By John Semakula
As the World is still recovering from the diplomatic row triggered by the recent judicial executions of nine foreign convicted drug traffickers in Indonesia, a 2015 Amnesty International report has cited Uganda among the few African countries sparing convicts from the gallows.
While several countries led by Australia urged clemency for the convicts, Indonesia hurriedly executed the convicts by firing squad. The convicts came from Australia, Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria.
But a report on Death Penalty in Africa by Amnesty International says Uganda is among the few African countries which uphold death sentence but did not execute any convict last year.
The same report named Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan as countries that heavily execute convicts.
Equatorial Guinea executed nine; Egypt 15, Somalia 14 and Sudan 23, making a total of 61 judicial killing executed in Africa.
Amnesty indicated that the continent registered 1446 death sentences in 2014.
The report revealed that Nigeria recorded the highest number of death sentences standing at 659, followed by Egypt with 509 cases.
Other countries with outstanding death sentences last year were Tanzania with 91 cases, Somalia 52+, Zambia 13, Zimbabwe 10 and Sierra Leon 3, Morocco 9, Sudan 14, Kenya 29, Ghana 9, Algeria 16, Mali 6 among others.
Amnesty International observed that the 1446 death sentences on the continent posted a 139% increase in death sentences in 2014 as compared to 2013.
But the report expressed concern about the death sentences on grounds that trying suspects in Africa may not match the internationally recognized standards.
The mass death sentences in Nigeria, Gambia and Egypt also raised eyebrows.
“Amnesty International is very concerned about the continued use of the death penalty in Africa; the emerging pattern of imposing mass death sentences against scores of people highlights the concerns,” the report read.
In Egypt Amnesty 120 people were handed mass death sentences by Courts while in Nigeria 70 soldiers involved in the fight against the militants group, Boko Haram were sentenced to death by military courts for mutiny, the report read.
It’s not clear why Uganda is backtracking on hanging convicts having conducted the last execution in 1999.
The spokesperson of Prisons department in Uganda, Frank Baine told Sunday Vision said: “As Prisons we are reformists who do not support death sentence.”
He also noted that it is traumatising and dehumanizing to pronounce to ‘fellow human beings’.
“Who would smile at death knocking at their door step?” Baine asked, adding that there are 210 inmates on death row.
He noted that before the 2005 landmark judgment in the Kigula’s case, the number of imamates on death row was very high and that his department was struggling with congestion. Records show that the ruling assisted about 900 convicts who were on death row.
The Kigula case filed in 2003 by Kigula and 16 other death row inmates against the Attorney General was challenging the death sentences.
In the ruling, the Constitutional Court declared the death sentences passed on the 17 petitioners unconstitutional.
The 2005 landmark judgment also commuted over 100 death sentences which had overstayed their execution to life sentences.
The judges indicated that the mandatory (automatic) nature of the imposition of death sentences was unconstitutional because it did not provide Court with the opportunity to take into account any individual mitigating circumstances that might make the sentence inappropriately severe.
Court advised Government give effect to the judgment of the death sentence within a two-year period for all death sentences after which they should be set aside.
The ruling also meant that any prisoners who had been on death row for more than three years were entitled to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Baine said that the judgment reduced the congestion in cells as some inmates where either freed and others taken to other sections for minor sentences.
The appeal filed by the Attorney General against the decision of the Constitutional Court did not succeed as in 2009; the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional Court ruling.
Why executions are delayed
Baine explained that after convicts are given death sentences, they remain with a window of hope to survive the gallows since they can challenge the sentences in the Courts of Appeal and also in the Supreme Court.
He added that on several occasions one of the two higher courts has reversed the judgment of the lower court and either freed convicts or reduced their sentences.
He also noted that the Prerogative of Mercy which the President can exercise makes the Prison’s authority delay the executions.
“Each year we present 1500 names of convicts to the committee of the Prerogative of Mercy headed by the Attorney General which submits the approved names to the President for consideration,” he said.
Baine disclosed that Brig. Ali Fadhul and Chris Rwakasisi benefited from the Presidential Prerogative of Mercy.
But he noted that since 2000, President Yoweri Museveni who has the mandate of endorsing executions has not signed anyone single document sending a convict to the gallows.
Death sentences in other countries
Whereas the rate of judicial executions in Africa is on the rise, Amnesty noted that countries in the West including America and East were ahead in executing convicts.
Amnesty says that majority of executions happen in a handful countries, like China, USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
According to the report, none of the African countries were among the first eight countries executing convicts. Sudan and Somalia only come 9th and 10 in the queue.
Mukulu’s experience in Luzira
When George Mukulu left Luzira Prison last year after spending three months on remand, he returned with a hot story of a prominent inmate who was herded to the hangman – noose like a goat.
“A few minutes after he was herded into the room, he was pronounced dead,” Mukulu said. But he added that the man’s last minutes were traumatising.
“He cried, pleaded besides soiling his pants. “But nothing could stop those who were herding him to the gallows from executing a mandatory duty,” Mukulu said.
Mukulu added that today every inmate on capital offense who enters Luzira is ushered with the narrative of that man’s story leaving many new comers in deep fear.
“Since that execution whenever there is talk of a looming execution, everyone in the Condemn Section develops cold feet fearing that they might be the next on the list,” he said.
According to Amnesty International website, death sentence should be scrapped because it is cruel, degrading, and inhumane denying culprits a chance to reform