Op-Ed: Death penalty is not the solution to corruption in Kenya

By Oluwatosin Popoola, Amnesty International’s Advocate/Adviser on the death penalty

The sky-high levels of corruption in Kenya are angering many people, particularly because of the impunity with which it is committed. In 2017, Transparency International ranked Kenya high among the most corrupt countries in the world. The crackdown on National Youth Service officials following the disappearance of Sh9 billion from the agency illustrates how serious the concerns about corruption are.

Indeed, corruption is a major problem which the government needs to tackle urgently because of the negative impact it has at every level of society. In response to this problem, Jubilee MP, Hon. Ngunjiri Wambugu recently declared his intention to introduce a bill in Parliament which seeks to introduce the death penalty for corruption. He argued that corruption needs to be made a capital offence because its effect could be worse than those of murder, treason and robbery with violence.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters corruption - or any other crime.

Hon. Wambugu claimed that corruption can be seriously dealt with by sentencing people to death, implying that the death penalty is a solution to corruption. This is wrong. There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters corruption - or any other crime.

Studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other lawful punishments. In fact, authoritative studies conducted for the United Nations around the world have repeatedly found that the death penalty has no greater deterrent effect on crime than imprisonment.

Studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other lawful punishments.

Kenya has used the death penalty for murder and violent robbery for many years yet both crimes remain prevalent. In fact, most death sentences imposed in Kenya are for these two crimes.

Until 2009 when former President Kibaki commuted the death sentences of more than 4,000 death row prisoners, Kenya had the largest known number of people sentenced to death in Africa. In 2016, it assumed that infamous position again as the number of death row prisoners reached 2,747, before President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted the death sentences. The ever-growing death row population in Kenya shows that the death penalty does not work as a solution to crime.

For Parliament to make corruption a capital crime will breach Kenya’s obligations under international human rights law.

For Parliament to make corruption a capital crime will breach Kenya’s obligations under international human rights law.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kenya became a party in 1972, permits countries that have not abolished the death penalty to use the punishment only for the ‘most serious crimes’, which involve intentional killing. Corruption does not meet this threshold.

The death penalty is a violation of the right to life as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Everyone has the right to life regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime they have committed. This does not mean that people guilty of corruption should not face justice, and punishment. They absolutely should; the government has a range of options other than the death penalty it can legally use, including prison terms.

The death penalty is a violation of the right to life . It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The government should immediately take steps to address the root causes of corruption and other crimes by ensuring that the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Director of Public Prosecutions are well funded, trained and equipped to deal with crime. Proper investigations into alleged crimes, timely arrests of suspects and effective prosecution will go a long way towards reducing corruption.

The world is moving away from the use of the death penalty. Amnesty International’s recent death penalty report shows there has been a decline in the global use of the death penalty with positive steps noted across sub-Saharan Africa in 2017.

Kenya has made good strides against the death penalty. It has not carried out an execution in 30 years, two Presidents have commuted the death sentences of entire death row populations in the last 10 years, and recently the Supreme Court declared that the mandatory use of the death penalty for murder unconstitutional.

Recourse to the death penalty is in reality a symptom of failure in governance.

Resorting to the death penalty for corruption goes against this positive trend and will entrench Kenya amongst a minority of countries that hold on to the death penalty.

Imposing the death penalty on the scourge of corruption is a knee-jerk reaction to appear tough on crime. Recourse to the death penalty is in reality a symptom of failure in governance. Rather than expanding the scope of the death penalty, the Kenya Parliament should abolish it completely.

This Op-Ed was first published in The Star daily newspaper of Kenya on 8 June 2018.