By Kebba Jeffang
In presenting its report to the 56th Ordinary Session of African
Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul on Tuesday, 28th April 2015, Amnesty International has called on the African states such as Gambia, Egypt and Nigeria, among others, to respect human rights and abolish the death penalty.Mr. Japhet Biegon, the Africa Regional Advocacy Coordinator for
Amnesty International, said as far as his organization is concerned,
they are opposed to the death penalty in all cases without exception.
He said the death penalty is a violation of the right to life and an
ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and that they are
very much concerned about death penalty in Africa. He said the
emerging pattern of imposing mass death sentences against scores of
people after mass trials highlights this concern.
On the Gambia, Mr. Biegon said a military court had handed down death
sentences to three soldiers and sentences of life imprisonment to
three others following a trial on Monday, 30th March, 2015. He said
the soldiers were accused of participating in the 30th December, 2014
attempted coup in the country.
“The trial was held in secret, media and independent observers were
barred from observing the proceedings and Amnesty International is
concerned that international fair trial standards may not have
been adhered to. Reports from the country indicated that the soldiers
may have been convicted of treason, conspiracy, mutiny and assisting
the enemy. Amnesty international urges the African Commission to call
on Gambia to order a retrial of the soldiers in compliance with
international fair trial standards, without recourse to death
penalty,” he said.
Reporting on Egypt, Mr. Biegon stressed that the Egyptian courts have
handed down mass death sentences in mass trials that were grossly
unfair. He said the Minya criminal court imposed mass death sentences
on 37 people in April, 2014 and 183 people in June, 2014.
He added that the death sentence followed referrals made by the court
to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious official. He said the
Egyptian criminal courts must refer a case to the Grand Mufti for
review before handing down a death sentence.
However, he said the opinion of the Grand Mufti is only advisory and
not binding to the courts.
“In December, 2014, the Giza criminal court recommended death
sentences against 188 people for involvement in the killing of 11
police officers in Giza in August 2013 and it referred the case to the
Grand Mufti. On the 2nd February, 2015 the final verdict sentencing
183 people to death was issued by the court after the opinion of the
Grand Mufti was received,” he said.
The Amnesty International Regional Advocacy Coordinator said in
Nigeria the country’s military courts imposed mass death sentences. He
said in September, 2014, 12 soldiers were sentenced to death for
mutiny and attempted murder after firing shots at their commanding
officer in the North-Eastern city of Maiduguri. He said the convicted
soldiers belonged to the Nigerian Army’s Seventh Division which is at
the forefront of the fight against the arm group Boko Haram.
“In December, 2014, a military court in Abuja imposed death sentence
on 54 soldiers who were convicted of conspiracy to mutiny, mutiny for
refusing to join operations to retake three towns in Borno states that
had been captured by Boko Haram. According to testimony given by
soldiers during the trial, they had complained to their superiors
about not having the weaponry needed to complete their mission against
Boko Haram. The lawyer for the soldiers said the military court
refused to consider the soldiers’ defence that they were improperly
equipped. Halfway through the trial, journalists were prevented from
covering the proceedings,” he explained.
Mr. Biegon decried the slow progress in Africa in the course of
abolishing the death penalty. He said at least 61 judicial executions
were known to have been carried out in four African states in 2014. He
said these included Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan. He
said Amnesty International has recorded at least 1, 446 death
sentences in 23 African countries, adding that the figure of at least
1,446 death sentences is a significant increase of 139% compared to
2013 when 605 death sentences were recorded in 24 African countries.
He attributed the increase largely due to sharp spikes in death
sentences recorded in Egypt and Nigeria.
On behalf of Amnesty International, he recommended that the African
Commission should continue to support the steps towards the abolition
of the death penalty in Africa; the Commission pending the abolition,
reinforce its calls on all states parties to the African Charter to
establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the
death penalty; Urge state parties to the Charter that are yet to do
so to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at abolishing the death
penalty and finally to remind the state parties to the Charter that
still maintain the death penalty that trial for crimes carrying death
penalty must comply with the most rigorous internationally recognized
standards for fair trial; and that any death penalty provisions that
are breach of the international human rights law, such as its
mandatory imposition or for crimes which do not meet the threshold of
most serious crimes, must be removed from domestic laws.
By Kebba Jeffang