Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Chairperson Mariam Fauzat Wangadya has urged Ugandans to embrace mutual respect for individual human rights and dignity as the surest way to end the death sentence.
Wangadya made the remarks Monday October 10, during the commemoration of the World Day Against the Death Penalty at Upper Prisons Luzira, Condemned Section. The day is celebrated annually to raise awareness about the death penalty as well as the challenges death row inmates face while awaiting their execution.
This year marked the 20 anniversary of such celebrations and the Ugandan chapter was organised by Penal Reform International. The celebrants included UHRC officials led by Chairperson Wangadya, members of the clergy, the EU ambassador and ambassadors of various EU countries, CSOs and death row prisoners; these were all hosted by Uganda Prison Services Commissioner General; Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija.
While delivering her keynote speech at the function, Wangadya revealed that whereas so much focus is placed on death penalty and convicts, it is also time to reflect on the trail of innocent victims who suffer due to acts of murder and related capital offences which lead to death sentences.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we push for express abolition of the death penalty we ought to keep at the back of our minds that behind every death sentence there are innocent victims of crime whose lives were perhaps ended forever. They will never walk the earth again, they will never breathe the same air we breathe,” Wangadya said.
She elaborated that the innocent victims are on either side of both the convict and victim, including; widows, orphans, parents, relatives and friends who have to live with the heartache of missing loved ones who are either dead or sent to prison to await their death.
Wangadya, whose agitation for balanced rights is now legendary in the country, counseled that such ‘double-edged’ pain can only be stopped if people desist from acts which lead them to death sentences. According to Wangadya, this can only be achieved through mutual respect for human dignity and individual rights as enshrined in the constitution.
“Article 17(1) of the constitution provides that it’s the duty of every citizen of Uganda to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to cooperate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order,” Wangadya said.
In the same speech, Wangadya also reminded Ugandans that in the pursuit of their own rights, they should always be conscious of the inherent rights of others as prescribed by article 43(1) of the constitution.
“Article 43(1) provides: ‘in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest’,” she said.
She clarified that fundamental human rights, freedoms and dignity cut across the entire human fraternity, including convicted offenders, and victims of crime.
“Any sentence with its execution comes at the tail end of the criminal justice system. The genesis of all this is the criminal act that involves 2 parties— the criminal and the victim. Time has come for us to place similar energies on addressing acts that may place a condemned prisoner in the situation they are in; just as we fight to end the death sentence,” Wangadya said. She then commended the efforts of all stakeholders and partners in the fight towards abolition of the death penalty.
It is against this background that she thanked Dr. Byabashaija for being passionate about the rights of prisoners amidst several challenges.
Wangadya reserved special praise for the prisons, noting that at the end of the conviction cycle, the prisons battle solely to uphold the psychological, physical and physiological rights of the condemned prisoners as they await their deaths. To mark this year’s celebrations, Wangadya planted a tree to signify the blossoming of life and human rights for generations to come.
It should be noted that while Uganda has inmates on death row, the death penalty was literally ‘repealed’ following the landmark ruling in Constitutional Appeal No.3 of 2006. In this case, Susan Kigula and 417 others successfully saw the Supreme Court rule that various provisions of the laws of Uganda which prescribed a mandatory death sentence were inconsistent with the constitution insofar as they were contrary to the principles of equality before the law and of fair trial.
This explains why in a long time (since March 2003) there has been no execution of any condemned prisoner.