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UN concerned about death penalty reinstatement

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AGAINST DEATH SENTENCE—Hurtado

United Nations (UN) human rights spokesperson Marta Hurtado has described the reinstatement of the death penalty in Malawi as concerning.

“We are very concerned with the implications of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision to re-characterise its April judgement, which had been widely understood to abolish the death penalty,” Hurtado says in a statement.

She says the recent decision, coming four months after public delivery of a judgement under Malawi law, raises serious concerns on the due administration of justice and has the effect of allowing judges to resume imposing the death penalty.

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She adds that the death penalty is, by its nature, inconsistent with a State’s duty to protect the fundamental right to life, and there is no evidence globally that it has a deterrent effect on serious crimes.

“And, if this continues, the renewed uncertainty facing people who have been sentenced to death could lead to intense suffering for both themselves and their families. In particular, the prisoners on death row who believed – following the Court of Appeal’s earlier April judgement – they were free from the risk of execution now find themselves again subject to it,” Hurtado adds.

Malawi has had a moratorium on capital punishment since 1994.

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Last week, the United Kingdom (UK) government joined calls to abolish the death penalty in Malawi.

British High Commission to Malawi Charge d’ Affaires Fiona Ritchie indicated that the UK opposed 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,” she said in a statement.

Ritchie encouraged the Government of Malawi and Parliament 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,” she said.

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.

The Supreme Court of Appeal recently reaffirmed that the death penalty was 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.

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