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Amnesty International: Death sentences on the rise in Africa

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More than 1,000 death sentences were handed down in Africa in 2016. That’s according to the latest report by Amnesty International. Botswana and Nigeria were singled out for resuming executions.

First of all, it’s quite important to highlight the major elements of the report itself. In 2016, Amnesty International recorded a 37 percent decrease in the number of executions carried out globally. In 2016, we found that China was the world’s top executioner. And progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world.

Amnesty: Executions down from last year

In terms of sub-Saharan Africa, the use of the death penalty was mixed. On one hand, we recorded fewer executions; on the other hand, the number of death sentences rose dramatically to a staggering 145 percent increase. At least 22 executions were carried out in five countries compared to 43 executions in four countries in 2015. In 2016, the countries that carried out executions included Nigeria, Botswana, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. Death sentences rose from 443 in 2015 to at least 1,086 in 2016. And this was mainly due to an increase in the number of dead sentences handed out in Nigeria. Nigeria handed down 527 death sentences and that’s the highest we recorded excluding China in the world.

What could be the reason for this rise of the death sentences in Nigeria?

We are not exactly sure of the reason for this dramatic sharp increase in the number of death sentences handed down in 2016. However, I must note that we recorded a similar number of death sentences for Nigeria in 2014. So in 2015, there was a decrease and then it’s gone back up again. It’s very possible that a lot of [capital punishment] cases came to a conclusion in 2016 and judgments were handed down.

Infograph showing the use of the death penalty worldwide. Courtesy of Amnesty International.

Amnesty says there is progress in abolishing the death penalty but more needs to be done

Botswana has been described as a model for democracy and good governance. Why do you think they have resumed executions?

Botswana is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that still hangs on to the use of the death penalty. Although they do not carry out as many executions as some other countries like Somalia, they still hold steadfastly to the death penalty. It’s unclear why they have resumed executions; they carried out one execution last year. It’s a country that consistently uses the death penalty and has refused to stay away from this cruel and inhuman degrading punishment.

Amnesty International works to end executions and opposes the death penalty. What’s being done at the moment to scrap the death penalty?

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature of the offence or the characteristics of the individual or the methods used by the states to carry out the executions. Since 1977, we have been calling on all countries in the world that are yet to abolish the death penalty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa to establish an official moratorium on executions as a fast step towards abolishing the death penalty.

Oluwatosin Popoola is Amnesty International’s adviser on the death penalty.

Interviewer: Eunice Wanjiru

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