Law & Justice

Death penalty – shouldn’t Ethiopia consider abolishing it?

Kiya Tsegaye

Not so long ago, legally backed death penalties were embedded in constitutions of many countries around the world.

But as of late the number of countries employing the death penalty is declining. It is possible that worldwide pressure may gradually influence all countries to abandon the practice. For now the world has not formed a common consensus against its use. The most populous country in the world, China, executes more than a dozen people every year, and some states in the United States use it regularly. Luckily Europe has long freed itself of this cumbersome practice.

The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, outlines restrictions on the use of the death penalty and sets out protection measures to be observed in capital cases. Article 6, paragraph 1 of the convention, recognizes peoples’ “inherent right to life.” However paragraph 2 of the same convention states “in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes…” As a further sign of ambiguity, Article 6, paragraph 6 of the same convention insists “nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.”

By making reference to Article 6 of this treaty,  countries which favor the death penalty are often seen not only ignoring paragraph 1, but undermine the purpose of the whole Article.

Roger Hood in his paper entitled ‘Towards Global Abolition of the Death Penalty: Progress and Prospects’, wrote that among 93 countries that retain the death penalty only 45 have executed convicted felons within the past 10 years. Human rights activists regard 36 of these states as ‘de facto abolitionists’ because they have announced or implied that they have a settled policy not to carry out executions.

The case for Ethiopia

Death Sentences and Executions in 2010, a publication by Amnesty International has revealed that at least 333 death sentences were imposed in 24 sub-Saharan countries of which 5 were in Ethiopia.

Not only is Ethiopia signatory to the ICCPR, its constitution guarantees every person’s right to life.  Accordingly, no person should be handed the death penalty except for a serious criminal offence, which should be determined by the court of law. Ethiopia’s Criminal Code also allows the imposition of the death penalty (Articles 117-120) but “only in cases of grave crimes and on exceptionally dangerous criminals.”

The execution of death penalty requires confirmation by the Head of the State, and ascertainment of its non- remission by amnesty (Article 28/2). To this effect the Board of Pardon was established by the Procedure of Pardon Proclamation No. 395/2004 to examine cases eligible for pardon.

No use of keeping it

Ethiopia’s record of execution level of death penalty, particularly since the coming into power in 1991 of the current regime, illustrates that capital punishment has been practically abolished, almost. In the last 20 years, although more than a dozen death penalties have been ruled by the courts throughout the country, only three were implemented.

Still, to the confusion of many, the Ethiopian government has decided to retain the death penalty in its 2004 Revised Criminal Code and in the recently enacted Anti Terrorists Proclamation.

As was evidently seen in the past two decades, having a death penalty embedded in the constitution was not a substitute to its implementation -fortunately. One subject of discourse in the sincerity of the Ethiopian criminal justice system should therefore be whether or not the government is using the provision as an effigy to suppress presumed political dissent.  If not, time to repeal it all.

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