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  • The death penalty provisions in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the abolition of the death sentence
    Amnesty International
    September 27, 2010

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    The adoption of a new Constitution provides a unique opportunity for Zimbabwe to show its commitment to the protection of internationally recognized human rights by abolishing the death penalty in law. In line with the commitment expressed in the Global Political Agreement, to act in a manner that demonstrates respect for the democratic values of justice, fairness, openness, tolerance, equality, respect of all persons and human rights, Amnesty International Zimbabwe is urging the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee to demonstrate Zimbabwe's commitment to human rights by expunging the death penalty from Zimbabwe's Constitution.

    Zimbabwe has international human rights obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights for everyone within its jurisdiction, without discrimination. These human rights include the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to a fair trial. Zimbabwe has explicitly accepted obligations in regard to these rights in the international and regional human rights treaties which it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). The application of the death penalty in Zimbabwe violates these rights.

    The death penalty in the current Constitution of Zimbabwe was inherited from colonial Rhodesia. While the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the right to life, it also allows the state to execute its citizens 'in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been convicted'. The death penalty is currently legislated for in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23], the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [Chapter 9:07] and the Defence Act [Chapter 11:02].

    Current statistics show that no known execution has taken place since 2005. However, death sentences continue to be imposed. According to the Zimbabwe Ministry for Justice, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, 52 prisoners, one of them a woman, were awaiting execution in 2009.

    Zimbabwe has already considerably restricted the scope of the death penalty: while at independence there were nine crimes which were punishable by death under Zimbabwean law; offenders can currently be sentenced to death for three offences, namely treason; where the act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism results in the death of a person; for murder and for attempted murder or incitement or conspiracy to commit murder. Apart from treason and murder, mutiny is the only other crime punishable by death. The method of execution is by hanging or by firing squad.

    The reduction in the number of offences punishable by death combined with the five year hiatus in executions suggests that Zimbabwe is already heading towards joining a progressive trend in Africa where more countries are abolishing this inhuman and degrading punishment in the defence of human rights. Amnesty International Zimbabwe is urging the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee to demonstrate Zimbabwe's renewed commitment to human rights as outlined in the Global Political Agreement by taking the final step and expunging the death penalty from the Constitution.

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