Zimbabwe’s opinion leaders okays abolition of death penalty

By Almot Maqolo

Majority of Zimbabwe’s opinion leaders are in support of ending capital punishment, seeing it as against their religious beliefs and emphasizing that it does not reduce violent crime, a new report shows.

The southern African nation is considered to be de facto abolitionist by the United Nations, having not executed anyone for more than 10 years. The last execution was carried out in July 2005. However, about 81 people remain under sentence of death.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made clear his opposition to the death penalty and has publicly advocated for abolition. In 2018 and again in 2020, Mnangagwa commuted a number of death sentences of prisoners who had been on death row for more than 10 years. In 2012, the country declared its intention to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aimed at the abolition of the death penalty, but it has yet to do so. In 2016, Zimbabwe abstained, for the first time, on its vote on the United Nations General Assembly’s seventh resolution calling on states that still retain the death penalty to establish a worldwide moratorium on executions.

In 2018, it reverted its vote to one of opposition to the moratorium, but, Death Penalty Project (DPP) and Veritas have been “reliably informed that this was in fact an administrative error and the official position is one of abstention.”The report by DPP, in partnership with Veritas, draws on in-depth interviews with 42 Zimbabweans who could be considered opinion formers or key influencers, including those who work in positions of responsibility within the criminal justice process. They represent the fields of politics, public service, law, religion, civil society, academia and defence.

“90% of interviewees (38 of 42) supported abolition of the death penalty, seeing it as an abuse of human rights or against their religious beliefs, though they were also of the view that it did not deter murder and were concerned about wrongful convictions,” reads the report.

However, about 64% did not trust the criminal justice system to prevent miscarriages of justice, 79% believed wrongful convictions occur and 60% believed that innocent people have been sentenced to death. “Many of our interviewees did not trust the criminal justice system to be fair and safe in all cases, with most of those in our sample of 42 opinion leaders recognising that wrongful convictions occur often or sometimes, even in death penalty cases.

“There was little faith in the death penalty to reduce violent crime, with most believing that measures to reduce poverty or better educate young people were more likely to be effective,” it said. Respondents expressed strong support for an Act of Parliament to bring about abolition.

“However, they thought that there was currently insufficient political leadership to bring about abolition, influenced mainly by perceptions of public support for the death penalty,” reads the report.

Also, most felt that they would be no negative repercussions if the government chose to abolish the death penalty. The report was running under the theme: “Time to abolish the death penalty in Zimbabwe: Exploring the views of its opinion leaders.” The research was designed and analysed by Professor Carolyn Hoyle at the University of Oxford and the interviews were conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute, a Zimbabwean research organisation.

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