THE Ambassador of Switzerland to Harare Luciano Lavizzari has called for the abolition of the controversial death penalty, as the World observes Day Against the Death Penalty today giving a boost to Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa’s position.
The death penalty or capital punishment remains contentious worldwide, but more and more countries are scrapping it in favour of life sentences.
Zimbabwe’s constitution allows for the death penalty. However, it can only be imposed for murder committed in aggravating circumstances and cannot be slapped on boys younger than 21, or men older than 70.
It cannot also be imposed on women, whatever their age.
In a statement, Lavizzari said death penalties carried with them numerous risks and failings. “Innocents being wrongly sentenced to death, convicts spending years in legal battles while sitting on death row, discrimination against the poor and the marginalised, the failure of the death penalty’s much-hyped but unproven deterrent effect; the shortcomings of capital punishment are many.
Nearly everywhere, myths surrounding death penalties have yet to be dispelled from popular belief,” said Lavizzari yesterday.
He said his country, together with 11 foreign ministers from around the world, is jointly issuing a declaration supporting abolition of death penalty.
“The declaration contains one central message: The growing awareness about the numerous risks and shortcomings of capital punishment is adding strength and dynamism to the worldwide trend towards universal abolition. Informed discussions on the death penalty’s failings and myths are more than ever needed,” he said.
The European Union, in a statement yesterday, reaffirmed its opposition to capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and its commitment to its abolition.
“We are deeply concerned about setbacks in some countries, such as recent mass trials leading to a vast number of death sentences, the extension in domestic legislation of the scope of the death penalty’s use, or the resumption of executions after a period of several years.
“The European Union and Council of Europe call on all Members of the United Nations to support the Resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty which will be put to vote at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2014,” it said.
Mnangagwa, who was once sentenced to death by the colonial Rhodesian government led by Ian Smith, has vowed not to allow the hanging of 97 murder convicts on death row, saying the penalty is too harsh.
Zimbabwe is one of the 36 African countries that still have a death sentence in their statute books. However, no convict has been executed since 2004 — one of the reasons being that there was no hangman.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights are on record supporting the eradication of the death penalty, arguing that it is inconsistent with international human rights treaties and, more specifically, the optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the universal abolition of the death penalty.