Constitution Watch 6-2016

CONSTITUTION WATCH 6/2016

[23rd February 2016]

The Death Penalty in the Senate

Introduction

Two important Bills affecting the death penalty are due to be considered by the Senate this week.  The Bills are the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill and the General Laws Amendment Bill.

The Bills

The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill will amend the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [CPE Act] to allow the High Court to pass the death sentence on men aged between 21 and 70 who are convicted of murder in aggravating circumstances.  This is permitted by section 48(2) of the Constitution.

The General Laws Amendment Bill [GLA Bill] will amend the Criminal Law Code to make the death penalty the maximum penalty that can be imposed for murder committed in aggravating circumstances.  As already noted, this is permitted by the Constitution.

Reconsideration of the Death Penalty

The Senate should do what the National Assembly failed to do:  it should reconsider the whole question whether Zimbabwe is to have the death penalty at all.  In debating this issue, Senators should consider the following points:

The Bills restore the death penalty after the Constitution effectively abolished it.

As pointed out in Constitution Watch 10/2015 of 5th June 2015, the current provisions in the Criminal Law Code and the CPE Act that provide for the death penalty are so inconsistent with section 48 of the Constitution that they were effectively repealed.  The Bills will therefore re-impose a penalty that is currently abolished.

Most countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty

According to Wikipedia, as of July 2015, 102 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and the penalty was actually carried out in only 37 countries [in the rest there was a moratorium on executions].  In the SADC region, it has been abolished in most of the larger countries, namely Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

The death penalty is a colonial relic, not a traditional punishment

In January this year it was reported in the Herald that chiefs, including the president of the National Council of Chiefs, had spoken out against the death penalty, saying it was a traditionally unacceptable form of punishment and was introduced in and is a relic from colonial days.

The Vice-President responsible for justice opposes the death penalty

The Vice-President responsible for the Ministry of Justice, who is steering the Bills through Parliament, is an avowed opponent of the death penalty.  At a recent conference of Justice Ministers in Rome he announced he was positive that Zimbabwe would soon abolish capital punishment.  “Surely we will not hesitate to expunge capital punishment from our laws,” he is reported as having said.

Senators should use their votes to ensure the Vice-President is true to his word.  They should refuse to pass the two Bills in their current form.

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