By Kumbukani Kuntiya:
The World Day Against the Death Penalty is commemorated each year on 10 October with a sole purpose of campaigning for the abolition of the Death Penalty in the World. The day provides an opportunity to exert pressure on States that retain the death sentence to abolish it and/or call for the permanent end of the death penalties and executions in the World. This year, the day aims at raising awareness on the rights of children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed. Malawi is expected to join the rest of the global community in commemorating the day with a series of activities in Zomba through Reprieve and other stakeholders.
As you might be aware, Malawi is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since1993. Further to this, Malawi ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 1996 allowing for the right of individual petition to the UN Human Rights Committee. A stone throw away to a complete abolishment of the death sentence, Malawi has been practising a moratorium on the Death Penalty since 1992. Despite such positive advancements, Courts in Malawi continue to sentence people to death.
More recently, in August this year, a court sentenced three people to death for killing an albino person. This was the second time a Malawian court had issued a death sentence for an albino killing with the hope of deterring future attacks.
As some might ask, is this approach effective? My position is a straight NO. As you might have noted, most murder related cases take almost a decade to conclude. Due to lack of such swiftness, the system and the final sentencing may in itself offer no desired deterrent mechanism or attacks on persons with albinism. As Amnesty International and others have indicated, only adequate crime control mechanisms and effective criminal justice, through fair trials, for crimes against people with albinism, including tackling past impunity, can reduce the crimes.
Against this background, as we commemorate Death Penalty Day, let use the day to reflect upon ourselves as regards how effective death penalty or the current moratorium is and what needs to be done next.
Drawing from the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty theme, “Children, Unseen Victims”, listening to the stories of children and families of former death-row inmates, as well as former death-row inmates themselves, makes the case for abolishment of Capital Punishment even far much stronger.
Following Malawi’s moratorium on death sentence, convicted murderers remain in prison for life and there are close to 15 individuals currently and the number is slightly increasing. This in a way is cruel as there is no pardon or commutation of the sentence. Much as President Mutharika wants the nation to debate imposing the death penalty for murder, it means those on life sentence still live with psychological torture as they contemplate meeting the hangman one day. The scenario is even worse upon the children, the unseen victims of the death penalty, who are to go through the loss of a parent at the hands of a state through some premeditated murder by the very state. This simply reinforces deep instability in the child’s day to day life.
We usually talk of reforming offenders. How would life sentence give such people a chance to reform and how do we benefit from such?
Picking on President Mutharika’s suggestion and others before him, for the nation to further debate the death penalty for murder, considering the spate of killings of persons with albinism versus the death penalty, it is high time the government invested much in protecting and promoting the lives of persons with albinism
Our justice system needs to be strengthened to ensure that killers receive tough sentences swiftly. Our focus should not be on the aftermath of imposing the death sentence, as the death penalty is not a confirmed deterrent.
The death penalty has been completely abolished elsewhere as in all European countries except for Belarus and Russia. As we go through the #MustFall season, let death penalty fall as well – it is high time as a country, we went for total abolishment.
The author is a Press and Information Officer with the EU Delegation to Malawi and is writing in his personal capacity.
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