IBAHRI and Reprieve welcome the abolition of the death penalty in Malawi

Thursday 20 May 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Reprieve welcome the 28 April 2021 ruling by the Malawian Supreme Court that declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional and in violation of international human rights standards. The two organisations applaud President Lazarus Chakwera for his support of the ruling that made Malawi the 22nd country in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the outdated practice.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘We hope that the ruling of Malawi’s highest court to abolish the death penalty and President Chakwera’s commitment to an independent judiciary, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, will serve as inspiration to other jurisdictions. Where the death penalty is still on the books, and especially where it is still imposed, it should be abolished without delay. The Malawi court's comprehensive engagement with international standards and jurisprudence serves as an example to judges everywhere on how the movement towards abolition can be implemented at the domestic level. The death penalty is an indefensible and abhorrent practice that has no place in rights-respecting societies. It is ineffective, unprincipled and research shows that it invariably falls most heavily on stigmatised minorities.’

Reprieve Joint Executive Director Maya Foa stated: ‘This ruling is the culmination of a re-sentencing project that has shown, beyond doubt, that abolishing the death penalty will benefit Malawi. The movement has been led by people whose voices are often left out of conversations about criminal justice: prisoners, victims of crime and communities who have seen the positive impact of giving people a second chance at life. Malawi’s pioneering work has informed neighbouring countries undertaking progressive criminal justice reform; the recent decision is a milestone in Africa’s rejection of the death penalty.’

Malawi’s abolition of capital punishment is evidence of progress made by human rights defenders towards the eradication of the death penalty across the globe, including: Chad and the state of Colorado, United States, in 2020, and Armenia, Kazakhstan and the US state of Virginia so far in 2021. To date, more than 70 per cent of the world's countries have abolished state executions either in law or in practice.

Adopted on 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty and recommending that all states take steps towards its complete abolition.

Malawi’s stance on the non-derogable right to life as contained in international instruments, including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and Article 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, is admired by the IBAHRI and Reprieve.


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  2. Reprieve is a charitable organization that provides free legal and investigative support to individuals who have been subjected to state-sponsored human rights abuses. Our clients belong to some of the most vulnerable populations in the world, as it is in their cases that human rights are most swiftly jettisoned, and the rule of law is cast aside. In particular, we protect the rights of those facing the death penalty and deliver justice to victims of arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution.
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