Zambia: Break the Deathly Silence On Death Penalty!
THE petition by inmates on the death row at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe who have sued the Attorney-General over alleged delays by the Supreme Court to hear their appeals once again underscores a serious human rights issue which cannot be glossed over.
Even inmates are supposed to be accorded decent treatment in conformity with international conventions and protocols which set out the fundamental rights and basic necessities that ought to be availed to convicted offenders incarcerated for various crimes.
During his recent tour of Mukobeko prison and other penitentiaries in the country, Vice-President Guy Scott described the appalling conditions under which the inmates were living as "Hell on Earth."
Dr Scott was alluding to the congestion and general unsanitary conditions obtaining in all prisons, which had become fertile breeding grounds for all forms of contagious diseases that had exacerbated the inhumane conditions in the prison cells.
We would not be exaggerating the point if we stated that the vice-president was traumatised by what he saw during his tour of prison facilities. It was evident from his summation of his visitation that Zambian prisons were not only "Hell on Earth"; by implication, he was saying the current state of prisons rendered them unfit for human habitation.
The conditions under which the death row inmates live are much worse. They are crammed in tiny holding cells that are poorly ventilated, limiting access to natural light and air. But even more appalling is the fact that the convicts are confined to holding cells that have no lavatories, forcing them to relieve themselves in tins after lock-up hours.
What has worsened this situation is the current ambivalent position on the death penalty that has seen numbers of convicts swelling by the day because no executions have been carried out for over a decade now.
Inmates convicted of murder or aggravated robbery, and in some cases both capital offences, have been languishing at Mukobeko after losing their appeals in the Supreme Court due to the fact that successive Republican presidents had refused to sign the death warrants because they did not subscribe to the death penalty.
President Levy Mwanawasa did not mince his words on this matter and stated categorically that he would not sanction any executions of convicted murderers and others condemned to death for capital offences because he considered it morally wrong to do so.
After Mr Mwanawasa's demise, President Rupiah Banda assumed the reigns and endorsed his predecessor's position. No executions have taken place in the last ten years, seven of which were under Mr Mwanawasa, followed by Mr Banda's three-year rule.
What this clearly illustrates is that our leaders consider it morally reprehensible to take another person's life--the heinous crimes committed by some of the convicts notwithstanding. It is both a moral and human rights issue, and no one can force a leader to act against his or her conscience.
Under the present circumstances, one pertinent question that begs an answer is: Should Zambians still retain the death penalty in their new Constitution? Why should the death row numbers keep swelling and compounding prison congestion when our leaders consider it morally unacceptable to terminate anybody's life?
Another dimension to the argument is the preamble in the Zambian Constitution which says that Zambia is a Christian nation.
This preamble pre-supposes that our nation will be guided by Biblical principles which include the Ten Commandments. One of these commandments says "Thou shalt not kill." The Bible goes further to remind all believers that God says "vengeance is mine."
The dilemma facing our country on this matter has tormented many other nations. Suffice to say that there is no easy way out. To avoid getting caught up in the moral arguments, some people seek refuge in the Old Testament which seems to favour the philosophy of revenge or "an eye for an eye..."
We must end the current ambivalent posturing on this matter, and the only reasonable, sensible and rational solution is to abolish the death penalty.