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Justice Minister Wants to Abolish Death Penalty

Zimbabwe Justice Minister Mnangagwa says he wants the death penalty removed entirely from the country's statutes.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa says he will not sign death warrants for 89 prisoners who are currently on death row, and expressed support for local and international calls for the abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

In remarks during commemorations to mark the International Day Against the Death Penalty on Thursday, Mr. Mnangagwa said his ministry is looking at mechanisms to have the sentences of prisoners on death row commuted to life imprisonment.

Mnangagwa said he would rather resign than sign the death warrants.

The minister said though the new constitution has scrapped the death penalty for women, men under the age of 17 and above the age of 70, he wants the death penalty removed entirely from the country’s statutes.

Mr. Mnangagwa himself avoided the gallows in the 1960s, when he was convicted of engaging in “anti-government political activities” by the country’s white colonial rulers. His death sentence was commuted because of his age.

Speaking at the same occasion Thursday, Amnesty International-Zimbabwe Executive Director Cousin Zilala urged the government to abolish the death penalty, calling the practice “cruel” and “inhumane.”

Among the 89 prisoners currently on death row in Zimbabwe, two are women. The last executions in Zimbabwe were carried out in 2005.

According to some provisions of the new constitution, a person sentenced to death has a right to seek pardon or commutation of the penalty from the president.

Justice and Home and Abroad…

Mnangagwa also blasted the International Criminal Court for targeting African leaders and sparing those from other parts of the world.

He said former American president George Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should have been taken to The Hague over the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Mnangagwa called the ICC “stupid,” saying there is no reason for Africans to go to Europe to be tried by their former colonizers.

The minister said Zimbabwe had signed the Rome statue establishing the ICC, it won’t comply with its directives.

A justice minister in Zimbabwe generally informs and updates cabinet on death row inmates. He signs death warrants which are then sent to the president for approval.

Although the new constitution stresses that every person has the right to life, it allows competent courts to pass death penalties.

For perspective on the death penalty, we turned to Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Dewa Mavhinga and MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora.

Mr. Mwonzora said a person in Zimbabwe can live for more than 40 years on death row.
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