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Activists to Government: Abolish Death Penalty

Justine Nankya, who spent 14 years on death row in Luzira prisons, says that the sentence did not only affect her but her family and the community around her.
Dr Sewanyana Right with a ex-death row inmate and children at the commemoration of World day against death penalty

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Former death inmates and human rights activists have renewed their calls to the government to abolish the death penalty. The activists argue that the death penalty does not accord the convicts chance to reform or be rehabilitated compared to jail time.  

Justine Nankya, who spent 14 years on death row in Luzira prisons, says that the sentence did not only affect her but her family and the community around her. Nankya says that she was imprisoned for aggravated violence that was committed by her brother who disappeared but the punishment deterred her children from accessing education and led to the death of her parents due to sorrow.

She explains that it was a very painful moment for her. “If I was not strong, I would have run mad. Sending me to death, I was already dead, and at the time I was sentenced to death and I suffered isolation and it took time to ask myself if I really committed any offence because there was no way they could send me to suffer death since there was no witness," she lamented.     

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While commending the Uganda prisons for the care offered to her during her 25 years in prison, Nankya appealed to the government to abolish the death penalty, saying that it does not add value to the system of punishing people in conflict with the law.

Godfrey Bbaale spent 9 years on death row and was released in 2016. He says that the country does not need the death penalty because it affects people convicted due to different circumstances. 

Bbaale, who studied from prison and obtained two diplomas said: “From the death row, we studied and we are now assets to the country. It is important to have a chance whether you committed the offence or not. Death as a punishment is not good, it is better to replace it with life imprisonment.”    

The former death row inmates and activists were speaking during the commemoration of the 19th World Day Against the Death penalty in Kampala.   The Uganda Coalition against the death penalty in partnership with Foundation for Human Rights Initiative – FHRI organized the event under the theme: “Women Sentenced to death an invisible reality.”

There are 128 death row inmates, three of them women. Three of the death row inmates have completed their appeal process and are awaiting the hangman. Uganda has not had an execution in the last 20 years. Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the Executive Director of FHRI wants the government to invest more effort in deterring crime. 

He asked those involved in the administration of justice to stop f sentencing women convicted for capital offences to death citing their vulnerability. He said that women are vulnerable in nature yet they have a very important role in the family and the society as a whole.

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Instead of the death penalty, Dr. Sewanyana suggested that women get a life sentence, which is more effective in deterring crime. He explains that imprisons accords convicts an opportunity to learn and be role models in their societies, unlike death where there is no opportunity to reform.

Frank Baine, the Spokesperson of the Uganda Prisons Service, said that they support the campaign against the death penalty because the institution is mandated to reform and not to kill. He said that they would be glad if the death penalty is remitted to life imprisonment such that the convicts can work since death row inmates do not work   

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The World Day Against the Death Penalty is observed every year on October 10. It unifies the global abolitionist movement and mobilizes civil society, political leaders, lawyers and public opinion.  The day encourages and consolidates the political and general awareness of the worldwide movement against the death penalty.

Uganda is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which restricts the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes under Article 6(2).