A Day of Solidarity to End the Death Penalty
This year, 10th October 2019, marked the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty.
There are not many occasions when a representative from the Vatican sits to break bread with criminalized individuals. And yet, last month, our team in Uganda hosted a Solidarity Visit to the condemn section at Luzira Upper Prison, Uganda, to mark this date as part of EU global outreach. Amongst those attending were a delegation of European diplomats. The delegation was led by EU Ambassador to Uganda, H.E Attilio Pacifici, and included Ambassadors and representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Iceland, Norway and the Vatican.
The Visit focused on inmates serving a death sentence and those on long term sentences of twenty years and above.
While addressing the inmates at condemn section, Luzira Upper Prison, H.E Attilio Pacifici said they hoped to see Uganda join the coalition for abolition against the death penalty. He however upheld the Government of Uganda for not effecting the death penalty law.
“We commend Uganda for putting on hold the death penalty. We hope to make them also join the movement for abolishing it worldwide.” H.E Attilio Pacifici
The Death Penalty in Uganda
When Amnesty International started its work in 1977, only 16 countries had totally abolished the death penalty. Today, that number has risen to 106 - more than half the world's countries. More than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice.
Amnesty’s overall assessment of the use of the death penalty in 2018 indicates that the global trend towards abolishing the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment continues, despite regressive steps from a small number of countries. Most strikingly, the number of known executions dropped by over 30% and reached the lowest figure Amnesty has reported in the past decade. This reflected a significant reduction in some of the world’s lead executing countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia. Similarly, the number of countries known to have carried out executions also reduced. Read more in their report Death Sentences and Executions 2018.
However, in Uganda, at the end of 2018, there were 145 people known to be under the sentence of death - 139 were men and six were women. As of November 2019, 125 are still held at Luzira Prison.
In 1999, the Government of Uganda through the leadership of H.E Yoweri Museveni put a hold on effecting the death penalty sentence, in Susan Kigula & 416 Ors v. Attorney General. Susan Kigula is an APP Ambassador and you can read more of her story here.
Despite the Supreme Court abolished the mandatory imposition of death sentences, more than a decade ago, Amnesty is still concerned that not all death row prisoners have been granted hearings in mitigation of their death sentence. In fact, President Yoweri Museveni has stated that he would resume the signing of execution warrants as a deterrent to what he has said was a rising crime rate. In his address, Ambassador Pacifici confirmed that the EU will continue to support APP until abolition of the death penalty is successful.
A Chance To Be Heard
During this years’ celebrations, APP organised a series of activities that included a mass legal aid week where inmates were offered assistance on their respective case needs, competed in a debate, and held competitions in volleyball and football at the men’s and women’s prison respectively.
The delegation listened to the plight of many death row inmates both at the women's and men's wing of the prison. The inmates on death row expressed immense appreciation to APP and the EU for the support they have always given to them. Through their anti-death penalty committee, a presentation of a memorandum was made. The inmates pointed out the need to access legal guidance and assistance in tracing of their files, seeking cessation of prosecution and having cases cause-listed.
Dr. Florence Banoba, the country director APP Uganda, revealed that a number of files were able to be traced during the legal aid week and one pro-bono lawyer had been identified to help provide support to inmates under sentence of death.
APP provides high-quality legal advice, training, and education to those living or working in prison. We empower those most in need of justice to access it for themselves. Currently in the Kampala region, APP has three legal aid clinics which operate inside the respective prisons at remand, womens’ and upper.
While addressing inmates on death row, Karen Saidi, senior tutor at APP confirmed that we hope to also establish a legal aid clinic at condemn section too. She said, “We believe that this will help us extend our legal services to everyone with ease”.