Zimbabwe: Zim Commended for Dropping Death Penalty

Zimbabwe has been commended over its move to abolish the death penalty entirely following Cabinet’s backing of the Private Member’s Bill that seeks to abolish the death penalty in the country.

Cabinet backing means that the Bill is almost certain to be passed by Parliament, with life imprisonment becoming the maximum sentence for aggravated murder.

In Zimbabwe, women, persons under the age of 21 and people over 70 years are exempted from the death penalty charge. There has been an informal moratorium on executions since 2005 after the execution of Stephen Chidhumo and Edgar Masendeke but the law allowing adult men to be sentenced to death for aggravated murder still stands.

Responding to the move by the Cabinet to back the abolition of the death penalty, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, Ms Khanyo Farisè, said the move to abolish the death penalty marks progress in Zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe has taken the right step towards ending this abhorrent and inhuman form of punishment that has no place in our world,” she said.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception because it violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now that the Cabinet has given its nod, Parliament must ensure the death penalty is truly abolished by voting to pass legislation that will make this a reality.”

While approving the Bill to abolish the death penalty, the Cabinet still wanted the new law to impose lengthy sentences to deter murder.

It was agreed that the circumstances that attracted the death penalty in the past, where the murder was committed against a prison or police officer, or a minor or pregnant woman, or was committed in the course of other serious crimes, or where there was pre-meditation, then a suitable severe penalty was needed.

Zimbabwe carried out its last execution in 2005 but death sentences have continued to be imposed.

At independence, there were nine crimes punishable by death under Rhodesian law inherited by Zimbabwe. The security crimes were removed fairly quickly, and serious violent crimes outside murder had the death penalty option removed, although there were no cases of courts using their discretion to do this. The 2013 Constitution abolished the death penalty for treason and any other crime not involving aggravated murder, leaving Parliament the option of having the penalty for aggravated murder committed by adult men. Now Parliament is ready to take the option of not having the penalty at all.

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