Case on death-row detainees challenging mandatory death penalty

Five men were sentenced to death following the murder of another man in 2011. In 2015, after unsuccessful appeals against their judgment and sentence, they brought their case to the African Court. They were still in death row waiting for their execution in Tanzania when their case was examined.

The African Court found that the five men had had a fair trial and there was no reason to reopen the question of their guilt. However, the Court said that they should not have been automatically sentenced to death. Indeed, the judges consider that Tanzanian law imposing death penalty in case of murder is arbitrary. Mandatory death penalty contradicts fairness and judicial independence, and as a consequence, violates the right to life. The Court also held that the execution of the death penalty by hanging amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment given the inherent suffering involved¹.

The Court ordered Tanzania to rehear the case on the sentencing, so as to give full liberty to the Tanzanian judge to decide whether to order the death penalty or whether to consider other punishment for these men. In addition, the Court ordered Tanzania to change its law and remove the mandatory imposition of the death penalty from its Penal Code within one year.

The prohibition of mandatory death penalty, as violation of the right to life, is a landmark decision by the African Court. Although Amnesty International is against the death penalty in all cases without exception, this judgment provides an important step forward in that regard. It has the potential to save the lives of people who would otherwise be sentenced to death without second thought allowed, regardless of their personal circumstances or the context in which a crime was committed.

[post judgment: I was not able to find anything online unfortunately… it would be good to be able to confirm that these people were not executed though, I will try my best to find a way to get this info through PALU]

[1] Violations of articles 4 and 5 of the African Charter