24 October 2011
ORAL STATEMENT BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Item 6: Human Rights Situation in Africa
Chairperson, Honourable Commissioners,
Amnesty International welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) on the state of the situation of human rights in Africa. In this statement, Amnesty International would like to focus on the status of the death penalty in Africa.
Amnesty International welcomes recent positive steps undertaken towards abolition of the death penalty. Om 18 August 2011, the Parliament in Benin authorized the government to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Sierra Leone has reportedly established an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty; it accepted this in principle when the UN Human Rights Council adopted its Universal Periodic Review outcome on 22 September 2011. Amnesty International also welcomes the recent confirmation that Nigeria has formalized its existing moratorium on executions.
Further opportunities for the reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty in African exist, among other countries, in Mali and Burkina Faso, where the governments have on several occasions made statements in favor of abolition. In Ghana and Zimbabwe constitutional review processes are currently underway, providing unique opportunities to abolish the death Penalty in these two countries.
Amnesty International would like to respectfully bring a number of negative developments to your attention. The organization is particularly concerned about executions carried out in Egypt and Somalia in 2011. In Somalia, two government soldiers were executed in August being convicted by a military court of the Transnational Federal Government. In Egypt a man was executed on 10 October, the World Day against the Death Penalty. Amnesty International has also received information on death sentences imposed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland and Uganda in the course of the year. In at least one country, Mauritania, juveniles were among those sentenced to death.
Amnesty International furthermore has concerns over the increased imposition of the death penalty by military courts, in particular in Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia. Military courts do not provide the safeguards prescribed by international law, including fair and public trails by independent tribunals, the right to effective appeals, the right to present a defense, the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself and the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. The African Commission must urge all State Parties to ensure that, as a minimum, military courts respect basic fair trial standards, and that civilians and anyone accused of committing an offence against a civilian are not tried before military courts but before civilian courts.
Amnesty International welcomes the resolution adopted at the conclusion of the Regional Conference on the Abolition or Moratorium on the Execution of the Death Penalty, held in Kigali on 13-14 October 2011, calling for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, progressive reduction of the applicability for the death penalty, and the adoption of national moratoriums. It welcomes in particular the support of the African Union, through AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping, for abolition and for the upcoming vote on a new UN General Assembly calling for a moratorium in 2012. In 2010, the third UN General Assembly resolution 65/206 calling for moratorium on the use of the death penalty already enjoyed increased African support, in line with the African Commission’s own resolution calling for moratorium adopted at the 44th Session in 2008.1
Some State Parties to the African Charter still argue that the death penalty brings justice to victims of crime, acts as a deterrent and is required by public opinion. However, the experience in Rwanda since abolition of the death penalty in 2007 serve as an example that the circle killing needs to be broken in order to promote reconciliation and the restoration of justice, and that the death penalty is not a tool of deterrence, but of revenge. When in 1995 the South African Constitutional Court ruled against the use of the death penalty, it recognized that the death penalty did not have a special deterrent effect and that the State can serve as a role model for individuals in society by not resorting to this irrevocable punishment.2
The trend against the use of the death penalty is clearly visible in Africa, as it is in the rest of the world. Among the 53 State Parties to the African Charter, 37 states retain the death penalty in their national laws. But only six African States executed convicted persons in 2010. Furthermore, 38 Members States are abolitionist in law (16) or practice (22). This means that both on the global and on the regional level in Africa, more than two thirds of the respective countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. States actively using death sentences or even carrying out executions find themselves part of an ever-decreasing monitoring. Amnesty International firmly believes that Africa has the potential to become a region that is free of executions.
Amnesty International therefore calls on the African Commission to:
Urge those State Parties to the African Charter which still use the death penalty to establish an immediate moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty and commute all existing death sentences;
Urge those State Parties to the African Charter that are yet to do so to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and/ or its Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;
Call on Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia to stop the imposition of the death penalty by military courts on civilians or anyone accused of committing an offence against a civilian;
Call on Mauritian and all other State Parties which still have juvenile offenders on death row to commute all death sentences imposed on juvenile offenders in contravention of international law;
Call on Benin to promptly finalize the ratification process of the Second Optional Protocol; and
Call upon the authorities in Ghana and Zimbabwe to include provisions abolishing the death penalty in their revised new constitutions.
1 ACHR/Res.136(XXXXIIII).08: Resolution calling on State Parties to observe the moratorium on the death penalty.
2 The State v. Makwanyane and Mcbunu, judgment of the South African Constitutional Court of 6 June 1995, case CCT/3/94, 1995 (3) SA 391 (CC), paras 122-124 and 146.