At UN crime congress, Alice Mogwe shed light on path to abolishing death penalty across Africa

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Earlier this month, FIDH President Alice Mogwe spoke on a panel discussion exploring global perspectives on the death penalty. At this virtual event organised on 12 March by Amnesty International as part of the UN’s six-day crime congress, Ms Mogwe shed light on regional trends and best practices in Africa, with a focus on the role played by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and on recent trends in Botswana.

The event, which was part of the Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice – the world’s largest global gathering on crime and justice – sought to inform on the present status of the death penalty in the world, including the associated violations of international human rights law and standards, and provide a platform for exchange of experiences and best practices to overcome obstacles to its abolition. (Alice Mogwe’s speech may be viewed from 0:36-0:51 and the text is available below.) FIDH and several other organisations issued a joint statement arguing that the abolition of the death penalty must be an integral part of crime prevention programmes and criminal justice reforms.

Ms Mogwe drew on her extensive experience working with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to advance the cause of abolition, notably as a member of its Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa. She underscored the importance of mounting a continental coalition of state and non-state stakeholders to advocate for the adoption of a Draft Protocol to the African Charter on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa [1] in the hope that such support will compel the African Union internal processes to move forward.

Ms Mogwe also stressed the importance of framing the issue of the death penalty as a right to life. She argued during the 12 March event, “Champions of the Draft Protocol ... should embark on an extensive and sustained dialogue on the contradictions between the death penalty and the core tenets of the African Charter which include the right to life and the right to human dignity.”

As a human rights advocate and civil society leader, Ms Mogwe’s activism to advance human rights has included a focus on fighting for the abolition of capital punishment in Botswana and Africa more broadly, following the southern African principle of botho – the belief that the humanity of one person is tied to the humanity of the others. In addition to her role as president of FIDH, Ms Mogwe is the director of DITSHWANELO – the Botswana Centre for Human Rights.

Ms Mogwe has worked extensively on the issue of capital punishment, including on the various discriminatory barriers present in judicial systems. She has spoken during and participated in several international conferences in recent years, including the Jakarta Human Rights Dialogue on right to life and moratorium of death penalty in the ASEAN region in 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) Global Panel: Moving away from the death penalty in 2014, the African Regional Congress Against the Death Penalty in 2018, and the 2019 World Congress Against the Death Penalty. In 2020, for the World Day Against the Death Penalty, she penned a piece arguing in favour of access to counsel an an indispensable right for those facing capital punishment.

Of the African Union’s 55 member states, only 22 have abolished the death penalty, while another 18 have placed a de facto moratorium on executions. While progress remains to be made, the general trend on the continent is to abolish the death penalty, with Chad being the latest to do so.

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