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Amnesty International: Death sentences on the rise in Africa

More than 1,000 death sentences were handed down in Africa in 2016. That's according to the latest report by Amnesty International. Botswana was singled out for resuming executions.

DW: Could you briefly tell us the components of your report with a focus on the African countries?

First of all, it's quite important to highlight the major elements of the report itself. In 2016, Amnesty International recorded a 37 % decrease in the number of executions carried out globally. In 2016, we found that China was the world's top executioner. And progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world.

In terms of sub-Saharan Africa, the use of the death penalty was mixed. On one hand, we recorded fewer executions; on the other hand, the number of death sentences rose dramatically to a staggering 145 % increase. At least 22 executions were carried out in 5 countries compared to 43 executions in 4 countries in 2015. In 2016, the countries that carried out executions included Nigeria, Botswana, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. Death sentences rose from 443 in 2015 to at least 1,086 in 2016. And this was mainly due to an increase in the number of dead sentences handed out in Nigeria. Nigeria handed down 527 death sentences and that's the highest we recorded excluding China in the world.

What could be the reason for this rise of the death sentences in Nigeria?

We are not exactly sure of the reason for this dramatic sharp increase in the number of death sentences handed down in 2016. However, I must note that we recorded a similar number of death sentences for Nigeria in 2014. So in 2015, there was a decrease and then it's gone back up again. It's very possible that a lot of [capital punishment] cases came to a conclusion in 2016 and judgments were handed down.

Botswana has been described as a model for democracy and good governance. Why do you think they have resumed executions?

Botswana is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that still hangs on to the use of the death penalty. Although they do not carry out as many executions as some other countries like Somalia, they still hold steadfastly to the death penalty. It's unclear why they have resumed executions; they carried out 1 execution last year. It's a country that consistently uses the death penalty and has refused to stay away from this cruel and inhuman degrading punishment.

Amnesty International works to end executions and opposes the death penalty. What's being done at the moment to scrap the death penalty?

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature of the offence or the characteristics of the individual or the methods used by the states to carry out the executions. Since 1977, we have been calling on all countries in the world that are yet to abolish the death penalty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa to establish an official moratorium on executions as a fast step towards abolishing the death penalty.

Source: Deutsche Welle, April 12, 2017. Oluwatosin Popoola is Amnesty International's Nigeria researcher.

Amnesty International urges Ghana to abolish death penalty

Amnesty International (AI), a human rights group, has urged the Government of Ghana to abolish the death penalty.

Mr Frank Doyi, the Acting Director, AI Ghana, said: "The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice."

He said the death penalty violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

He said Ghana's retentionist policy of the death penalty was out of step with the rest of the world; stating that abolition of the death penalty would reinforce Ghana's commitment to human rights.

Mr Doyi made the appeal on Tuesday in Accra during the launch of the Amnesty International Global Report: "Death Sentences and Executions 2016".

He said Article 13 of the 1992 Ghanaian Constitution guarantees the right to life, however the same article allows for the death penalty.

He noted that Article 3(3) provides for mandatory death sentence for the persons convicted of high treason.

"We call on the Government of Ghana to expedite action on the review of the 1992 Constitution to: Amend articles 3 (3) and 13 (1) of the 1992 Constitution to remove the mandatory death sentence for persons convicted of high treason (3(3)) and to prohibit the execution of the citizens by the state (13(1))," he said.

He noted that according to information that the Ghana Prisons Service provided to AI, no executions were carried out in 2016, whilst 17 death sentences were imposed.

Mr Doyi said at the end of the year, 148 people were under sentence of death, 7 of whom were foreign nationals - 5 Togolese, 1 Burkinabe and 1 Nigerian; adding that 4 commutations were granted and 1 person was exonerated.

He said Ghana had international human rights obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights for everyone within its juisdiction, without discrimination.

"These human rights include the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to a fair trial," Mr Doyi stated.

"Ghana has explicitly accepted obligations in regard to these rights in the international and regional human rights treaties which it has ratified, including the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights," he added.

He said Ghana had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

He said the acceptance of the proposal for the abolition of the death penalty would provide a unique opportunity for Ghana to truly and fully commit to the protection of the internationally recognise human rights.

Dr Vincent Adzahlie-Mensah, AI Board Member, said government's white paper on the constitutional review report backs the abolishing of the death penalty in Ghana.

He therefore, appealed to government to ensure that a referendum was held to approve the appropriate constitutional amendments.

"What we need is for government to protect us from our killers, rather than kill our killers," he added.

