A victory for human rights

Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi

CABINET this week approved the Memorandum on the Private Member’s Death Penalty Abolition Bill presented by Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi which abolishes capital punishment.

Tuesday’s landmark decision comes as a Private Member’s Bill was introduced last year in the National Assembly to abolish the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

This would entail the amendment to the Criminal Law Code and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

That the death penalty would go was inevitable especially after President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who survived death penalty by a whisker, indicated that he was not comfortable with capital punishment.

For decades, the death penalty in Zimbabwe has been shrouded in controversy. While proponents argued it served as a deterrent to crime, critics condemned it as cruel, unusual and irreversible punishment. Moreover, concerns regarding the fairness of its application, particularly given the country’s history of political strife, further fuelled the abolition movement.

Abolishing the death penalty represents a victory for human rights. It reaffirms the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their actions. This move resonates with the global trend towards valuing human life and prioritising alternative forms of punishment.

However, the road ahead for Zimbabwe is not without challenges. Ensuring a robust justice system with effective rehabilitation programmes is crucial to deter crime and ensure public safety. Public education and addressing concerns surrounding alternative punishments will also be instrumental in garnering wider support for this decision.

Zimbabwe has been on a de facto moratorium on executions for about 17 years with the last having been conducted in 2005.

The Constitution maintains the death sentence but excludes women, men under the age of 21 and men over the age of 70 from being sent to the gallows.

Zimbabwe has 62 convicted prisoners facing the death penalty. This means they can be commuted to life sentences.

The Mnangagwa’s administration got favourable reviews this week with Amnesty International saying Zimbabwe had “taken the right step towards ending this abhorrent and inhuman form of punishment that has no place in our world”.

“Now that the cabinet has given its nod, Parliament must ensure the death penalty is truly abolished by voting to pass legislation that will make this a reality,” said Khanyo Farise, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception because it violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

While celebrating this progress, it is important to acknowledge the broader context. Zimbabwe continues to face numerous challenges, including economic hardship and human rights concerns. The government must remain committed to upholding human rights across all aspects of governance, not just in abolishing the death penalty.

Zimbabwe has shown that it is possible to respect human rights by abolishing the death penalty. The world is watching its next move.

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