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The death penalty: Why Uganda should maintain it

Published 1 year ago -


The parliamentary committee on legal and parliamentary affairs is currently considering a bill that seeks to abolish the mandatory death penalty in Uganda. The Law Revisions (Penalties in criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2015, is a private members bill sponsored by Hon Alice Alaso, Serere District Woman Legislator.

The bill seeks to amend the Penal Code Act, UPDF Act, Trials on Indictment Act and Anti Terrorism Act to remove all references to the mandatory death penalty prescribed in those laws and restrict it to the most serious crimes. The mandatory death sentence is one that requires a court upon conviction to sentence the convicted person automatically to death.

Local and international human rights bodies contend that the death penalty has no place in a civilised world. However, it is an issue that continues to split opinion both here and world over. It therefore begs the question? Should Uganda abolish the death penalty?

Currently, 197 men and 11 women are condemned to the gallows at Luzira maximum prison for various crimes.  Human rights bodies and individuals have always sought to protect some of the rights of inmates such as prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, access to health services, food, safe water and sanitation. However, inmates don’t have full constitutional rights. In a number of cases inmates have been on death row for over ten years, which is exceedingly wretched and inhumane.

There have been a number of court petitions on the matter. In 2009, the Supreme Court delivered landmark ruling in the case of the Auditor General Vs Susan Kigula and 417 others on death row, culminated in several women and men being released while others had the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The court also declared the mandatory death sentence unconstitutional. Uganda Prison Services, in a submission made to parliament on the matter contends that capital punishment is an ancient form of punishment that is contrary to modern penal policy that thrives on principles of respect for human dignity without exception.

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But then the question remains on where to draw the line between serving justice while at the same time maintaining the dignity and human rights of the offenders. Human bodies such as Human Rights Network argue that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime, but then what is?

Over the years we have witnessed some heinous and grotesque crimes such as child sacrifice, brutal murders and most recently deadly acts of terror. Our communities in some of those cases have been left terribly traumatised and scarred.  Part of the healing process for the victims is seeing justice being served and in some cases nothing but the death penalty would do. Here is where I respectively disagree with the Human rights actors. Why should a terrorist who has killed 30 people in cold blood, claim to have a right to life if convicted?

Sure, the mandatory death sentence as it is in our laws is extremely harsh and should be removed, but the death sentence by the discretion of the courts is fair.

I also do agree with the position of government on the matter. The Attorney General and Directorate of Public Prosecution maintain that the death penalty is provided for in the constitution and the uniqueness of our society and the crimes people commit; it’s only fair that in some of the crimes the death sentence should be the maximum punishment.  It should be left to the discretion of the courts to determine the sentence based on the circumstances surrounding each case.

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I  concur that it is dehumanizing to keep someone on death row for long. If after three years a convict hasn’t been executed, then their sentence should automatically be rescinded and turned to life imprisonment as ruled in the Susan Kigula case of 2009.

Government has made its position on maintaining the death penalty, human rights actors are calling for its abolition, the legal fraternity is split,and society is equally divided on the matter. It remains to be seen what Parliament will decide.

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