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Abolish Death Penalty, Africa: Amnesty Report

In this photo taken Thursday, Dec 8. 2011, nooses hang in the gallows at the Pretoria Central Prison. The gallows now serve as a monument to those who were executed before executions were stopped in 1989

Amnesty International says the year 2021 saw a worrying increase in the number of executions and death sentences in Africa, with South Sudan and Somalia leading the trend. The rights watchdog calls for a moratorium on executions and urges countries that still allow the death penalty to abolish it.

Rights advocate Amnesty International's new report shows that two nations in the continent's northeast drove the 2021 climb in capital punishment.

The NGO's death penalty specialist, Oluwatosin Popoola, said “A sharp rise in recorded executions in Somalia and South Sudan was the reason why the overall number of recorded executions in sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled from 16 in 2020 to 33 in 2021." He added "Recorded executions in Somalia rose from 11 to 21. And in South Sudan from two to nine."

Popoola explains why some African nations apply the noose.

“The countries that have high death penalty rates mostly have a number of factors in common, they include the arbitrary use of the death penalty, the lack of respect for human rights by judicial systems and the erroneous belief that a death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime, which is not true." he told VOA.

South Sudan, Popoola says, has a particular fondness for the rope.

“The number of recorded executions in South Sudan rose sharply from two in 2020 to nine in 2021," he said, adding "The number of death sentences also rose in the country from at least six to at least 10. At least 334 people were held under sentence of death at the end of the year in South Sudan."

Efforts to reach Beny Gedion Mabor, the commissioner at South Sudan’s Human Rights Commission for comment were unsuccessful.

The NGO's report says while 33 executions were recorded in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan last year, the overwhelming majority of African countries have not yet abolished the death penalty for all crimes, including Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Amnesty, quadrupled its use of the death penalty, with 81 people were assigned capital punishment in 2021 compared to 20 in the previous year.

The new execution report had a glimmer of a bright side, however. It says there was progress towards the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, Ghana, the Central African Republic and other African countries.

Popoola says Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases regardless of the nature of the crime or the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator.

He told VOA "The death penalty [is] the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Countries that still retain the death penalty must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions and begin to take irreversible steps to completely abolish this appalling punishment.”