Zambia’s President Calls For Abolishing Death Penalty, Pardons Thousands

a “big decision” to end the death penalty in Zambia.
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Photos: AfricanLegal\YouTube\Amnesty

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema announced Tuesday that his government has made a “big decision” to end the death penalty in Zambia.

“We will work with Parliament to run this process as we transition away from the death penalty and focus on the preservation and rehabilitation of life while still delivering justice for all,” he said in a video on the eve of Africa Freedom Day—a holiday that symbolizes “our collective commitment to secure a better future for all.”

President Hichilema also announced that he has pardoned 2,652 people detained in various correctional facilities and commuted the death sentences of 30 people to life in prison.

“We believe in showing strength through our compassion,” the president said, “and we believe in rights for all citizens, including the right to life.”

“This is important,” he said. “We believe in it.”

The government has also started to address overcrowding in the nation’s prisons through programs like community sentencing alternatives for minor offenses, Acting Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Ambrose Lifuna told Africanews.

In a statement Friday, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the announcement as “a major step forward for human rights” in Zambia.

The Human Rights Office urged lawmakers to quickly and explicitly prohibit the death penalty in the nation’s penal code, criminal procedure code, and constitution.

Zambia has not carried out any executions since 1997, but its courts continue to sentence people to death. At least nine death sentences were imposed last year, including mandatory death sentences for aggravated robbery, Amnesty International reported this week.

Amnesty’s annual death penalty report noted that, despite at least 269 commutations of death sentences and three exonerations from death row last year, 257 people were known to be under a sentence of death in Zambia at the end of 2021.

President Hichilema’s pledge to abolish capital punishment adds to a growing global consensus for universal abolition of the death penalty, the UN Human Rights Office observed. It encouraged the government to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of the death penalty.

More than two-thirds of the world’s countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice by the end of 2021, according to Amnesty. It reports that 108 countries—a majority of the world’s states—had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 144 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice, while only 55 countries still retained the death penalty at the end of last year.

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