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Zimbabwe: De Facto Moratorium on Capital Punishment

(Aug. 21, 2012) Zimbabwe currently retains the death penalty, with 60 people facing death sentences. However, no one has been subjected to capital punishment in eight years, and at present there is no executioner. According to Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu, it is unlikely that an executioner will be hired any time soon. He stated that he “found out that the vacancy has not yet been filled. However, there is no rush to find one as the executive has no appetite for executions. There is a de facto moratorium on executions.” Gutu added that eventually the sentences of those awaiting execution will be commuted to life sentences. (Peta Thornycroft, Zimbabwe: There Is “De Facto Moratorium” on Executions – Deputy Justice Minister, THE STAR ONLINE (Aug. 10, 2012), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201208101477.1_b92d003ad249e788.)

Despite this de facto moratorium, the country's Supreme Court this month dismissed an appeal by a 32 year-old man who had been sentenced to death for the murders of two children in 2005. (Id.)

Under a draft revised constitution now being considered, Zimbabwe would limit, but not eliminate, application of the death penalty. Under article 4.5 of the draft constitution, women would not be subject to capital punishment, and for male defendants it would only be imposed in cases of “aggravated murder.” Those younger than 21 or older than 70 would also be spared death sentences. (Id.; Zimbabwe Draft Constitution, COPAC (Constitution Select Committee) website (last visited Aug. 20, 2012).)

The death penalty provisions of the draft Constitution have been controversial. While some human rights groups have criticized the draft for not completely eliminating executions, other commentators expressed concern that the provisions would shield government officials accused of abuses of human rights in the last election. (Blessing Zulu, Zimbabwe's Draft Constitution Kills Death Penalty – But Only for Women, VOICE OF AMERICA (Aug. 9, 2012).)

The new Constitution has long been in the drafting stage; speaking on August 18, 2012, President Robert Mugabe stated that the document needed more work before it goes to a referendum. (More Work Needed on Constitution: Mugabe, NEW ZIMBABWE (Aug. 19, 2012).)