Skip to main content arrow-down arrow-tail-right arrow-triangle-right calendar camera compass download email eye facebook flag mail phone pin play send square-right tag twitter youtube badge message

Zimbabwe Constitutional Court Declares Life Without Parole To Be Cruel and Inhuman

  • News
  • 13 Sep 2016

In a unanimous decision, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court declared life sentences without the possibility of parole to be both cruel and inhuman punishment and a violation of human dignity.

In the opinion of all eight judges, the “unavoidable cruelty of incarceration”, without a prisoner being able to believe in the realistic possibility of his eventual liberation, would “unnecessarily aggravate and dehumanise the delivery of corrective justice”.

This decision adds to the increasing number of jurisdictions worldwide in which sentences that are irreducible, such as being passed for natural life or without parole, have been found to offend fundamental human rights.

Obediah Makoni, who has spent more than 20 years behind bars after being sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of only 19, recently challenged the country’s parole regime which excluded all life sentence prisoners, meaning that under his sentence he had no real prospect of ever being released.

In a landmark decision on 13 July 2016 the constitutional court of Zimbabwe ruled that periodic reviews of detention and rehabilitation programs with a view to re-integration into society must be provided equally to prisoners serving indefinite terms of imprisonment. It held that any imprisonment that continued unreasonably – that is beyond the duration of detention necessary to fulfil the aims of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation – was liable to be quashed by the courts. Consequently, the parole regime must be interpreted as applying to all long-term prisoners and not just those with fixed term sentences.

The Court ordered that a full inquiry and report by the Parole Board be prepared to determine Mr Makoni’s aptitude and suitability for parole. It would then be a matter for the Parole Board to make such recommendations as it may deem fit and proper, and thereafter for the Minister of Justice to decide whether or not to release Mr Makoni on licence.

Related articles:

International human rights advocacy and the abolition of irreducible life imprisonment in Zimbabwe, AfricLaw, Andrew Novak, 13th September 2016

Notes to editors

The Death Penalty Project assisted local lawyer Tendai Biti, who was instructed by Zimbabwe NGO Veritas, in this case. Joseph Middleton of Doughty Street Chambers and Amanda Clift-Matthews (In-house counsel) were instructed by The Death Penalty Project and advised on a pro bono basis.

Latest news

Capital sentencing and judicial attitudes towards the death penalty in India and Bangladesh
Read More
Press Release: The Death Penalty and Illegal Executions in Saudi Arabia
Read More
The Death Penalty and Executions in Saudi Arabia
Read More
Compounded Violence: Domestic Abuse and the Mandatory Death Penalty in Ghana and Sierra Leone
Read More
Delegation to Guyana on Sentencing in Capital Cases
Read More
Aron John, former death row prisoner, regains freedom after 16 years in prison in Malawi
Read More
New term, new chance to reevaluate death penalty
Read More
Zimbabwe court declares corporal punishment on juvenile offenders to be inhuman and humiliating
Read More
‘Always against the death penalty, except in the case of my father’
Read More
African Court of Human and People's Rights rejects mandatory death penalty challenge on technical grounds
Read More
Poor knowledge underlines death penalty support: study
Read More
New reports on public opinion and unsafe convictions provide momentum for reform of capital punishment in Taiwan
Read More
Moving Away From the Death Penalty in Guyana
Read More
Why John Hayes MP is so wrong on the death penalty
Read More
Malaysia could lead way in abolishing death penalty
Read More
Launch of new resource: ‘Sentencing in Capital Cases’
Read More

Stay up-to-date with our work

Skip to toolbar