7 April 2016

East Africa: Death Sentences in Kenya the Highest Within EAC Bloc

Death sentences in Kenya increased to 30 last year as other East African nations maintained their penalties at below 10, a new report shows.

Kenya condemned 26 convicts to the hangman's noose in 2014 up from 11 a year earlier, says Amnesty International (AI) -- which has been pushing for a stop to killer sentences.

"Sentencing someone to death denies them the right to life - enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," the report says.

Kenya has, however, not executed any convict in the past 29 years since 1987 and last year the Attorney-General Githu Muigai suggested a plan to scrap death sentences as part of UN Human Rights Council recommendation.

"The proposal is subject to consensus-building within the justice system. It's ongoing," said Samuel Kaumba, a State counsel, when asked on the progress. He said that the rise in death row convicts could be a pointer of "a tight, efficient criminal justice system in Kenya."

The Kenyan government does not publish the number of prisoners on death row.

Tanzania sentenced at least five convicts to die last year, down from 91 in 2014, according to the report.

Uganda had only one death row convict while Rwanda and Burundi abolished death penalty in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

Egypt led the pack in Africa with 538 death sentences, followed by Nigeria at 171. Crimes that attract death penalty include murder, violent robbery, treason and military offences such as spying, mutiny and aiding the country's enemy, according to Kenya's Penal Code.

But offenders below 18 years, pregnant women and the mentally ill are spared from death penalties.

AI, a global human rights watchdog, has over the years pushed for the scrapping of death penalty, saying it violates the right to life.

Kenya's Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling this year on the legality of the country's mandatory death penalty after several death row convicts last year petitioned against their sentencing.

The mandatory provision for capital offences is contained in the old Constitution.

"We have the option of amending the Penal Code to replace the word 'shall' with 'may' to create room for judges when issuing judgment against capital offenders," said Mr Kaumba. But convicts can still appeal.

A number of MPs in 2014 rooted for the inclusion of terrorism, homosexuality, corruption and economic crimes in the list of crimes punishable by death, but the bid was struck down while amending the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act two years ago.

Former President Mwai Kibaki in 2009 commuted the death sentences of all 4,000 prisoners on death row to life.

Countries that have abolished the penalty are South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Djibouti and Mozambique.

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