They said if the practice is indeed retained in the new charter, the country would be missing an opportunity to significantly improve its own human rights record and align itself with the global trend towards abolishing the death penalty.
Amnesty International (AI) Zimbabwe executive director, Cousin Zilala, said despite submissions to the Constitution Select Committee (Copac), meetings and workshops with senior officials from Zanu PF and the two MDC formations, it was shocking that the proposed draft had retained the practice.
Defence minister and Zanu PF legal affairs secretary, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who survived a death sentence during the liberation war because he was under age, is among the officials who have publicly said they were against capital punishment.
Zilala said MDC-T vice-chairman Morgan Komichi, MDC legal affairs secretary, David Coltart and others also indicated their support for the abolition of the death penalty.
The current constitution has three crimes that lead to the death sentence which are treason, murder and mutiny, but in the proposed draft capital punishment would be restricted to “aggravated murder”.
But Zilala said the changes were cosmetic and the fact would remain that Zimbabwe would still be in the minority of less than one third of countries in the world retaining the practice. “There is no excuse to retain the death penalty, which was one of the most hated pieces of legislation and was applied by the white minority government against freedom fighters who were labelled terrorists and executed,” he said.
Zilala said AI recently wrote to the principals in the GPA, President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC president, Welshman Ncube, urging them to intervene in order to have the practice excluded in a new constitution.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference has also condemned the death penalty saying it goes against God’s law of life and the revelation that each person was unique.
“We firmly believe that the abolition of the death penalty would send a clear message to the citizens of Zimbabwe concerning our deep belief in worth and dignity of each person, no matter what they have done,” the Catholic Bishops said in recent Pastoral letter.
“Indeed, it reminds us that the destructive cycle of violence can be broken, that the taking of another person’s life ultimately solves nothing. More humane methods of responding to serious crimes can be envisioned.”
But Copac co-chairperson, Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, said over 60% of the people who participated in the constitutional outreach programmes for “right or wrong reasons” supported the death penalty.
“The death penalty for aggravated murder cases has been retained in accordance with the wishes of the people. No one has the mandate to change this,” he said.
However, Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) chief executive officer, Edson Chiota, argued that the estimated 560 000 people who participated in the outreach programmes should not determine the right to take one’s life.
“The outreach programmes were predetermined with people being coached on what to say,” he said.
“We will mobilise over one million signatures to petition for the abolition or alternatively challenge the practice in the courts,” said Chiota.
Currently, an estimated 55 people are on the death row, with the last known execution in Zimbabwe having taken place in 2004, while 78 prisoners have been hanged since 1980.
Studies in the USA and Canada have shown that states and countries which have abolished capital punishment have lower murder rates than those retaining the practice.
Nearly 30 years after Canada abolished the death penalty, the murder rate has reduced by 44%.
Death penalty is the worst form of torture: Mawanza
International human rights researcher, Simeon Mawanza, said the death penalty constituted the worst form of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment which was used as a political tool by the colonial regimes.
He said since the earliest known executions of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi in 1898 ending the First Chimurenga, crimes such as murder have continued. “It’s a fallacy that if you execute a person, then you will deal with complex crimes like murder,” said Mawanza.
“To reduce crime, you may need to address social ills such as poverty and improve education, as well as having a better trained and equipped police force.”
He said “progressive” countries such as Angola and Mozambique, which suffered decades of ravaging civil wars and others such as Namibia and South Africa have abolished the practice.
Mawanza said Zimbabwe was a state party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties that respect the right to life and outlaw cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.