Zambia: Death Penalty Debate Rages
28 May 2013
ZAMBIA seems to be divided as a nation on the subject of death penalty with a cross section of people saying the clause must stand as it is in the Constitution while others argue that it is outdated and must go.
As the situation stands, the current law on the death penalty is for now being upheld and requires that criminals be executed if judged so by the court.
For this reason, our judges who have continued meting out this form of punishment are within the law, no matter how bad such a judgment may be received by those who feel it should not be passed any longer because it is not necessary.
Among those people who have vehemently opposed the retention of the death penalty clause in the Constitution are members of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) who have been consistent in calling for the abolition of this law.
The argument advanced by the HRC for their stance over the death penalty is that life, especially human life, is sacrosanct.
In any case, says the HRC, continued existence of the death penalty on our statute books is contrary to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation, which clause has effectively been retained during the ongoing Constitution-making process.
Under the Christian Nation declaration, the supremacy of God is acknowledged, hence vengeance, in this case through the death penalty, should not stand because it belongs to God alone.
This line of argument does not only belong to the HRC but is shared by many a Christian nationwide who are still wondering how some offenders have continued to be sentenced to death even when some Republican presidents had shown their distaste for the practice and refused to sign for it.
Indeed late president Frederick Chiluba was the last head of State to sign a death warrant.
Since Dr Chiluba, there has been reluctance by successive Republican presidents to endorse this form of punishment.
Thus late president Levy Mwanawasa openly said he would never sign a death warrant as long as he remained president of this country.
Dr Mwanawasa's successor, Rupiah Banda equally never signed a death warrant during his stay at Plot One.
Even the current President Michael Sata is certainly against the death penalty.
This was proved last week when, as part of Africa Freedom Day celebrations, President Sata reduced the sentences of 113 death-row inmates to life imprisonment.
The presidents who refused to sign the death penalty seem to be in agreement with the opponents of this punishment, whose argument is that it does not help in any way reduce crime in the country.
If anything, they say that the death penalty basically subjects not just the convicts, but even their family members, to both physical and mental anguish.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights too has provisions that discredit death, be it by hanging or lethal injection.
The United Nations (UN) body has even been calling on parties to the Convention to observe people's inherent right to life.
Zambiais a party to this and other UN conventions and international instruments, including the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The UN has set standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, and the death penalty is not tolerated.
So as human rights bodies and many people feel, the sanctity of life is a fundamental right and should be respected.
Even if it stands, it is clear that the death penalty does not address the root causes of crime in Zambia or anywhere in the world.
Neither can it be a solution to the congestion of prisons in the country.
The execution of convicts is certainly outdated and torturous and should not continue to be carried out in this Christian Nation.