by Rana Irby
The death penalty has now been ruled unconstitutional in the African nation of Malawi. In a monumental decision made this past April by the country’s highest court, the end of capital punishment was codified in law. The decision comes in light of decades of the practice being out of use in the country, and serves as a triumph in the fight for the right to life for the nation’s people who are incarcerated.
On April 28th, Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal determined that the death penalty explicitly violated the country’s constitution, which upholds the right to life. The judgment was rendered in the court’s hearing of an appeal by Charles Khoviwa, who received a death sentence in his conviction for murder. Khoviwa’s sentence was overturned in the decision. In addition, it called for the re-sentencing of all convicts sentenced to death.
Prior to the ruling, Malawi’s Penal Code imposed the death sentence for murder, treason, and optionally for rape. It was also an option in cases of burglaries and violent robberies. In practice, executions had been halted since the country’s first democratically elected president, Bakili Muluzi, took office in 1994. Muluzi opposed the death penalty and no subsequent president has opted to sign a warrant of execution. Malawi thus follows a trend on the African continent, with the court ruling making the country the 22nd sub-Saharan African country to take capital punishment off the books.
The case for the end of the death penalty can be summed up in the strongly worded statement in the Malawi high court’s ruling that
The essence of the right to life is life itself — the sanctity of life. The right to life is the mother of all rights. Without the right to life other rights do not exist. The death penalty not only negates, it abolishes this right.
On this basis, those convicted of serious crimes in the country are now afforded the most fundamental right – the right to life. The movement to uphold the right to life for people sentenced for crimes in Malawi can now enjoy this major victory.