15 October 2011

Uganda: Death Sentence - Inmates to Get Free Legal Services

Kampala — Human rights activists have launched a project expected to provide free legal assistance to inmates on death row. The development will also see the mitigation of the inmates' sentences in the High Court. The project is part of an ongoing advocacy to scrap the death penalty in the country.

Under the project, planned initially to benefit at least 15 death row inmates, human rights activists will also lobby for law reforms and conduct public education for various stakeholders as well as dissemination of sentencing guidelines.

Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives (FHRI) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth office of the United Kingdom through the British High Commission in Kampala, is implementing the project at Shs15 million.

Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of FHRI, said the project seeks to support the vulnerable people with poor background to have their death sentences reduced to life. "We are looking at Uganda ratifying the second optional protocol for International Covenant Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) that provides for the abolition of death penalty," said Mr Sewanyana during the commemoration of the World Day Against Death Penalty in Kampala.

In 2009, the Supreme Court held that death penalty is unconstitutional and identified the concept of Death Row Syndrome as a key determinant in the lawful application of capital punishment.

In the judgment of Susan Kigula & 417 others, court held that inordinate delay in death-row conditions constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited by Articles 24 and 44(a) of the Constitution of Uganda.

Mr Sewanyana explained that the event has provided a platform for far reaching declarations since 2010 in which at least 181 prisoners on death row had their sentences commuted to life; five on death row were released and 57 cases have been sent back to the High Court for mitigation hearing.

The British High Commissioner to Uganda, Martin Shearman, described death penalty as cruel and degrading to a person. He said it does not leave room for reconciliation and neither does it ensure respect for human dignity.

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