Fulfilling a pledge made while campaigning for office, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has signed legislation abolishing the nation’s death penalty.
Signing the legislation, two days before Christmas day, President Hichilema said that the abolition was a fulfilment of his campaign promise to amend laws that inhibit the growth of democracy, good governance, and human rights in Zambia.
“Fellow Zambians, during our campaigns for the presidency, we promised to amend all laws that inhibit the growth of democracy and good governance, impede human rights and basic freedoms. Today we have delivered,” said Hichilema.
President Hichilema codified into law the abolition by assenting to the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2022 abolishing the death penalty in Zambia.
Hichilema submitted the bill to end capital punishment to parliament on May 25, 2022, in commemoration of Africa Freedom Day. He also commuted the sentences of 30 death-row prisoners that day.
Zambia’s repeal of its colonial-era capital punishment law made it the fifth sub-Saharan African nation to abolish the death penalty this decade. Chad abolished the death penalty for all crimes in May 2020. Then, in July 2021, the Sierra Leone parliament voted unanimously to abolish its death penalty. In May 2022, the Central African Republic adopted legislation to abolish the death penalty and the new criminal code adopted by Equatorial Guinea in September 2022 removed the death penalty from its statute books.
The new law also removed the offense of criminal defamation of the President from Zambia’s penal code.
In effect, Zambia has been abolitionist in practice since 1997. Although the country’s courts continued to pass the death sentence, no Zambian President has issued a death warrant in the last 25 years.
Zambian human rights activist Brebner Changala called the action a “huge milestone in the removal of colonial laws that do not fit in the democratic dispensation of the country.” Amnesty International issued a statement welcoming the repeal. Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa praised Zambia for “a good and progressive move that shows the country’s commitment to protecting the right to life.”
“Zambia’s decision to ban the death penalty should serve as an example to countries in the region that still use the death penalty and compel them to take immediate steps to end this cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment,” Chagutah said.
Also, The Community of Sant’Egidio expressed great satisfaction with the decision by President Hichilema to abolish the death penalty.
The abolition of the death penalty is among the key areas of global engagement by one of the Catholic Church’s most influential movements lead by lay people – the Community of Sant’Egidio. The organisation is dedicated to evangelisation, social justice and charity in more than 70 countries worldwide.
In a statement, Sant’Egidio expressed satisfaction with developments in Zambia and said in 2011 and 2018, delegations from Sant’Egidio travelled to Zambia to meet with state officials and other actors as part of the abolitionist campaign. It said the abolition of the death penalty in Zambia was a step forward for Africa to become a capital punishment-free continent.
The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) also praised President Hakainde Hichilema for abolishing the death penalty. OHCHR, the lead United Nations entity mandated to promote and protect human rights, also joined in praising Zambia for the abolition.
Amnesty International said the announcement by President Hichilema was a good and progressive move that shows the country’s commitment to protecting the right to life.
The intersection between the death penalty, racism, economic inequality, and poverty is stark. Zambian national Kafumu Kalyalya writing under the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, has previously said that there has been increasing recognition among the international community that the death penalty primarily affects those with fewer economic means. The poorest in society are less likely to be able to afford a lawyer and, in turn, enjoy their right to effective representation or even appeal. Therefore, it is no surprise that individuals currently on death row worldwide are overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds.