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Africa | Sudan
Society | Human rights

Sudan with most death penalties in Africa

afrol News, 5 April - An annual survey of the use of the death penalty worldwide reveals that Sudan is the African country making most use of the capital punishment. Only in Sudan and Somalia, executions were reported in 2004. Death sentences were handed out in at least 17 African countries, with Sudan, Burundi, Cameroon and Congo Kinshasa (DRC) representing the bulk of sentences.

This was revealed by the annual survey made by the international human rights group Amnesty. The group had registered a large increase in executions and death sentences worldwide last year. "During 2004, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries" and "at least 7,395 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries," Amnesty found.

These were only minimum figures, however. "The true figures were certainly higher," the human rights group said, pointing to the fact that most countries did not report on the use of the capital punishment. While numbers had been increasing in 2004, there had however also been positive developments, with a growing number of countries abolishing death sentences.

Death sentences and executions in Africa represent only a very small part of the global number. As in previous years, the vast majority of executions worldwide were carried out in a tiny handful of countries. "In 2004, 97 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA," the Amnesty survey said.

Numbers for Africa were very unsure, but the group positively knew of at least two executions in Sudan and at least one in Somalia. Amnesty assumed the real number to be higher for both countries and further believed that executions had probably been carried out in other sub-Saharan African countries. Also in Egypt, at least one execution had been carried out in 2004.

Death sentences were handed down in at least 17 sub-Saharan countries and four North African countries in 2004, according to the report. In Sudan, more than 100 death sentences had been reported last year. At least 44 death sentences were reported from Burundi. Ten or more death sentences were reported from Cameroon, Chad, Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Further, according to the human rights group, one or several death sentences had been handed down in Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In North Africa, an unnamed number of death sentences were "known to have been imposed" in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Morocco, Jane Rose of Amnesty International in London told afrol News.

The trend in Africa however is towards abolition of the capital punishment. Senegal in December became the fourth West African country - after Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d'Ivoire - to pass a law abolishing the death penalty for all crimes. Senegal had not carried out any executions since 1967 but continued to pass death sentences, most recently in July 2004.

Also in Malawi and Zambia, the trend is towards abolition. There have been no executions in Malawi since 1992 and ex-President Bakili Muluzi commuted 79 death sentences on 9 April 2004. In February last year, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa commuted the death sentences of 44 soldiers who had been sentenced to death for their role in a failed 1997 coup and stated: "For as long as I remain President, I will not execute a death warrant."

Hopes of similar trends in Nigeria have however yet to be materialised. A National Study Group on the Death Penalty, set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo in November 2003, published its report in October last year, recommending the imposition of a moratorium on all executions until the Nigerian justice system could guarantee fair trials and due process. Nigeria's federal government had however not imposed a moratorium by the end of the year, Amnesty noted.

The human rights group is lobbying for a world-wide abolition of the death penalty as "no judicial system is infallible." However sophisticated the system, "the death penalty will always carry with it the risk of lethal error," Amnesty said in a statement released today. The group pointed to recent cases in the US, of persons sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.

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