Kampala|11 October 2022: The Ambassador of France to Uganda has recognised the commendable strides taken by Uganda’s judiciary on the abolition of the mandatory death penalty in 2019 for certain crimes as first steps in the right direction. His Excellency, Jules-Armand Aniambossou, said this in a keynote address, at a moot-court competition organised for university students by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda, in partnership with Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Penal Reform International (PRI), the French Embassy in Uganda, and the European Union, organized the moot court competition to mark the world day against the death penalty. His Excellency Jules-Armand emphasized that the death penalty is a violation of human rights.
“We call upon the government of Uganda and Judiciary to continue the Death Penalty abolition momentum and ratify the 2nd protocol to the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights aiming at the absolute abolition of the Death Penalty,” His Excellency, Jules-Armand concluded.
The death row population in Uganda currently stands at 124 inmates. The moot-court competition, therefore, sought to contribute to the total abolition of the death penalty in Uganda by enhancing the advocacy skills and knowledge of upcoming lawyers to challenge the death penalty.
The Inter-University moot-court competition on capital punishment provided a platform for law students from the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) and Kampala International University (KIU) to debate the discretionary nature of the punishment of death in the laws of Uganda. It was established in commemoration of the 20th World Day for the abolition of the death penalty and aimed at equipping students with the vital skills required to improve the quality of legal representation during human rights violations.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Doreen Namyalo Kyaze, the Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Penal Reform International emphasised the need to abolish the death penalty. She called upon all the relevant actors to join efforts in building the skills and knowledge of young lawyers to undermine the capital punishment.
“People on death row usually receive poor-quality legal representation. The challenges in the justice system are vast, ranging from the methods of interrogation where confessions are tainted with torture and the failure to adhere to procedural safeguards such as access to counsel,” Ms. Doreen said.
Mr. George Musisi, an Advocate of the High Court stated that the right to a fair trial includes the right to competent and effective legal representation. He added that the lack of such representation was an immense weakness in Uganda’s legal system.
Mr. Fred Sekindi, the Human Rights Officer at OHCHR highlighted the problems associated with death as a form of punishment, such as uncertainty of the convictions and the lack of evidence of its deterrent effect.
“The death penalty can be avoided by the discretion afforded to the judges by the law. However, the sentencing guidelines seek to restrict this discretion when it comes to offences such as terrorism and treason.” Mr. Sekindi noted.
The panel of four judges at Inter-University moot-court competition comprised of Ms. Ruth Sekindi, UHRC; Mr. Solomon Kirunda, Director, Parliament; Dr. Josephine Ndagire, Lecturer, Makerere University; and Mr. George Musisi, an advocate of the High Court.
The law students urged the panel of judges to use the discretion granted by the law not to sentence the suspect to death. The Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) won the competition.
Ex-death row convict, Mr. Evans Africa Gabula shared his elaborating experience on death row. He was arrested in 1987, spent 7 years on remand, and 26 years on death row at Luzira Upper Maximum-Security Prison while awaiting execution.
“Throughout the years, several innocent people were sentenced to death and executed. The death penalty dehumanizes victims and cannot be undone if new evidence is discovered. It stigmatises the children, family, and relatives of that person. The executioner also bears the burden of putting persons to death and many former executioners suffer from mental illnesses.” Evans said.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Grace Pelly, OHCHR Deputy Country Representative said that the office was focused on continuously raising awareness on the reconsideration the death penalty in Uganda by the relevant actors.
“We hope this generation will continue to engage policy makers and the public in efforts to de-legalize the punishment of death. The death penalty does not have a deterrent effect and any flaws in the judicial process risks the killing of innocent people,” Ms. Pelly said.
At least 60 participants (32 males and 28 females) from Civil Society Organizations, university students, the French Embassy in Uganda, the media fraternity and government officials attended the moot-court competition on capital punishment.