By Auxilia Katongomara
Zimbabwe is working on abolishing the death penalty and Cabinet is expected to receive presentations in due course, Justice, legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has said.
The country last had an execution in 2005 and there are 81 prisoners on death row while 127 inmates are serving life terms.
Minister Ziyambi said this year 34 prisoners on death row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment and are therefore among the 127 prisoners serving life terms.
In his speech at the ongoing 11th International meeting of Ministers of Justice being held in Rome, Italy, Minister Ziyambi said the country was adopting an abolitionist stance.
“This meeting titled, ‘A World Without the Death Penalty – No Justice Without Life’, is being held at a time when Zimbabwe has adopted some measures aimed at abolishing the death Penalty in toto.
“Let me reiterate that following the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 67/176 on ‘Moratorium on the use of the Death Penalty’ which recommended inter-alia reduction of the number of offences punishable by death, Zimbabwe has to a greater extent heeded and implemented these recommendations,” said Minister Ziyambi.
He said the coming into force of the 2013 Constitution in Zimbabwe brought significant changes on the question of death penalty.
“First and foremost, the death sentence may be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances.
“Secondly, such form of sentence must not be imposed on women, male persons who are under the age of 21 and over the age of 70 years convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act has already been amended in order to give effect to this constitutional provision,” he said.
The Minister said the exemptions should be viewed as a positive step towards the abolition of the death penalty as opposed to discrimination.
He said the retention of the death penalty for males between 21 and 70 was a result of a compromise between parties during the Constitution making process.
“One may ask the rationale for retaining death penalty for males aged between 21 years and 70 years who commit murder in aggravating circumstances.
“I wish to underscore that the retention of death penalty in respect of this category of persons was a compromise agreement between the parties to the Constitution making process, which has largely been viewed as a tremendous starting point towards the total abolition of the death penalty,” he said.
“It is significant to note that during the consultative phase of the constitutional making process that was spearheaded by the Select Commit of Parliament, the death penalty clause gained considerable support.
“Statistical data shows that 55 percent of the population was for the retention of the death penalty in our statute books while 45 percent was against this form of punishment.”
Minister Ziyambi said the death penalty is cruel and does not deter the commission of offences.
He said the death sentence is not only cruel and degrading punishment but also destroys life and annihilates human dignity.
The Minister said criminological researches have revealed that the death penalty does not deter the commission of crimes but rather compounds it.
“The possibility of the sentence being meted out on innocent persons cannot be ruled out and once executed, by its nature, the sentence is unfortunately irrevocable,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi said it is against this background that Zimbabwe, in addition to constitutional and legislative framework, is also implementing strategies and policies aimed at adopting an abolitionist stance.
“I will soon make a presentation in our Cabinet justifying why the death penalty should be abolished in toto. If the recommendation to abolish death penalty is approved, the constitutional provision which permits the imposition of death penalty on persons convicted of murder in aggravating circumstances will have to be amended,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi told the delegates that Zimbabwe has also for over a decade put a moratorium on executions.
He said the last execution was carried out in July 2005 when a notorious serial murderer, robber and rapist was executed.
“This has seen the country earning for itself the defacto abolitionist status. In my capacity as the Minister responsible for the administration of justice, I will decline to authorise the execution of those prisoners who are on the death row.
“Instead Mr President, my Ministry, in an endeavour to save these prisoners from execution, has requested Cabinet to consider the granting of clemency so that the death sentences imposed are commuted to life imprisonment,” he said.
“This is indeed a good starting point towards abolitionist de jure. It is our hope that this moratorium on execution will pave way for the total abolition of the death penalty.
“Mr President, Zimbabwe is also cognisant of the developments around the globe which have revealed that since 1977, only 16 countries around the world abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
“To date the number has arisen to nearly two thirds of the countries the world over. In this light, Zimbabwe is indeed moving towards adopting such a best practice.” The Chronicle