Africa’s human rights body takes a stance against the death penalty
The ACHPR, the African Union body responsible for defending human rights, adopted a “resolution urging State Parties to observe a moratorium on the death penalty”, during its Session held in Abuja, Nigeria in November 2008.
The text notes that “27 State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights have already in law or de facto abolished the death penalty”, but that only six among them have ratified the UN Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The ACHPR states that it is “preoccupied” by some death sentences handed down “in conditions not respectful of the right to a fair trial” in several African countries.
The resolution, which applies to State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, thus exhorts them to urgently guarantee irreproachable judicial procedures for all persons accused of crimes punishable by death.
The text then goes further, inviting the 53 African countries to “observe a moratorium on the execution of death sentences with a view to abolishing the death penalty”, with reference to previous ACHPR and UN resolutions on the subject. It also calls on them to ratify the UN Second Optional Protocol, the only international treaty establishing the abolition of the death penalty, without the possibility of reintroduction at a later stage.
Finally, the resolution calls on States to include “information on the steps they are taking to move towards the abolition of the death penalty” in the periodic reports they must submit to the ACHPR. The reporting process should be detailed in a document presented in the next Commission’s session.
Working group on the Death Penalty finally active
The resolution results from the activation of the ACHPR working group on the death penalty established almost four years ago, which brings together four experts around Rwandan Commissioner Sylvie Zainabo Kayitesi. The Word Coalition has observer status.
“This working group had never worked as there was no budget”, explains Guillaume Colin of FIACAT, a member of the World Coalition. This changed last summer and several members of the Coalition gave the group the information they needed to start its activities.
Guillaume Colin also participated in the NGO forum that preceded the ACHPR Session. This was an occasion to organise a meeting between Commissioner Zainabo Kayitesi, FIACAT, Amnesty International and Nigerian NGOs. “At the end of the meeting, we presented an NGO resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Africa and the ratification of the Second Protocol, which was adopted for the most part”, reports Guillaume Colin.
The next step for these organisations will be active participation in the preparation of the periodic reports on the death penalty situation in each country.