One by one, African countries dismantle colonial-era death laws

Empty Prison Blocksources: New York Times
published: 23 July 2021

Lawmakers in Sierra Leone voted unanimously on Friday to abolish the death penalty, a momentous step that made the West African country the 23rd on the continent to prohibit capital punishment.

The decision was one more step in a long-sought goal of civil society organizations and legal practitioners who see the death penalty as a vestige of Africa’s oppressive colonial history.

“This is a horrible punishment and we need to get rid of it,” said Oluwatosin Popoola, a legal adviser at the rights group Amnesty International, a leading critic of capital punishment.

A vast majority of the 193 member states of the United Nations have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.

“It’s a dream come true in terms of criminal justice, to actually remove such a heinous penalty,” said Simitie Lavaly, a member of Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission and a lawyer who has represented people on death row.

Kanteh Yumkella, a lawmaker and former presidential candidate, called the decision “momentous.”

“I can tell you that we had to reflect on it quite a bit,” he said. “We thought of the political use of the death penalty, which has dogged us.”

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