Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Press release: “Hundreds saved from the death penalty in Uganda – The end of the mandatory death penalty in Africa?”

On 21st January 2009, the Supreme Court of Uganda, on an appeal by the Attorney General, upheld the 2005 decision of the Constitutional Court declaring the death sentences on all prisoners on death row unconstitutional, numbering in excess of 900 men and women.
The Supreme Court unanimously found that the automatic nature of the death penalty in Uganda for murder and other offences amounted to inhuman punishment, as it did not provide the individuals concerned with an opportunity to mitigate their death sentences. A large number of cases will now be remitted to the High Court for sentence hearings. The Supreme Court also ruled that any of the prisoners who have been on death row for more than three years since the conclusion of their criminal appeals would have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

The litigation in Uganda has been conducted on a pro bono basis by the law firm Katende, Ssempebwe and Co. They have been assisted by a team of UK lawyers comprising Saul Lehrfreund MBE and Parvais Jabbar, the Executive Directors of the London-based Death Penalty Project at Simons Muirhead & Burton solicitors, and barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, London. They have travelled to Uganda to meet all the men and women under sentence of death and assisted with the drafting of legal arguments. They also travelled to Uganda to attend the hearing in the Supreme Court. This assistance was partly funded by the European Union and the Global Opportunities Fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Saul Lehrfreund MBE and Parvais Jabbar are part of a larger team that has been involved in successfully challenging the mandatory death penalty in nine Caribbean countries and in Malawi in April 2007. They have been invited to assist local lawyers with similar challenges in other African states including Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania.
Saul Lehrfreund MBE and Parvais Jabbar, human rights lawyers and Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project state:
“We are delighted that the jurisprudence from other regions in the world has now been accepted and that international human rights standards have been deeply entrenched into the laws of Uganda, This decision clearly applies in many African countries. The legal work carried out by the lawyers in Uganda in achieving this breakthrough was truly outstanding. It was our privilege to work with them in Uganda.”

MPs want law to abolish death penalty


Posted  Saturday, September 28  2013 at  01:00
Parliament has granted two MPs permission to draft a Private Members’ Bill seeking to abolish mandatory death penalty against capital offenders.
Ms Alice Alaso (Serere Woman) seconded by West Budama North MP Fox Odoi, heeded to calls by civil society and sought permission of Parliament to introduce the Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013 to repeal some sections in the UPDF Act, Penal Code Act, Anti-Terrorism Act and the Trial Indictment Act.
The MPs reasoned that the existing laws are outdated and contain several provisions which prescribe either mandatory or discriminatory death penalties upon conviction. They proposed that such laws be replaced with life imprisonment.
The mandatory death sentence requires court upon conviction to sentence an offender automatically to death. But the lawmakers reasoned that subjecting a convicted person to a death penalty restrains court from evaluating the nature and circumstances of the offence and individual characteristics of the offender. “We seek leave of the House to introduce a Private Members’ Bill because the right to life is guaranteed in Article 22 of the Constitution,” noted Ms Alaso while justifying their application to be granted leave to draft and bring the Bill to Parliament.
Quoting the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court ruling on the Attorney General versus Susan Kigula and 416 others, Ms Alaso said mandatory death penalties are inconsistent with the Constitution since they restrain the court in evaluating the circumstances of the offence in order to mitigate the sentence and arrive at an appropriate punishment.
In 2005, the Constitutional Court, in a petition by Susan Kigula and 417 others against the Attorney General, declared that the death sentences passed against all the petitioners were unconstitutional and gave government a two-year period to execute the sentences or, upon expiry of the deadline, automatically commute the sentences to life imprisonment. 
The prisoners had argued during the hearing of the petition that hanging was a cruel and degrading punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The petition was supported by the Uganda Prisons Service on account that hangings traumatise wardens. The state attorney counter-argued that the death penalty should be maintained as it is a deterrent and was backed by most Ugandans.
The Constitutional Court ruled that although the death penalty was constitutional, its use as a mandatory punishment for certain crimes was not. The Attorney General appealed the case but in 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. However, the Supreme Court further ruled that the death penalty was no longer mandatory but it did not stop courts from imposing it.
In her submission on Thursday, Ms Alaso contended that mandatory death sentence impinges on human dignity and goes against the most fundamental core of right to life on which other human rights are based. “Since 2009 when the Supreme Court ruled that all the mandatory death penalties in the statute books are inconsistent with the Constitution, government has not brought a Bill in Parliament to revise the death penalties in the laws of Uganda, especially since Article 28(12) requires every penalty to be prescribed in the law,” she observed.
The last time convicts on death row in Uganda Prisons Service were executed was in May 1999 when 28 people were hanged on a single day. This was the highest number of death row convicts to be executed under the NRM regime. Before these, nine convicts were executed and about five had also been killed previously. 
On March 25, 2002, Cpl James Omedio and Pte Abdallah Muhammad were executed by firing squad for murdering Fr Michael O’Toole Declan, his driver Patrick Longoli, and cook, Fidel Longole. Other military executions took place on March 3, 2003 when Pte Richard Wigiri was killed by firing squad for murder and Ptes Kambacho Ssenyonji and Alfred Okech were executed for similar crimes. In 2006 soldiers were also executed. These army executions were carried out under the martial law of the military justice system.

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