11 October 2017

Uganda Can Abolish Death Penalty - EU Envoy

Photo: Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi/The Monitor
Attilio Pacifici, the Head of Delegation European Union

Kampala — The European Union Head of Delegation to Uganda, Mr Attilio Pacifici has urged Uganda to abolish the death penalty because it is "the global trend."

"It's not a strong correlation between the poverty and capital punishment, there's such a strong link; people living in poverty are at a greater risk of suffering the death sentence because they have no access to credible defence," Mr Pacifici said.

He was speaking at the International Day Against the Death Penalty at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative in Nsambya, Kampala, on Wednesday.

The 15th anniversary was attended by death row survivors, human rights defenders, officials from the Uganda Prison Services, the French Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Stephanie Rivoal, politicians, among others.

The envoy said the death penalty is an inhuman and degrading form of punishment that does not deter crime.

He hailed the Prison Services for allowing his delegation to conduct a survey at Luzira Prisons last week where they discovered that most of inmates on death row are poor and could not afford justice. "Not every country allows foreigners into their prisons," he said.

He stressed the importance of giving people a second chance.

He decried several flaws in the criminal justice system.

"Judges are human beings, like police officers, they make mistakes. Good legal aid is not available to the vast majority of defendants," he said. "They [suspects] cannot afford it, some case files go missing; miscarriage of justice is inevitable in every justice system and is irreversible. How then can someone in an error-prone and imperfect system pass an irreversible sentence?"

He cited the cases of Mr Edmary Mpagi and Mr Patrick Zzizinga, who were sentenced to death for murders they never committed.

Mr Mpagi and his cousin, Mr Fred Masembe (who died in prison) were sentenced to death in 1982 for murdering George William Wandyaka, their neighbour in Masaka District.

However, Mr Wandyaka was found alive even after Mr Mpagi's release after 18 years on death row. Mr Zzizinga on his part, was convicted and sentenced to death for "killing" his wife with whom they still live.

Even after the famous Suzan Kigula, in which the Supreme Court annulled the mandatory death sentence, and ordered a review of all cases for resentencing, many death row inmates still suffer inordinate delays in the appellate process, because they cannot afford timely justice or their files went missing.

"The death penalty is not prevention, not reparation, it's just revenge," Ms Rivoal, the French ambassador said, adding that abolition is a sign of respect for human life. "It's a moral choice. A political choice and here in Uganda, it's your choice."

Status

Currently, Uganda has 160 death row inmates, six women. Uganda has 28 offenses that attract the death--the highest number in East Africa--however, with exemptions to juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill.

The last executions happened in 1999 and 2005 for the civilian and military systems, respectively.

Public support for the death penalty in Uganda has tremendously reduced, with 64 per cent reportedly backing abolition.

The ambassador said, the EU (which funded the Kigula petition) has no intention to interfere with Uganda's courts, but it will support strengthen the judiciary and entire justice system.

He thus urged government to: pass the Law Revision Law (Revision Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2015 to give effect to the Supreme Court ruling in Kigula and limit the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes as defined by international standards; require that all competent authorities consider the economic status of the defendants in deciding whether to impose or uphold a death sentence; ensure full respect for the right to a fair trial and the right to effective counsel and work to reduce poverty and inequality in the country.

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