Uganda’s Executive is making a belated move to take charge of the private member’s Bill that seeks to amend four laws with reference to the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment for the most serious crimes.
While appearing before the Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Committee on April 14, Attorney-General Fred Ruhindi proposed that the Bill moved by Serere District Woman MP Alice Alaso be merged with the government’s proposals prepared by the Uganda Law Reform Commission.
“Our Constitution talks about death penalty. People said death penalty should be retained. These are serious matters which need a careful review and analysis. Uganda Law Reform is doing something on this Bill and I was advising members of parliament… I think they agreed with me that I look at the proposal which they made,” said Mr Ruhindi.
Some legislators argue that the Executive’s move is likely to cause variations like the introduction of parole, which the Bill in its current form does not share.
Uganda upholds the death penalty for all capital offences.
“We are after conforming with the principles of the judgment of the Supreme Court, so we want all provisions in our law books that prescribe death penalty changed,” said MP Hamson Obua.
The Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2015, moved by Ms Alaso in November last year proposes life imprisonment for crimes like murder, rape, aggravated robbery, aggravated defilement and terrorism.
If passed in its current state, the Bill will amend and repeal the provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002, The Penal Code Act chapter 120 of the laws of Uganda, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces Act, 2005 and the Trial on Indictment Act chapter 23. All these laws provide for mandatory death penalties for convicted persons.
The Alaso Bill proposes life imprisonment without parole, and states that there are 28 offences on the statute books for which the death penalty is prescribed, but these do not meet internationally accepted serious crimes criteria.
The Bill intends to give effect to government’s commitments to the UN following first Universal Periodic Review of Uganda’s human rights record, to consistently apply the rulings of the Supreme Court by converting all death sentences into life imprisonment where the convicts are not executed within three years.
The proponents of the Bill argue that the right to life is fundamental of all human rights and guaranteed by the Constitution, which also recognises that life may be limited in order to execute a sentence passed in a fair trial by a competent court.
“A death sentence restrains the court from evaluating the nature and circumstances of the offence and the individual characteristics of the offender,” reads the Bill.
In 2009, Uganda’s Supreme Court rendered a pivotal decision in a case filed by over 417 persons on death row led by a murder convict Susan Kigula, who was awaiting execution. The Court found that the death penalty was unconstitutional.
The implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision meant that all death row convicts who had not been executed after three years following confirmation of sentence by the Supreme Court had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
In addition, convicts were given the opportunity to mitigate the sentences before a High Court Judge. African Prisons Project and the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, moved in to train inmates on how to mitigate their sentences.
However, since the Court’s judgement, government has not made any effort to revise the laws to remove the inconsistencies.