On 3rd April 2019 the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe unanimously declared that imposing sentences of corporal punishment on juvenile offenders violates the constitutional protections for fundamental rights.
The Court found that corporal punishment – which entails an offender being blindfolded, tied down and then whipped on the buttocks with a cane, was “by its nature and effect … a humiliating assault on the inherent dignity of the person being punished.”
Caning adult offenders has been illegal in Zimbabwe since 1987 but remained lawful for offenders under the age of 18. On 26th September 2016, Willard Chokuramba, aged 15, was sentenced to receive three strokes of the cane following his conviction for rape. That sentence subsequently came under the scrutiny of the Constitutional Court. Delivering judgment, the Court referred to principles of international law that restrict States from using “direct applications of violence on the body of a person that cause acute physical and mental suffering to enforce moral values or correct behaviour” and to a growing international and regional consensus that corporal punishment amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.
It firmly rejected the government’s position that caning was in Chokuramba’s best interests, because it saved him from imprisonment. Rather, the court found that “human dignity is inherent to every person all the time regardless of circumstances or status of the person” and that a punishment that is inhuman and degrading for adults cannot be converted into punishment that is acceptable for children.
The court emphasised that purely punitive punishments were not appropriate and urged the government to establish more rehabilitation programmes for juvenile offenders to better promote their welfare and reintegration into society.
Note to editors
The Death Penalty Project is an independent legal action charity housed and supported by London legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP. For more than 30 years, The Death Penalty Project has worked to promote and protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty.
The Death Penalty Project assisted local lawyer Tendai Biti in this case. Amanda Clift-Matthews (In-house counsel) was instructed pro bono.
In the last few years, The Death Penalty Project has provided ongoing legal assistance and advice to local lawyers in several other constitutional challenges including; (Makoni v Commissioner of Prisons & Anor) a challenge to the unconstitutionality of the cruel and inhuman punishment and violation of human dignity of life sentences without the possibility of parole; (Ndlovu & Gochera v Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs & Anor) a challenge to the constitutionality of imposing the death penalty on prisoners post-adoption of the new Constitution; (Chawira & 13 others v Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs & Anor) a challenge to the inhumanity of keeping prisoners on death row by reasons of delay.