[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Sep 11 23:53:08 CDT 2007
Prisons boss against death penalty
It is rare that the commissioner of prisons disagrees with the president.
But Mr Johnson Byabashaija adamantly opposes capital punishment and thinks
some of the 520 or so death row inmates here are innocent.
However, he says if President Yoweri Museveni orders him to execute one of
those prisoners, he would obey. "If Mr Museveni directs, we shall carry an
order out. It's our obligation," Mr Byabashaija said with resignation,
adding that he hopes those orders never come.
Though there were three military executions in 2003, Uganda hasn't put a
civilian to death since 1999. In that year, 28 people were hanged at
Luzira Prison. But despite the unofficial moratorium, death sentences
continue to be handed down, and the nation remains on Amnesty
International's list of death penalty practitioners.
Across Africa, capital punishment is becoming increasingly unpopular. In
nearby Tanzania, despite the fact that no law has officially abolished the
death penalty, no one has been executed in the country since 1994 and in
August, President Jakaya Kikwete changed all death sentences to life in
And though there are reports of extrajudicial killings in Rwanda's
prisons, the country's Parliament officially outlawed the death penalty in
June. Neighbouring Kenya hasn't executed anyone since 1985, though a
recent push in Parliament to abolish capital punishment could have the
opposite effect and expedite executions.
"Nobody has the right to take away life. With the death penalty, the
government is taking away life," said Mr Byabashaija, a prisons officer
who has been in the Ugandan government as a civil servant since he
received his veterinary degree in 1982.
"Our criminal justice system is not foolproof. There is the danger of an
innocent person being wrongfully convicted, and you cannot reverse that."
An avid CSI watcher, Mr Byabashaija is aware of the fallibility of
justice. He said, "We are a third world country. We are under staffed. How
many policemen are available? The number of crimes overwhelms the police
officers and compromises the quality of investigation."
Still, despite his opposition to the death penalty, Mr Byabashaija told
Daily Monitor: "Death is not a punishment. Everyone shall die anyway." At
least one person would agree with him.
"I'm Susan Kigula, a death row inmate. I've served seven years. They
allege that I killed my late husband with my house girl," Ms Kigula said.
She is concerned with her own fate and that of her house girl, who
supposedly assisted her in brutally murdering her husband. She has told
the story many times - always with the insistence that she is innocent,
pointing out the fact that the key testimony against her came from a child
who was only three years old at the time of the alleged crime.
"The justice system makes mistakes because it is comprised of human
beings, who are bound to make mistakes. No one is perfect," she says.
Basing on testimonies of other prisoners, Ms Kigula estimates that only 60
% of the people on death row actually committed the crimes for which they
were convicted. The rest, she says, are victims of a broken legal system.
In a 2006 report titled "Uganda: Challenging the Death Penalty," the
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a Ugandan NGO that focuses on
issues of the Judiciary and legal rights funded by private donations
mainly from Scandinavian donors, found that nearly 90 % of the country's
death row inmates have little or no command of the English language, which
is used in all court proceedings. Thus, suspects often are often unable to
follow their own trials or even to understand the charges against them.
Additionally, 94 % of inmates were found to be from low-income class, and
90 % of the crimes were reportedly committed upcountry where police
departments are understaffed and under-funded.
All of these factors diminish a suspect's chances for a fair trial, FHRI's
director Livingstone Sewanyana said.
In Ms Kigula's case, these issues don't apply: She is a rarity among
inmates in that she speaks very good English and went through secondary
school. However, she still insists her trial was unfair, a reason she is
now the lead in Uganda's first class action lawsuit challenging the death
penalty: Kigula and 416 others vs. the Attorney General of Uganda.
Filed in 2003, the case has been stalled in the courts since 2005. While
the law firm of Katende, Ssempebwa, and Company initially won on two
counts in the Constitutional Court (no mandatory death penalty based on
the category of the crime and no delayed sentences for more than 3 years),
they lost on 2 other counts as well. (The court ruled the death penalty
was indeed constitutional and that hanging was not a cruel and inhumane
method of execution).
The firm appealed, and Uganda's attorney general counter-appealed. The
case is currently waiting to be heard in the Supreme Court, which has been
two judges short of a quorum since one of the justices passed away in June
2006. The court is waiting on the President to approve the appointment of
Though Amnesty International couldn't comment specifically on the Kigula
case, they agreed that the courts are the best way to challenge the death
penalty. "For the death penalty to go off the books, we have to have the
Cabinet and Parliament to agree," an Amnesty International Researcher for
East Africa, Mr Godfrey Odongo, said.
Meanwhile, Ms Kigula is just glad so many people are working on her case.
But she doesn't blame anyone for her time in jail. She just prays that she
will soon be released. "One day in prison is a thousand years," Ms Kigula
said, tears dripping down her cheeks.
Ms Kigula won't be executed as long as the case is held up in the courts,
a fact that makes Mr Byabashaija glad that no notice will go up on the
board at the main prison gate any time soon.
(source: The Monitor)
More information about the DeathPenalty