African Court Orders Tanzania to Abolish Death Penalty

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has once again reiterated its longstanding directive for Tanzania to abolish the death penalty, aligning with the continental charter on the right to life.

In a recent judgment, the court also urged Tanzania to amend its criminal laws to align with Article 15, Subsection 1 of the African Children’s Charter. This directive stems from the life imprisonment sentence given to Daudi Magunga for a rape offense committed when he was a child.

Sitting in Arusha, the court delivered its verdict on two separate cases, emphasizing that mandatory capital punishment contravenes the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The court has given Tanzania a six-month ultimatum to excise the death penalty from its legal statutes.

This recent judgment underscores a series of similar rulings issued by the continental court, which have consistently called on Tanzania to abolish the death penalty. Despite these orders and growing opposition to the death penalty as a remnant of colonial-era laws, the punishment remains enshrined in Tanzania’s Penal Code.

This places Tanzania among several African nations that continue to retain the death penalty, despite a 1999 resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The resolution calls on African Union member states to observe a moratorium on capital punishment.

Since 2014, only eight African countries have abolished the death penalty in both law and practice. However, many nations, including Tanzania and Kenya, have not carried out any executions in years. Tanzania’s last execution was in 1995. Currently, two offenses in Tanzania carry the death penalty: murder and treason.

The African Court’s latest judgment not only calls for the abolition of the death penalty but also highlights the need to reform criminal law provisions concerning juvenile offenders. The court’s directive to amend laws in line with the African Children’s Charter reflects a broader commitment to safeguarding children’s rights and ensuring justice for all, regardless of age.

The case of Daudi Magunga has brought significant attention to this issue. Sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime committed as a minor, Magunga’s situation exemplifies the harsh penalties imposed on juvenile offenders under current Tanzanian law. The African Court’s insistence on aligning national laws with international standards underscores the need for Tanzania to reform its criminal justice system comprehensively.

This judgment is part of a broader movement across the continent to re-examine and reform penal codes inherited from colonial rule. Many African countries are increasingly recognizing the need to align their legal systems with contemporary human rights standards. The African Court’s persistent calls for the abolition of the death penalty reflect a growing consensus that such punishments are incompatible with modern human rights principles.

As Tanzania faces this latest directive, the government will need to navigate both legal reforms and public opinion. The death penalty remains a contentious issue, with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. However, the African Court’s ruling presents an opportunity for Tanzania to join the growing number of nations moving towards a more humane and just legal system.

The e African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has once again called on Tanzania to abolish the death penalty and align its criminal laws with international human rights standards. This judgment not only reflects ongoing efforts to reform penal codes across Africa but also underscores the need for Tanzania to take definitive action in upholding human rights and justice for all its citizens.