Death penalty remains constitutional, court rules

student

Supreme Court of Appeal says the death penalty remains constitutional, reversing a ruling that was made just four months ago.

The same Malawian court had abolished the death penalty as rights activists say the decision is disappointing.

The ruling in April stemmed from the petition of a convicted murderer, who wanted the Supreme Court to re-hear his case.

Justice Dunstan Mwaungulu, now retired, in his judgment said Malawi’s constitution respects the right to life, and said the death penalty negates that right.

He said without the right to life, other rights do not exist.

Justice Mwaungulu also ordered the re-sentencing of all cases where the death penalty was handed down.

However, in a document released this week, the other Supreme Court justices say Mwaungulu’s ruling only expressed his personal opinion.

Justice Anaclet Chipeta said he dissociates himself from the judgment because it did not reflect the views of the majority of the appeal court justices.

Another justice, Rezine Mzikamanda, said the issue of the constitutionality of the death penalty was not part of the case they were handling.

Peter Dimba is chairperson of the legal committee of Malawi’s parliament.

“The views of the majority of the judges on the panel would have carried the day because that’s what it means. So as it stands, it means death penalty still stands,” Dimba said.

Michael Kaiyatsa is executive director for the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi.

He says although the justices have valid reasons for not backing Mwaungulu’s opinion, the Malawi government needs to move quickly to formally abolish the death penalty.

“We think Malawi has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure that it complies with that resolution,” Kayiyatsa said.

The death penalty has long been mandatory in Malawi for those convicted of murder or treason, and optional for rape.

Court records show that 27 people are under a death sentence in Malawi.