Zimbabwe Moves Towards Abolishing the Death Penalty

May 29, 2024
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ZIMBABWE | Anti-death penalty campaigners have expressed their excitement, asserting that “the death penalty is a cruel, inhumane, and degrading form of punishment which violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” They insist that Zimbabwe should not maintain this form of punishment in its laws. Zimbabwe is positioned on the right side of history as it moves towards abolishing the death penalty.

In February of this year, anti-death penalty campaigners cheered the Zimbabwean Cabinet’s approval of principles for a bill aimed at removing the death penalty from the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) Chapter 9:23 and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act Chapter 9:07. Additionally, they welcomed the granting of leave for a private member to introduce a private members’ bill in Parliament.

However, this marks just the beginning of Zimbabwe’s journey towards abolishing the death sentence. While some policymakers support the removal of this punishment from Zimbabwean statutes, there is a faction of pro-death penalty advocates who argue for its retention, believing it acts as a deterrent to crime and ensures justice for victims’ families.

The deterrence argument, central to the pro-death penalty stance, posits that the severity of punishment correlates with a reduction in crime. However, there is no empirical evidence supporting this claim. Studies indicate that states with the penalty often have higher average murder rates compared to those without it. Moreover, socioeconomic factors such as poverty and unemployment play significant roles in crime rates, making the deterrence argument weak.

The proponents of retributive justice argue that justice is served by taking the life of the murderer, yet this approach promotes a culture of violence and contradicts African traditions that favor a restorative approach to justice. Indigenous African groups historically eschewed the death penalty, opting for alternatives such as life imprisonment with parole options.

The current laws of Zimbabwe accommodate the death sentence under Section 48 of the Constitution, permitting it in cases of murder under aggravating circumstances. However, if the bill before Parliament is enacted, these laws will be amended, effectively abolishing the death penalty in Zimbabwe. While a constitutional amendment is not necessary for its abolition, it would serve as a safeguard against its potential reintroduction in future legislation. The removal of the penalty from statutes signifies a positive step forward for Zimbabwe, aligning with global trends towards its abolition.