Uganda retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes, including treason, rape, murder, terrorism.
Uganda has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1995, and has ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allowing for the right of individual petition to the UN Human Rights Committee. It has not signed nor ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Uganda ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1986 and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2001.
Since 2003, we have been working with Katende, Ssempebwa & Company, attorneys based in Kampala, who provide free legal representation to prisoners on death row in Uganda. In 2003, working together Katende and a local NGO, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), we assisted in the preparation and co-ordination of a constitutional challenge brought on behalf of all prisoners under sentence of death. We assisted, inter alia, in the drafting of the petition to the Constitutional Court.
In a landmark judgment delivered in 2005 (Kigula & 416 Others -v- Attorney General), the majority of the Constitutional Court declared the death sentences passed on all the petitioners unconstitutional. The Court found that the mandatory (automatic) nature of its imposition was unconstitutional because it did not provide the Court with the opportunity to take into account any individual mitigating circumstances that might make the death penalty an inappropriately severe punishment. The Court provided the Government with a two-year period to give effect to the judgment after which date all death sentences should be set aside. The Court also ruled that any prisoners who had been on death row more than three years were entitled to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The Attorney General subsequently filed an appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court and we assisted the local team in responding to the Attorney General’s Appeal. Click here for further details.
In 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Constitutional Court and affirmed that the mandatory death penalty and excessive delay on death row are unconstitutional, assisting approximately 900 prisoners then under sentence of death. As a result of this decision, three prisoners who were sentenced to death prior to 1989 were immediately released. All death sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court before 2006 were commuted to life imprisonment, benefiting approximately 139 prisoners. All remaining inmates (whose death sentences have not been confirmed by the Supreme Court) will be re-sentenced by the High Court. In the unlikely event that any are re-sentenced to death, there is a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. For more information see our Press Release.
In 2007 and 2009, we conducted a series of training events for lawyers and judges and in 2009 we held a Roundtable for Parliamentarians in Uganda arising out of the changes to the death penalty laws as a result of the abolition of the mandatory death penalty. For further details of the events, please click here.
The courts in Uganda commenced the re-sentencing of prisoners on death row in 2009. With our local partners, we assisted in the coordination and preparation of the re-sentencing hearings. This involved obtaining and compiling mitigation evidence for each prisoner by examining court records and obtaining medical and social inquiry reports. A local project office was established at the Foundation of Human Rights Initiative headquarters in Kampala and a local legal officer was employed to coordinate this work. Mitigation hearings for nineteen prisoners began in October 2009, and the judges relied on the ‘Guide to Sentencing in Capital Cases’ by Edward Fitzgerald QC and Keir Starmer QC, referring to the Guide as an authoritative source.
In 2011, the lead petitioner, Susan Kigula was resentenced to 20 years from the date of conviction, and will be released in 2022. Three other death row prisoners, Enoch Tumuwine, Abdu Maliyamungy and Walker Muhairwe, have received determinate sentences. As of November 2012, a total of 93 mitigation hearings have been heard, 12 people have been released and 180 death row prisoners have had their death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Judicial colloquium, Kampala, September 2007
In partnership with FHRI, a NGO based in Kampala, we held a judicial colloquium in Entebbe in September 2007, which was attended by members of the judiciary including the Chief Justice of Uganda and the President of the Court of Appeal. It was followed that same month by a separate training seminar for prosecution and defence lawyers in Kampala, attended by almost 150 lawyers. Both seminars focused on resentencing issues and the training was conducted by the Hon. Mr Justice Abdulai O. Conteh, the Chief Justice of Belize, Edward Fitzgerald QC and Keir Starmer QC. Copies of our publication A Guide to Sentencing in Capital Cases, by Edward Fitzgerald QC and Keir Starmer QC were distributed free of charge to all participants.
Judicial colloquium and training seminar, Kampala, June 2010
In June 2010, we facilitated three training events in Kampala, Uganda, in partnership with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and the Judicial Studies Institute (JSI). This included a judicial colloquium, a training day for prosecution and defence counsel, and a seminar for parliamentarians.
Professor Roger Hood presented on world wide trends in relation to the death penalty.Saul Lehrfreundpresented a paper on international standards restricting the death penalty pending abolition. Parvais Jabbar presented a paper on the use of sentencing principles and guidelines limiting capital punishment pending abolition.