Governance expert Makhumbo Munthali has given his views on capital punishment as Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and the Malawi Law Society say they welcome President Peter Mutharika’s call for “honest” national dialogue on whether the country should implement the death penalty on individuals convicted of murder following increased cases of people with albinism.
Despite the laws that empower presidents to sign for the death penalty in murder cases, there have not been executions in the country since attaining democracy in 1994 as no president has ever signed the death penalty, in worse cases most sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment.
But following the recent abduction and murder of McDonald Masambuka, a person with albinism in Machinga, President Mutharika said he was aware that there are some stakeholders who feel passionately that implementing the death penalty on individuals sentenced to death can deter would-be offenders from attacking persons with albinism.
Mzuzu-based governance expert Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times that government knows it very well that with the brutal killings of persons with albinism in recent path most Malawians would be in favour of the implementation of death penalty to those convicted of murder in such cases.
However, he said the government knows that such laws allowing death penalty cannot be implemented because of the existing moratorium (suspension of laws on death penalty) which it effected on death penalty following the 2007 Kafantayeni Court ruling which challenged mandatory death penalty and recommended for the resentencing of all 197 murder convicts.
“Since 2015 to-date government through Malawi Human Rights Commission has been running a program with the Judiciary on the resentencing of murder convicts based on the 2007 ruling. While government is yet to sign the second Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which provides for the abolition of death penalty, It has received a number of recommendations from International Treaty bodies and mechanisms like the UN Human Rights Council and UN Human Rights Committee and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to abolish death penalty, and its response has always been that implementation of death penalty is suspended (there is a moratorium),” Munthali said.
He said all murder convicts are being resentenced (to non-death sentences).
“In this regard, government knows that even if the outcome of the said public dialogue would be in favour of retaining death penalty they wouldn’t allow the implementation of such because of the 2007 court ruling and also international pressure through the various recommendations and concluding observations on the same.
“However, because of the current public outrage against its continued failure to protect persons with albinism, government would want to portray the picture that it is siding with the majority of Malawians who feel that the death penalty be implemented in the case of albino killings while at the same time appeasing to donors that it is adopting a democratic process to solicit the views of Malawi and that it is not implementing the same,” he said.
Munthali said just as it has been on the issues of abortion and homosexuality, government has lacked “decisiveness” on the death penalty issue hence adopting some sort of neutral position in order to somehow appease both donors and the public.
He said the recent statements by Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi that he would be writing Amnesty International to allow Malawi implement death penalty was just a mere political statement aimed at appealing to the public.
Munthali said while the calls for national dialogue looks tempting on the surface, the lack of clear mechanisms put in place to monitor such a dialogue makes the whole idea looks nothing but rather a mere appeasement statement.
“For example, what is the timeline? What are the tools, indicators or platforms that government will use to arrive at the conclusion as to whether retain death sentence or not? Who is responsible for what?
“The issue of death penalty is a sensitive issue that borders on human rights and also accountability to serious crimes. However, what is important is to struck a good balance in order to avoid a scenario where you are seen to be protecting more the rights of criminals rather than victims,” he said.
He also said there is need to make sure that whatever government is doing is within the laws.
MHRC chairman Justin Dzonzi said this was an opportunity for the nation to deal with the matter decisively once and for all.
“As MHRC, we already started this process,” he said.
He, however, said the law on capital punishment cannot target killers of people with albinism only.
Malawi Law Society of president Mwiza Nkhata said the debate on death sentence should also take into account right to life as enshrined in the constitution. Mutharika wants the country to dialogue whether the death penalty should be implemented now.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :