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05/14/2014

Uganda Update: Efforts to Streamline Capital Trials Raise Due Process Concerns, While Other Prisoners Await New Sentencing Hearings Nine Years After Landmark Decision

Death Penalty Worldwide recently updated its research on the death penalty in Uganda.  Our research shows that although Uganda has not carried out any executions since 2005, courts continue to impose death sentences for a variety of offenses.  We estimate that there are at least 293 individuals currently under sentence of death, and many more who are awaiting trial on death-eligible offenses.  In order to handle the large number of capital cases on remand, the Justice Law and Order Sector launched a program of targeted and intensified capital trials to reduce the average time capital offenders spend in pretrial detention. High Court judges are under an obligation to hear thirty cases and sentence fifty to sixty defendants in a 40-day session. Observers have expressed concern about the protection of fair trial principles in such an expedited system.  

In a watershed development, the mandatory death penalty was deemed unconstitutional in Uganda by the Constitutional Court in 2005 in Susan Kigula and 416 others v. The Attorney General.  Over the last nine years, the courts have made slow but steady progress in their efforts to comply with the Kigula judgment by providing resentencing hearings for each prisoner given a mandatory death sentence.  In 2013, the Constitution Sentencing Guidelines for Courts of Judicature Practice Directions set out mitigating factors for all judges to consider during resentencing hearings.  These factors include considerations such as the age of the individual at the time of the crime, mental health issues and demonstrated potential for rehabilitation. As of April 2014, 196 of the “Kigula beneficiaries” have been resentenced—a laudable development.  Nevertheless, around 192 individuals are still waiting to be resentenced and have already spent 9 years in prison under constitutionally invalid sentences.  

- Shubra Ohri