Mr Ron Strikker, the Dutch Ambassador to Ghana said his country and the European Union would support every effort by Ghana to abolish the death penalty.

Mr Lawrence Amesu, retired Director, AI Ghana, who chaired the event, said at the time AI started advocating for the abolishing of the death penalty, there were only 18 countries that had done that, but now the number had progress to 104.

He said AI looks forward to seeing the day when there would be no death penalty in the world.

Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, Director of Public Prosecution, Attorney General's Department, said "It is gratifying to note that we all want an end to the death penalty".

She said after the necessary constitutional procedures had been met, government would hold a referendum on the recommendations of the constitutional review committee; which would lead to the abolishing of the death penalty.

Source: ghanabusinessnews.com, April 12, 2017

Abolish Death Penalty, Zimbabwe Urged

Amnesty International has pleaded with Zimbabwe to abolish the death penalty with some 97 convicts currently awaiting the hangman's noose in the country.

The Zimbabwean constitution now exempts women and those under 21 from the penalty.

Although the country last implemented the death sentence in 2003, it remains 1 of the only 3 countries in the region yet to abolish the sentence.

Amnesty fears that Botswana's executions last year may cause the region to regress.

"Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were the only countries in Southern Africa who handed down death sentences in 2016 - a total of 110, the overwhelming majority of which (101) were in Zambia," said Amnesty in its latest report released this Tuesday.

"Botswana's step backward must not be replicated elsewhere in the region. While they didn't carry out any executions, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe continued to hand down death sentences. We urge all countries to totally abolish the death penalty."

At least 283 people across the region were under sentence of death at the end of 2016, including 157 in Zambia and 97 in Zimbabwe.

Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has since declared his opposition to the death penalty.

"At a time when the number of countries carrying out executions around the world is going down, indicating that the world is moving away from this inhumane and degrading form of punishment, Botswana is the only country in the region still showing flagrant contempt for the right to life," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa.

Across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole fewer executions were recorded but the number of death sentences more than doubled, largely due to a steep rise in Nigeria.

About 1,032 executions were carried-out worldwide in 2016, down 37 % from 2015. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan join China as world's top 5 executioners.

China however remains the leading country in terms of executions in the world with over 1 100 executions. The world generally registered a drop in executions.

Source: allafrica.com, April 12, 2017

Nigeria Records 2nd-Highest Number Of Death Sentences In 2016

According to the human rights organization, 2016's figure represents a "massive and worrying" spike from 2015, when the country recorded 171 death sentences.

Nigeria handed down 527 death sentences in 2016, tripling 2015's figure and placing it 2nd only to China in death sentences recorded throughout the world in 2016.

Amnesty International Nigeria announced the figure in its 2016 global review of the death penalty published on Tuesday.

Lagos State recorded the most executions in Nigeria in 2016 with 68, followed closely by Rivers State with 61.

According to the human rights organization, 2016's figure represent a "massive and worrying" spike from 2015, when the country recorded 171 death sentences.

The group emphasized that Nigeria's sharp increase in death sentences puts the country at odds with the global decline in death sentences. In 2016, there were 1,032 executions recorded worldwide, down from 1,634 in 2015 (a 37 % decline).

"By handing down more death sentences last year than any other country except China, Nigeria has tripled its use of this cruel and inhuman punishment and skyrocketed up the shameful league table of the world's death penalty offenders," said Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International's Nigeria Researcher.

"The danger of people being executed for crimes they may not have committed remains ever-present. Investigations show many death row inmates live in constant fear of execution in some Nigerian prisons."

The group stated that on December 23, 2016, for example, Apostle Igene, an inmate of Benin Prison, Edo State, was executed after being sentenced to death in 1997 by a military tribunal. He was never permitted to appeal the sentence.

The report also pointed out that Oyo State passed a law in 2016 making kidnapping punishable by execution and that Lagos and Bauchi States passed similar laws in 2017.

The group condemned such laws, saying that there is no evidence demonstrating that the death penalty deters crime more than any other punishment. It also pointed out that Nigerian security authorities have been ramping up police training with a view towards improving crime detection and prevention. These measures, the group said, "are likely to have a greater impact on the crime rate than any moves to expand the scope of the death penalty."

The organization concluded its report by calling on the Nigerian government to establish an official moratorium on death penalties and to eventually abolish it altogether.

"For years, the federal government has claimed to have a voluntary or self-imposed 'moratorium,' but executions have happened nonetheless. This demonstrates the urgency of formally establishing a moratorium," the group said.

Source: saharareporters.com, April 12, 2017

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