana said.
Ssewanyana assured the general public that the campaign to gradually abolish the death penalty is not necessarily encouraging impunity and it is not in any way condoning crime.
Advocates for the abolition of the death penalty urge that the campaign is all about ensuring proper investments in the justice sector. For instance in areas like police investigations and guarantying that the offenders get proper punishment.
Whereas some people think that absence of death penalty in laws would lead to increased criminality, Ssewanyana assures them that the death penalty does not amount to effective punishment, stressing that when death penalty is abolished we do not get exactly an escalation of crimes in most countries.
He adds that for those who support the death penalty the argument is that death penalty is a deterrent to crime but on the contrarily those who commit the offences many times they are not even aware neither are they mindful of the existing penalty.
Meanwhile a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom where the Death Penalty has been abolished, Baroness Nuala O’Loan says Uganda being a signatory to international human rights instruments ought to start on the process of total abolition of the death penalty since it is not a deterrent to crime.
“Some of the countries that have maintained the death penalty still have some of the highest murder rates in the world, there is no evidence that death penalty is a crime deterrent instead it undermines human dignity and the country’s justice system”-Baroness
What is important is proper investment in the justice systems to ensure that there is no crime that will go undetected and those who commit crime are properly punished.
Sixteen (16) African counties have abolished death penalty yet we do not see an increase in those countries so Uganda must join the rest of the world in abolishing death Penalty.