Opinion article by the EU Ambassador – H.E. JACEK JANKOWSKI
THE international community and the European Union mark each year on 10 October the World Day against the death penalty. The focus this year is on the theme of “women and the death penalty”. Although women represent a small percentage of global death sentences, gender-based discrimination continues to impact women at all levels of the criminal justice system.
In some countries, women are sentenced to death at higher rates than men for offences linked to sexual morality such as adultery. Moreover, mitigating circumstances related to gender-based violence and abuse are rarely taken into consideration during the criminal process.
The European Union is strongly and unequivocally against the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. All 27 EU Member States have abolished the death penalty in law and practice.
The abolition of the Death Penalty worldwide is an objective of the European Union’s global human rights policy. We use diplomacy and external assistance to contribute to this important goal. The European Union is a leading institutional actor, including in the context of the United Nations. Furthermore, we are a donor in the efforts by civil society organizations around the world in the abolition of the death penalty.
Why is the European Union against the death penalty? First of all, we believe that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the progressive development of human rights. Capital punishment is inhumane and unnecessary. There is no compelling evidence to show that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.
Any miscarriage of justice could lead to the intentional killing of an innocent person by state authorities. In addition, the abolition enhances human dignity: the death penalty contravenes the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The death penalty does not deter crime more effectively than other punishments and its abolition does not lead to an increase in crime.
The poor are the most exposed to death penalty. The majority of persons charged with capital crimes cannot afford experienced criminal defence lawyers. They are often forced to use inexperienced, underpaid and overworked lawyers. This is why the access to effective legal representation is crucial.
Of the 193 Member States of the United Nations, 112 States have abolished the death penalty in law, and 162 States have not had executions for at least 10 years. This encouraging trend is also visible in Africa: Out of the 54 members of the African Union, 47 have not executed people over the last 10 years or more. 22 African States have abolished death penalty in law.
There is clearly a link between the abolition of the death penalty and the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals targets the promotion of the rule of law on a national and international level. A justice system grounded in the rule of law should not legitimise such an irreversible act of violence as the death penalty, which constantly carries the risk of sentencing to death an innocent person. At the same time, it serves no purpose in preventing crimes, as its deterrent effect is unproven.
This year will mark a quarter of a century since the last execution took place in Zambia. The European Union welcomes Zambia’s continued de facto moratorium on the death penalty. This de facto moratorium was introduced by the late President H.E. Levy Mwanawasa in 1997 and it was subsequently upheld by all Presidents. They did so despite the fact that in Zambia three offences (murder, treason and aggravated robbery) still carry the death penalty by law.
We believe it is important to continue to bring the discussion about the abolition of the death penalty closer to the Zambian people. This process will take time and perhaps tireless efforts. It will not only require the participation of politicians alone but also of the people and of civil society. The EU has for many years maintained a regular dialogue with the Zambian government around this topic. Moreover, we also stand ready to assist the public debate that needs to take place among the Zambian people, including via our ongoing support to the Human Rights Commission’s campaign towards the abolition of the death penalty in Zambia.
While we acknowledge that things may not change overnight, we believe that Zambia could take intermediate steps towards a progressive de jure abolition of the death penalty. For example, the mandatory nature of the death penalty could be revised, in line with Court decisions made in neighbouring countries such as Malawi and Kenya.
The recent democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power have ushered in a new era for Zambia. The European Union wishes to build further its strong partnership with Zambia, based on the solid foundations already achieved. Do Zambians feel that the time is now ripe for taking some steps, prudent or bold, towards the abolition of the death penalty? The EU Delegation would be delighted to receive readers’ comments on this important subject.