The Death Penalty - A Threat To Justice

The Death Penalty - A Threat To Justice

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” - MLK Jr.


Across Africa, thousands are incarcerated in overcrowded conditions awaiting trial. In most cases, they will face judgment alone without legal advice or representation. And once sentenced, many face years behind bars, unable to further their education or employment. Or to provide for their families or communities.

Many will live with deep uncertainty about their future, struggling to maintain their dignity or hope. Prisoners are often held many miles away from their families - distances that are too complicated or expensive to travel; often disowned by families who share their hopelessness and shame. Their parents will grow old and die, unable to say goodbye. Their children will grow up without them.

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World Day for Social Justice

Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. It’s a human right that the poorest and marginalised are too often denied.

This week the UN observes World Day for Social Justice, declaring it “an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations.”

In the absence of justice, people are “unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.” However, across Africa - as in many places around the world - justice is only available if you can afford it.

Education Empowers Change

APP has created a radical route to justice through its work in Africa, where it provides legal training for prisoners to advise and support one another - through bail applications, alternate dispute resolution and mock trials - as well as to provide a pathway towards a degree-level legal education.

Last week Wilson Kinyua was released after more than 19 years behind bars at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Kenya. Built for 1400 prisoners, it now houses over 2000 in poor living conditions. Originally sentenced to death, Wilson represented himself and 11 others as lead petitioner, challenging their sentencing. Wilson is studying law via the University of London’s distance learning programme and will soon graduate with his Bachelors in Law [LLB].

The Justice System

Many enter prison powerless and overwhelmed by an intimidating and unfamiliar justice system. They can be held on remand for many years, waiting for their case to be heard. Sentencing can be arbitrary and, with stretched resources, both the police and judiciary can struggle to keep up with the people and paperwork in each case.

For some the sentence is death and, whilst there are few countries which carry out executions - the US being a notable exception - capital punishment is considered to be a fundamental breach of human rights.

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The death penalty (also known as capital punishment) is the premeditated, judicially sanctioned killing of an individual by a state. It’s an irreversible and violent punishment that has no place in any criminal justice system. We oppose the use of the death penalty in every single case. No matter what the crime, who the alleged criminal is, or the method proposed to execute them – we will always stand against it.Amnesty International

Abolition of the Death Penalty

On 26th February the World Congress against the Death Penalty meets in Brussels. APP Ambassador Susan Kigula has again been invited to attend and speak.

Abolition is part of a global trend and 144 countries and territories have already abolished the death penalty. Though progress is being made, much needs to be done: in 2017 alone, there were at least 993 executions in 23 countries and more than 20,000 individuals were awaiting execution.” Antonio Tajani - President of the European Parliament.

In September 2002, Susan Kigula had been sentenced to death by hanging, which is the standard method of execution in her country, Uganda. At that time, the death sentence was mandatory - meaning that, on conviction of the offence of murder, death was the only sentence possible. In 2008, whilst serving her own death sentence, Susan led a successful constitutional challenge to the death penalty in Uganda. She was finally released in 2016 and continues to campaign against the death penalty.

Even the best functioning judicial systems may error [and] what kind of change can you bring to a man’s life if that man is dead?” - Susan Kigula.

APP believes that change is always possible - for individuals and institutions - and that those who have experienced the justice system from the inside may in fact be the best ones to bring about change on an institutional level. We are seeing prisoners and prison staff choose change. With our support and their determination, they are creating a new environment in prisons across Kenya and Uganda, where they are working together. Studying legal procedure, strengthening human rights education and sharing their growing legal awareness, over 30,000 received free legal advice last year leading to reduced sentences, acquittal or release, and the restoration of dignity and hope.

Find out more about our work, get involved or support our students - stand up for justice and become a changemaker too.

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