5 March 2018

Zambia: Lawyer Jere Calls for Abolition of Death Sentence

The death sentence slapped on Chilanga Member of Parliament Keith Mweemba has reignited the debate about the sentence in Zambia.

Former Presidential spokesperson turned lawyer Dickson Jere pens his views speaking strongly against the death sentence.

Below are his thoughts:

Abolish Death Sentence

By Dickson Jere

The recent conviction and sentence to death of prominent politician, Hon. Keith Mukata, MP for murder has reignited the debate on capital punishment in Zambia. There is always sharp differences between two competing theories on death penalty and consensus almost impossible. Those for or against death sentence usually provide very convincing arguments, some backed up with religious overtones. Reminiscing the biblical scripture in Exodus 20:23-27 that teaches us the principles of "life for life" or "an eye for eye", are the comfort lines for those in support. But some of us the abolitionists argue that death sentence is not a deterrent and that people do need a second chance. We equally find comfort in the biblical scripture in Matthew 5:38-39 when Jesus taught us that "I tell you do not take revenge on someone who offends you".

We further argue that miscarriage of justice is possible at times and an innocent person may get to the gallows on unreliable evidence.

In 2003, I was privileged to have been appointed as Commissioner by President Levy Mwanawasa to help gather views on the new constitution and the death penalty was one of the issues we considered. We received 1,661 petitioners who wanted death penalty abolished while 1,616 petitioned for it to be maintained.

It was a close call!

In Zambia, the sentence is imposed on very serious and few cases, namely, treason, murder and aggravated robbery. Zambian Presidents have been reluctant to sign the death warrants. Statistics show that between 1978 to 1987 and 1988 to 1997, only 7 and 12 convicts were executed in Zambia. There has been no execution from 1998 onwards, meaning President Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda, Michael Sata and the current Edgar Lungu never appended their signatures on the death warrants. So effectively, we have a de facto moratorium on death penalty! When President Banda was given the warrants, he declined to sign saying he didn't "want to have blood on my hands". President Mwanawasa said: "I do not want to be a chief hanger".

And so when we finally sat as Constitution Review Commission (CRC) to decide the abolition of death penalty, we split into half and no consensus was reached. Thus our recommendation was that it should be kept on our statute book temporally while the final question should be decided by a national referendum. This explains why Zambia to-date has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Second Optional Protocol) that provides for the abolition of death penalty.

And so I join those calling for the abolition of death penalty and don't hang my friend! Replace it with life sentence or longer jail terms.

I wonder if we still even have a hang man. From 1998 no job and getting free salary!

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