Uganda is unable to enforce the death penalty in compliance with International standards which seek to protect the respect and dignity of accused persons.
This assessment was pronounced by Doreen Namyalo, the Sub-Saharan Africa Director of Penal Reforms International, a non-governmental organisation working globally to promote criminal justice systems that uphold human rights for all.
Speaking at Hotel Africana during the commemoration of World Day Against Death Penalty marked every 10th of October, Namyalo noted that Uganda has not yet abolished the death penalty yet it is unable to meet international conditions set for countries still using the penalty.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council passed a resolution in May 1984 which sets nine (9) safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.
It was resolved that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, it be imposed only for the most serious crimes and that their scope should not go beyond international crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.
It was further resolved that capital punishment (death penalty) may only be carried out after a final judgement by a competent court after legal process which gives all possible safeguards to ensure fair trial, at least equal to those contained in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights including the right of any such accused person to get adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings. The council also resolved that where capital punishment occurs, it shall be carried out so as to inflict minimum possible suffering.
Namyalo however says that Uganda is incapable of delivering a fair trial and following due processes because the accused rarely do not get the good representation in court capable of arguing out the case to their defense.
Namyalo says that the accused persons should have a speedy trial, have adequate time to prepare their defense and have effective representation if it is to be called a fair trial.
She notes that the death penalty as applied in Uganda today, the methods of its implementation, the conditions of those who are living in prison and are awaiting the trial fail to respect the right to fair trial, inherit dignity of human being and causes severe pain and suffering to the accused thereby constituting a violation of their freedom against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Namyalo says that the death penalty ought to be applied in a manner that respects the inherent dignity and respect of any human being.
George Musisi, an advocate of the High Court of Uganda emphasizes the importance of legal representation saying that without a good lawyer to argue a case, the accused person suffers the consequences. He says that lawyers handling such capital cases should be well facilitated to enable them conduct adequate research to defend their clients, something still missing in Uganda’s judicial system where lawyers assigned to indigents in capital offenses are ill facilitated and hence unable to put up a legal fight for their clients.
Both Namyalo and Musisi are of the view that the death penalty should be abolished in Uganda. Although Uganda has not executed any death penalty since 2003, it has not abolished it and is considered a retentionists.
There are 28 offences that attract a death penalty in Uganda, according to the country’s Penal Code, and the current population of people on such crimes is 123 prisoners. During the famous Susan Kigula case, courts declined to declare the death penalty unconstitutional, although they offered some remedies like changing the mandatory nature of the penalty, and that a person on death penalty who spends more than three years before execution should have their case heard again.
According to Penal Reform International, by end of 2021, 108 countries had abolished the death penalty globally, eight countries retained the penalty for ordinary crimes, while 28 were abolitionists in practice since they had not abolished the penalty but hadn’t executed it in years, hence referred to as rententionists.
The campaign for the abolition of the death penalty is premised on the argument that the penalty is hostile, that punishment should be intended to reform the criminals not condemn them to death and that there is no proof that it deters other members of society to commit similar crimes.
But as the campaign for abolishing the death penalty continues, there is a question of what alternatives are available to punish capital offenders, in a manner that re-assures the rest of the public that the State is committed to protecting them. Some people have argued that death penalty be replaced with life sentence. In Uganda, life sentence can mean as little as 20 years, but the proposal in regard to death penalty is to replace it with a life sentence of 30 years.
However, Africa Evans Gabula, a former death row prisoner says that activists should advocate for complete abolition of the death penalty and not give an alternative of an enhanced life sentence. Gabula who spent more than 25 years in prison says that there are many innocent people in prisons who might be disadvantaged by an increase in years for life imprisonment.
He observes that during his time in prison, a number of prisoners on death row died due to the psychological torture they felt being in prison for so long awaiting execution. He says many of experiences he heard in prison indicate that such prisoners rarely live beyond 13 years.
2022 marks the 20th year of marking the World Day. This year’s theme was dedicated to reflecting on the relationship between the use of the penalty and torture or other cruel inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment.