June 1, 2023
The Human Rights Commission (the Commission) welcomes the decision by the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, to assent to Penal Code (Amendment) Bill
No. 25 of 2022 that replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment and repealed the offence of defamation of the President.
The replacement of the death penalty with life imprisonment is a landmark development towards enhancing the fundamental right to life. The signing into law of the Bill is a hallmark
of decisive leadership that has now settled the abolition of the death penalty that has been in suspense for the past 25 years since executions were last carried out in 1997.
The abolition of the death penalty through the amendment of the Penal Code Act, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia, is in line with the global trend of abolishing the cruel and inhumane
practice by amending subsidiary laws that prescribe offences that attract a penalty of death. There is no known country that has abolished the death penalty through a national referendum,
but through amendment of penal laws and judicial decisions that declared the death penalty as unconstitutional.
It is gratifying that by amending the Penal Code Act to remove the provision relating to mandatory death sentence for crimes of treason, murder and aggravated robbery, it means that
currently, Zambia does not have any legislation that imposes the sentence of death as a form of punishment for any crime.
The right to protection of the law under Article 18 (8) of the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia, guarantees that “No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence
unless that offence is defined and the penalty is prescribed in a written law…”.
It is worth noting that Article 12 of the Constitution of Zambia guarantees the right to life and provides a derogation to the right to life where a death sentence exists under subsidiary
Thus, the replacement of the provisions of the Penal Code that provided for the punishment of death means that the death penalty has been abolished in Zambia.
The Commission also commends President Hichilema for assenting to the repeal of Section 69 of the Penal Code on criminal defamation of the President, which had the effect of undermining
the right to freedom of expression. The decision by the President to repeal the offence of defamation of the President is a progressive and courageous act of commitment to deepening
democracy and human rights, particularly that this has been done at a time when there are incessant cases of abuse of the freedom of expression against the President. The fact that the
President has repealed criminal defamation of the President means that he has taken national interest above self-interests and that is commendable.
The Commission is calling for enhanced efforts and increased investment towards prevention of heinous crimes and gross violations and abuses of human rights and freedoms.
The Commission urges the Government, as the primary duty bearer on promoting and protecting human rights, to scale up its efforts towards meeting its obligations. The
Commission also urges the people of Zambia, who are the rights holders to remain vigilant and effectively claim and exercise their rights and freedoms with maximum responsibility for the