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Praise as Malawi abolishes death penalty
Michael Kirby of IBA

20 May 2021 / global Print

Praise as Malawi abolishes 'abhorrent' death penalty

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Reprieve have welcomed the recent ruling by the Malawian Supreme  Court that declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional and in violation of international human rights standards.

The decision makes Malawi the 22nd country in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the practice.


IBAHRI co-chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006) Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: “We hope that the ruling of Malawi’s highest court to abolish the death penalty and President Chakwera’s commitment to an independent judiciary, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, will serve as inspiration to other jurisdictions.

“Where the death penalty is still on the books, and especially where it is still imposed, it should be abolished without delay.

“The Malawi court's comprehensive engagement with international standards and jurisprudence serves as an example to judges everywhere on how the movement towards abolition can be implemented at the domestic level.

“The death penalty is an indefensible and abhorrent practice that has no place in rights-respecting societies. It is ineffective, unprincipled and research shows that it invariably falls most heavily on stigmatised minorities.’

Reprieve joint executive director Maya Foa stated: “This ruling is the culmination of a re-sentencing project that has shown, beyond doubt, that abolishing the death penalty will benefit Malawi.

Voices left out

“The movement has been led by people whose voices are often left out of conversations about criminal justice: prisoners, victims of crime and communities who have seen the positive impact of giving people a second chance at life. Malawi’s pioneering work has informed neighbouring countries undertaking progressive criminal justice reform; the recent decision is a milestone in Africa’s rejection of the death penalty.”

Malawi’s abolition of capital punishment is evidence of progress made by human rights defenders towards the eradication of the death penalty across the globe, including in:

  •  Chad,
  •  State of Colorado, United States,
  •  Armenia,
  •  Kazakhstan,
  •  US State of Virginia.

To date, more than 70% of the world's countries have abolished state executions either in law or in practice.

Adopted on 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty and recommending that all states take steps towards its complete abolition.

Malawi’s stance on the non-derogable right to life as contained in international instruments, including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and Article 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, is admired by the IBAHRI and Reprieve.

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