The United Kingdom (UK) government has backed calls to abolish the death penalty in Malawi.
This comes at a time the Supreme Court of Appeal has reaffirmed that the death penalty is constitutional in Malawi, clarifying that the question of its legality was never before the court.
There are reports that a panel of nine judges had determined that the death penalty was unconstitutional in Charles Khoviwa versus the Republic case.
Khoviwa had appealed a High Court ruling sentencing him to death following his conviction of murder together with others.
However, in a recent court ruling, Supreme Court justices took turns to disassociate themselves from the purported earlier ruling while the majority of them agreed that Khoviwa’s appeal case could be heard at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
But while acknowledging and respecting judicial independence, British High Commission to Malawi Charge d Affaires Fiona Ritchie says in a statement that the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances “as a matter of principle”.
“We believe that the death penalty undermines human dignity, there is no conclusive evidence of deterrent value and any miscarriage of justice is irreversible and irreparable,” the statement reads.
Ritchie says, in the statement, that the interest and debate the Khoviwa case created in Malawi demonstrates the popular support for the removal of the death penalty from Malawi’s legislative framework.
She then encourages the government and Parliament of Malawi to explore ways of removing the death penalty from the statute books.
“We (the UK) stand ready to share our experience with the process of abolishing the death penalty,” the statement adds.
At least 80 percent of African Union members abolished the death penalty either in law or in practice following a United Nations General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) has, for some years now, advocated the removal of the death penalty in Malawi.
CHREAA Executive Director Victor Mhango said in an interview Sunday that Malawi could not continue clinging to a law that has not been in use since the country attained multiparty democracy.
“It is now clear that this is not a good law for Malawi. The punishment itself is violent and we, as a country, need to remove such laws. What is the use of having a law that we, as a country, haven’t implemented in years?” Mhango queried.
Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said Malawi had, since 1992, put a moratorium on the death sentence.
“Our position on this is that the Penal Code was amended and although the death sentence is still there in the Penal Code on conviction of certain offences like murder, the amendment changed it from mandatory sentence to optional because, now, courts can also sentence the convict to life imprisonment instead of death.
“Furthermore, although the death sentence is still there as a non-mandatory one, Malawi has practised a moratorium since 1992 by deliberately not executing anyone sentenced to death. So, while the death sentence is there in the statutes, it’s, in fact, not being carried out. The government will keep reviewing the position,” he said.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.