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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on World Day against the Death Penalty

On 10 October 2013, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), through its Working Group on the Death Penalty and Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, joins the rest of the world in celebrating the 11th World Day against the Death Penalty. The theme for this year’s celebration is: ‘’Stop Crime, Not Lives’’.

Scientific research on the impact of the death penalty has shown that its dissuasive aspects are not more effective than those of other forms of punishment, such as life in prison. By executing murderers, child rapists and other perpetrators of barbaric acts in order to calm the grief of families of victims, we are moving closer to the notion of vengeance which brings to mind the ancient era of private justice when victims and their families took the law into their own hands. The death penalty, by its absolute and irreparable nature, is incompatible with any policy to reform offenders, is against any system based on respect for human beings, impedes the unity and reconciliation of people emerging from conflict or serious crimes, and jeopardises criminal justice by making it absolute whereas it has to remain attentive to possible errors.   

For over a decade, the African Commission has urged retentionist States to legally abolish the death penalty or consider a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. At the global and continental levels, one observes a shift towards the abolition of the death penalty. Only 10% of countries worldwide still implement the death penalty. 

In Africa, 17 countries have abolished the death penalty in their laws and justice systems, while 20 other States have observed a de facto moratorium for more than ten years. 10 of the de jure or de facto abolitionist States have already acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty; Benin being the last country to date to ratify the Protocol.

The African Commission is concerned by the wave of executions that have recently been carried out in some African countries, in particular in the Edo State of Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Botswana and The Gambia where nine people who had spent years on death row were secretly executed. 

The African Commission is further concerned at the increasing number of death sentences handed down by courts which increases the number of people on death row.

The African Commission commends African States that have legally abolished the death penalty, in particular Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa and Togo. The Commission encourages States that are observing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty to take legal steps towards its abolition.


The African Commission urges countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty to impose a moratorium on the execution of prisoners on death row by commuting their death sentences to life in prison. 

The African Commission calls on AU Member States that have not yet done so to ratify human rights instruments that prohibit the death penalty, in particular the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and to harmonise their national laws accordingly.


Banjul, 10 October 2013