Leaving for Zimbabwe to promote the abolition of the death penalty

From 18 to 23 August a delegation of the Nonviolent Radical Party and Hands Off Cain composed of Sergio D'Elia, Secretary General of HOC, the Hon. Elisabetta Zamparutti, MP, Treasurer of HOC, and Sen. Marco Perduca, co-vicepresident of the NRP will be visiting Zimbabwe to promote the support for the Universal Moratorium of the Death Penalty. In December of this year, the UN General Assembly will be voting upon a resolution that since 2007 has been considering the suspetion of execution the way to go to promote the abolition of the death penalty the world over. 

Here is a brief on the death penalty in Zimbabwe

In 2012, for the ninth consecutive year, Zimbabwe has not carried out executions.

On 10 October 2011, Zimbabwe was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council. On the issue of capital punishment, the Country’s delegation stated that abolition of the death penalty was under consideration as part of the process of writing a new Constitution, which started in 2010 and is supposed to be concluded in 2012. “Zimbabwe is exercising a de facto moratorium… Currently there is constitutional debate on whether the death penalty should be retained or abolished,” said the Government in its national report. 

On 10 October 2011, speaking at a function organised by the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro), during a campaign against capital punishment, Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, who survived a death sentence because he was underage, told delegates that he had been facing resistance in Cabinet as he tried to have the death sentence scrapped from the Constitution. He said Cabinet was divided in the middle over whether or not to abolish the death penalty. “My views on the death penalty are, to a large extent, informed by the harrowing experiences I went through while on death row, the sanctity of life and the need to rehabilitate offenders,” Mnangagwa said, referring to the pre-independence horrors he experienced while on death row from which he was saved by an age technicality. Former High Court judge Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, who has in his career sentenced convicts to death, has also come out clear about what he thinks about the death penalty. “We take an oath to do justice according to the law. As a judge, you do the best you can with the evidence given to you and some judges strain to find the extenuating circumstances just to evade the death penalty,” said Mutambanengwe.

On 28 March 2012, Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga said Zimbabwe was considering cutting back on hangings according to a proposed new constitution, reserving the death penalty for only extreme cases of aggravated murder. He said only killers who commit “gratuitous violence to the extent it becomes sickening” will be hanged. Matinenga told The Associated Press that despite calls for its abolition, the death penalty cannot be “totally scrapped because there are murders that make you shudder.” In a compromise between human rights groups and traditional supporters of capital punishment, it will be up to judges to rule on the level of violence used. Rights groups argue every criminal killing is extreme violence and say it will be open to wide interpretations in courts asked to differentiate between axing deaths in village disputes, anger-fuelled shootings and cold-blooded, premeditated murder.

On 19 July 2012, the Select Committee of Parliament on the New Constitution (COPAC), that was established in April 2009 to spearhead the Constitution-making process in the country, announced that the new draft constitution was complete and signed by all the party negotiators to the 2007 Global Political Agreement (i.e. the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the two Movement for Democratic Change formations) and members of COPAC's management committee. Zimbabwe’s new draft constitution has abolished the death sentence for women and those under the age of 21 and above 70 years, but rights groups pushing for the total removal of the death penalty say it does not go far enough. “Every person has the right to life,” is written in Article 4.5 of the new Charter. However, “A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances,” Article 4.5 adds. “The penalty must not be imposed on a person who was less than twenty-one years old when the offence was committed; or who is more than seventy years old; the penalty must not be imposed or carried out on a woman,” the draft says. “The law must permit the court a discretion whether or not to impose the penalty.” 

Once approved by an All-Stakeholders Conference, the new Charter will be subject to a constitutional referendum planned by the end of 2012.

The current Constitution of Zimbabwe at Chapter 3, section 12, dealing with the protection of right to life states that: “No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been convicted.” 

After independence in 1980, there were nine offences which attracted the death penalty, but over the years they have been reduced to three. Currently, murder, treason and mutiny are punished by death under the Zimbabwean law. 

All persons sentenced to death have the automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as that of application to the President for pardon or commutation of the death sentence to a lesser sentence.

The March 2002 presidential elections took place amidst widespread allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation of the opposition, which led the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe’s membership. 

Treason charges were brought against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2003. The year-long high profile trial was finally concluded on October 15, 2004, when Zimbabwe’s High Court acquitted the Tsvangirai, saying the State had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. 

In September 2008, a power-sharing agreement was reached between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, in which Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became prime minister. The agreement was not fully implemented until 13 February 2009, two days after the swearing in of Tsvangirai as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

No executions have been carried out under the three-year old coalition government. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s former opposition Movement for Democratic Change party has voiced its disapproval of hanging.

Execution orders must be signed by the coalition’s co-ministers of justice and approved by President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Official records show 78 people have been executed in Zimbabwe since the African Country won independence from Britain in 1980.

The last executions were carried out on 13 June 2003, when Stephen Chidhumo, Elias Chauke, William Mukurugunye and John Nyamazana were hanged at the same prison complex where Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwean opposition leader, was awaiting trial on treason charges. The four prisoners had all been convicted of murder “without extenuating circumstances,” and their execution took place without any warning to their families.

In 2010, the justice ministry said it was looking for a new hangman. The last executioner retired after carrying out his last execution in 2003, saying he was struggling with his conscience in the face of superstitious local custom and beliefs in avenging ancestral spirits. After that, authorities reportedly sought a foreign executioner from Asia.

As of 28 March 2012, there were at least 61 prisoners on death row.


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