Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court has been flooded with cases from detainees challenging their death penalty sentences. The court is expected to hear 18 cases this month.
Fifteen detainees sentenced to death are expected before the Constitutional Court next week. This is in addition to three cases that opened Wednesday.
The 15 men were condemned as long ago as 2002 and argue they have waited too long on death row.
Their lawyer, former Zimbabwe finance minister Tendai Biti, says stricter criteria for death penalty convictions laid out in the 2013 constitution should work in their favor.
“So the argument next week is that because you have kept us waiting for so long, that alone becomes cruel and degrading punishment which is ultra vires (beyond the powers of) the Zimbabwe constitution. This delay that you have made us to suffer just waiting for our death is punishment on its own. So you cannot kill us twice, because you have already killed us,” Biti says.
The minister-turned-advocate wants the death penalty eliminated from Zimbabwe law completely. Currently, crimes punishable by death include murder and treason.
The last execution in Zimbabwe took place in 2005. Justice Minister and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is among those who oppose the death penalty.
In 2013, Mnangagwa said he would “rather resign than sign certificates for executions.”
“We have 89 people on death row. Two of them are women. They are lucky; I did not sign the papers for their execution. At the end of the day, we have commuted [their sentences] to life imprisonment,” Mnangagwa said.
Zimbabwe is one of at least 32 sub-Saharan African countries that have the death penalty, according to Amnesty International. But many of those countries have not executed anyone in at least a decade.