September21 , 2021

One by One, African Nations Dismantle Colonial-Period Loss of life Penalty Legal guidelines

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DAKAR, Senegal — Lawmakers in Sierra Leone opened debate and are anticipated to vote on Friday on whether or not to abolish the demise penalty, a momentous step that may make the West African nation the twenty third on the continent to ban capital punishment.

Expectations forward of a vote on the problem closely favored abolition, a long-sought purpose of civil society organizations and authorized practitioners who see the demise penalty as a vestige of Africa’s oppressive colonial historical past.

“It is a horrible punishment and we have to eliminate it,” stated Oluwatosin Popoola, a authorized adviser on the rights group Amnesty Worldwide, a number one critic of capital punishment.

A overwhelming majority of the 193 member states of the United Nations have both abolished the demise penalty or don’t observe it.

The vote in Sierra Leone got here in opposition to the backdrop of a gentle march in Africa to discard brutal legal guidelines imposed by previous colonial masters. In April, Malawi dominated the demise penalty unconstitutional. In Might of 2020, Chad did the identical.

Almost half of Africa’s 54 unbiased international locations have abolished the punishment, greater than double the quantity from lower than 20 years in the past.

Whereas demise sentences and executions have declined globally lately, they don’t essentially mirror the rising variety of international locations which have banned capital punishment. Not less than a number of the declines are attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed or delayed judicial proceedings in lots of international locations. And in some, like america, executions had been ramped up in 2020.

As in earlier years, China led the 2020 record of nations that execute the most individuals, killing 1000’s, in line with Amnesty Worldwide, which compiles capital punishment statistics. The precise figures for China usually are not identified, as its knowledge stays a state secret.

Subsequent in 2020 got here Iran, which executed not less than 246 folks, after which Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and in sixth place america, with 17 executions. A lot of the American executions had been of federal prisoners within the final six months of President Donald J. Trump’s time period, a turnaround after years of an off-the-cuff moratorium.

The final time the demise penalty was carried out in Sierra Leone was 1998, when on the apex of a devastating civil warfare, 24 troopers had been executed by firing squad for having participated in a coup the yr earlier than.

Nonetheless, convicts have languished for years on demise row, the place their rights are minimal and the place they know {that a} new authorities might perform the punishment with out warning.

In 2016, the minister of inner affairs on the time publicly ordered the gallows cleaned on the central jail in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, after two males had been sentenced to hold. The lads had been discovered responsible of murdering a preferred D.J. Whereas public opinion favored the hangings, they had been by no means carried out.

Dozens of demise sentences in Sierra Leone have been handed down yearly. As of the top of final yr, not less than 94 folks remained on demise row.

One Sierra Leonean lady was sentenced to demise in 2010 for the homicide of her abusive boyfriend. He had been attacking her with a pipe, and he or she picked up a knife in self-defense. She was simply 17, and shouldn’t have been topic to grownup authorized proceedings.

One other was convicted of getting murdered her child stepdaughter by feeding her battery fluid — when actually she had given the sick youngster water. She was on demise row for six years.

Each girls had been ultimately launched, with the assistance of AdvocAid, a nonprofit group that helps women and girls entangled in Sierra Leone’s authorized system. However for years, the prospect of execution hung over them.

President Julius Maada Bio’s authorities has labored on a number of reforms to the legal justice system, together with the repeal of a legislation incessantly used to repress the media. In Might, at a assessment of Sierra Leone’s human rights document on the United Nations, the federal government introduced it will abolish capital punishment as effectively.

“It’s a very massive deal in all elements, in Sierra Leone and internationally,” stated Mr. Popoola. “Regionally, there’s been a progressive transfer in Africa towards the abolition of the demise penalty.”

Sierra Leone can be the primary of the English-speaking West African international locations to abolish the punishment.

A decade in the past, a fee in Ghana advisable abolition, however lately efforts have stalled.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, not less than 2,700 individuals are on demise row — the best quantity by far on the African continent.

Gambia had been on monitor to abolish the demise penalty final yr, when a brand new Structure was drafted. Nevertheless it was rejected by Parliament. Nonetheless, Gambia’s president has made some vital strikes away from capital punishment, Mr. Popoola stated.

These are all international locations that, like Sierra Leone, obtained independence from the Britain within the late Fifties and Nineteen Sixties — across the identical time as that colonial energy was finishing up its personal final executions.

“The demise penalty is a colonial imposition, and these legal guidelines had been inherited from the U.Ok.,” stated Sabrina Mahtani, the co-founder and former govt director of AdvocAid.