One by One, African Countries Dismantle Colonial-Era Death Penalty Laws

DAKAR, Senegal — Lawmakers in Sierra Leone voted unanimously on Friday to abolish the demise penalty, a momentous step that made the West African nation the twenty third on the continent to ban capital punishment.

The choice was yet another step in a long-sought aim of civil society organizations and authorized practitioners who see the demise penalty as a vestige of Africa’s oppressive colonial historical past.

“This is a horrible punishment and we need to get rid of it,” mentioned Oluwatosin Popoola, a authorized adviser on the rights group Amnesty International, a number one critic of capital punishment.

A overwhelming majority of the 193 member states of the United Nations have both abolished the demise penalty or don’t apply it.

“It’s a dream come true in terms of criminal justice, to actually remove such a heinous penalty,” mentioned Simitie Lavaly, a member of Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission and a lawyer who has represented folks on demise row.

The vote in Sierra Leone got here in opposition to the backdrop of a gentle march in Africa to discard brutal legal guidelines imposed by previous colonial masters. In April, Malawi dominated the demise penalty unconstitutional. In May of 2020, Chad did the identical.

Nearly half of Africa’s 54 unbiased nations have abolished the punishment, greater than double the quantity from lower than 20 years in the past.

While demise sentences and executions have declined globally in recent times, they don’t essentially mirror the rising variety of nations which have banned capital punishment. At least a few of the declines are attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed or delayed judicial proceedings in lots of nations. And in some, just like the United States, executions have been ramped up in 2020.

As in earlier years, China led the 2020 listing of nations that execute the most individuals, killing 1000’s, according to Amnesty International, which compiles capital punishment statistics. The precise figures for China are usually not identified, as its knowledge stays a state secret.

Next in 2020 got here Iran, which executed no less than 246 folks, after which Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and in sixth place the United States, with 17 executions. Most of the American executions have been of federal prisoners within the final six months of President Donald J. Trump’s time period, a turnaround after years of a casual moratorium.

The final time the demise penalty was carried out in Sierra Leone was 1998, when on the apex of a devastating civil battle, 24 troopers have been executed by firing squad for having participated in a coup the year earlier than.

Still, convicts have languished for years on demise row, the place their rights are minimal and the place they know {that a} new authorities might perform the punishment with out warning.

In 2016, the minister of inner affairs on the time publicly ordered the gallows cleaned on the central jail in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, after two males have been sentenced to hold. The males had been discovered responsible of murdering a preferred D.J. While public opinion favored the hangings, they have been by no means carried out.

Dozens of demise sentences in Sierra Leone have been handed down each year. As of the tip of final year, no less than 94 folks remained on demise row.

One Sierra Leonean lady was sentenced to death in 2010 for the homicide of her abusive boyfriend. He had been attacking her with a pipe, and she or he picked up a knife in self-defense. She was simply 17, and mustn’t have been topic to grownup authorized proceedings.

Another was convicted of having murdered her baby stepdaughter by feeding her battery fluid — when actually she had given the sick baby water. She was on demise row for six years.

Both girls have been ultimately launched, with the assistance of AdvocAid, a nonprofit group that helps women and girls entangled in Sierra Leone’s authorized system. But for years, the prospect of execution hung over them.

Sabrina Mahtani, the co-founder and former government director of AdvocAid mentioned Sierra Leone’s choice to put off capital punishment was outstanding particularly as a result of it’s nonetheless recovering from the 1991-2002 civil battle that was characterised by intolerance, atrocities and excessive violence. She mentioned Sierra Leone had offered a mannequin that extra highly effective nations just like the United States ought to emulate.

“Here’s a small country in West Africa that had a brutal civil war 20 years ago and they’ve managed to abolish the death penalty,” Ms. Mahtani mentioned. “They would actually be an example for you, U.S., rather than it always being the other way around.”

President Julius Maada Bio’s authorities has labored on a number of reforms to the legal justice system, together with the repeal of a legislation ceaselessly used to repress the media. In May, at a review of Sierra Leone’s human rights file on the United Nations, the federal government announced it could abolish capital punishment as properly.

“It’s a really big deal in all aspects, in Sierra Leone and internationally,” mentioned Mr. Popoola.

Sierra Leone is the primary of the English-speaking West African nations to abolish the punishment.

A decade in the past, a fee in Ghana really helpful abolition, however in recent times efforts have stalled.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, no less than 2,700 individuals are on demise row — the best quantity by far on the African continent.

Gambia had been on observe to abolish the demise penalty final year, when a brand new Constitution was drafted. But it was rejected by Parliament. Still, Gambia’s president has made some important strikes away from capital punishment, Mr. Popoola mentioned.

These are all nations that, like Sierra Leone, obtained independence from the Britain within the late Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties — across the identical time as that colonial energy was finishing up its personal last executions.

“The death penalty is a colonial imposition, and these laws were inherited from the U.K.,” Ms. Mahtani mentioned.

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