4,000 death sentences commuted in Kenya
Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki (photo) decided to commute the sentences of the country’s 4,000 death row inmates to life in prison on August 3, 2009. He cited the “undue mental anguish” suffered by those sentenced to death. A statement from the presidency added that strict death row rules barring inmates from working had led to “idleness and subsequent negative impact on prison discipline”.
Kenya carried out its last execution in 1987, but the courts kept handing down mandatory death sentences for armed robbery, murder and treason.
Legal challenges to such mandatory use of capital punishment put pressure on Kibaki to go ahead with the commutations. Christian Lawyers for Justice (CLEAR), a Kenyan human rights organization, conducted litigation in three cases with support from the international Death Penalty Project.
According to the Death Penalty Project, “a key underlying factor behind the decision to commute the sentences of all those on death row relates to the impact of these cases. Should the legal challenges have succeeded, and there is every indication that they would have done so, the government would have been faced with the unenviable task of holding individual sentence hearings for all 4,000-plus prisoners under sentence of death”.
Studies on the deterrent effect of the death penalty
Kibaki has also asked his government to establish whether the death penalty is a deterrent in Kenya, where crime is rampant.
“This is a step forward for human rights in Kenya,” said Piers Bannister, Amnesty International’s expert on the death penalty. “We hope that the government studies ordered by the President will conclude that the death penalty does not have any unique deterrent effect, that it brutalises society and is often inflicted upon the innocent. The time has arrived for Kenya to join the majority of the world’s countries and abolish the death penalty,” he added.