Zambia death sentence clemency hailed

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Rights expert Christof Heyns hailed the decision but urged Zambia to vote in favour of a global moratorium banning the death penalty. Photo: UN / Yubi Hoffmann

Zambia's decision to drop death sentences for hundreds of individuals is to be welcomed but the country should consider banning the punishment altogether, leading UN human rights experts said Wednesday.

UN investigators Christof Heyns and Juan Mendez made their comments after Zambia President Edgar Lungui announced that 332 inmates at a maximum security prison are to see their death sentences commuted to life behind bars.

Although UN experts said the development is "in line" with much of the rest of the continent, they warned that other African nations' use of the death penalty gave cause for concern.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The news that 332 inmates at Mukobeko maximum security prison have had their death sentences commuted to life follows a visit there by Zambia's president Edgar Lungui.

UN human rights experts Christof Heyns and Juan Mendez welcomed the move.

But they called on the Zambian authorities to vote in favour of a UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on the practice, rather than abstaining, as they have done on four previous occasions.

And the UN experts warned that other African nations gave cause for concern regarding their use of the death penalty.

In Egypt, hundreds of defendants at a time are sentenced to death in what they called "unfair" mass trials.

The situation in the Gambia is also worrying, according to the UN experts Heyns and Mendez, since it ended a longstanding moratorium in 2012 when nine people were hanged.

That goes against the current trend, however.

For according to the UN experts, three-quarters of the countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and the same applies to Africa.

In 2014 only four states on the continent are known to have conducted executions.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'05"


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