The Democratic Republic of Congo (5) and Chad (1) are on course to become abolitionist in practice after ten years without executions. Their Rwandan (8) and Burundian (9) neighbours have abolished capita punishent in law, while other French-speaking states in Central Africa (2, 3, 4) have been abolitionist in practice for decades. Only Uganda (6) poses as a retentionist stronghold besieged by human rights activitst. Explore the region through data published in the proceedings of the Kinshasa conference.

1. Chad
State of the death penalty: in practice
Date of last execution: 2003
Number of prisoners on death row: at least 33

Despite a twelve year moratorium observed since 1991, the Chadian authorities have conducted several executions in the course of 2003. The purpose of these executions was to dissuade rebellious groups from committing further acts of violence, as part of the government’s attempts to curb recurring instability in the country. Although no executions have been recorded since 2003, Chadian law still allows for the death penalty for perpetrators of homicide with aggravating circumstances, for various acts of treason and terrorism, and for certain military offenses.
Abolitionists rely on the Chadian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life, and on the first vote in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution the on the moratorium in December 2012.

2. Central African Republic
State of the death penalty: de facto abolition
Date of last execution: 1981
Number of prisoners on death row: at least 14

The instability and chronic violence plaguing the Central African Republic have been a major obstacle to the abolitionist intentions voiced by the authorities.
Measures of pardon and amnesty taken by President François Bozizé after coming to power in a coup in 2001 have helped to prevent some executions, but the prospect of abolition opened by the delegation at the Universal Periodic Review of the country by the UN Council of Human Rights in 2009 has not been followed by concrete steps.
The new Penal Code maintains the death penalty for a dozen crimes, including offenses not involving the death of a person such as theft or kidnapping.

3. Cameroon
State of the death penalty: de facto abolition
Date of last execution: 1997
Number of prisoners on death row: at least 7

Since the last execution in 1997, the status quo in Cameroon suggests a de facto abolition of the death penalty. The Constitution protects the right to life and the president regularly commutes death sentences to life imprisonment.
However, during the Universal Periodic Review in 2009, Cameroon refused to commit to abolishing the death penalty on the grounds of its perceived deterrent nature, and because public opinion remains strongly in favour of capital punishment.

4. Republic of Congo
State of the death penalty: de facto abolition
Date of last execution: 1982
Number of prisoners on death row: 0

The Brazzaville authorities have a decidedly abolitionist position, as shown by the vote in favour of the UN General Assembly moratorium resolution in 2012, by the commitment to accelerate progress towards abolition and towards the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) an international treaty aiming for the abolition of the death penalty in 2009.
In 2007, President Denis Sassou Nguesso turned all death sentences into forced labour for life.
Yet Congolese legislation still provides the death penalty for a long list of crimes, including non-violent offences. Three people were sentenced to death in 2011 for trafficking human bones.

5. Democratic Republic of Congo
State of the death penalty: practiced
Date of last execution: January 7, 2003
Number of prisoners on death row: between 330 and 500

After a wave of death sentences and executions at the height of the war during the late 1990s, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila declared an official moratorium confirmed by his son, the current President Joseph Kabila. However, this measure has been suspended by several executions in 2003.
The DRC is now reaching 10 years without carrying out any executions. This 10-year mark is used to declare a territory abolitionist in practice. However, the death penalty is regularly imposed for a long list of non-violent crimes, including by military courts.
The Congolese Constitution favours the right to life and does not mention the death penalty. The abolitionist movement is very active, and various ministers have announced moves to end the death penalty. However, several legislative proposals on abolition introduced by MPs have been blocked.

6. Uganda
State of the death penalty: practiced
Number of executions in 2010: at least 5
Date of last execution: 2010
Number of prisoners in death row: 555 prisoners, including 27 women

A resolute retentionist, President Yoweri Museveni has used public opinion to reject abolition and his representative voted against the UN General Assembly resolution for a moratorium. Some MPs want to use the death penalty to discourage homosexual behaviour.
Yet abolitionists in Uganda are active and keep increasing their outreach efforts. Their investigations condemn the discriminatory nature of the death penalty (against the poor, people from rural areas, and political opponents) and denounce the violation of international standards on death row.
After citizens sentenced to death supported by civil society organisations appealed to the Supreme Court in 2009, it commuted 167 death sentences of inmates who had spent too long on death row and revoked the mandatory nature of the death penalty for certain crimes.

7. Kenya
State of the death penalty: de facto abolition
Date of last execution: 1987
Number of prisoners on death row: at least 17

Having remained unused for more than 25 years, the death penalty continues to recede in Kenya. In 2009, President Mwai Kibaki commuted the sentences of more than 4,000 prisoners, arguing that extended stays on death row resulted in “excessive anxiety and mental suffering constituting psychological trauma”.
The following year, the Court of Appeals removed mandatory death penalty for murder, implicitly rendering all mandatory capital punishment illegal under Kenyan law.
The country seems ready to abolish, and yet its domestic practice does not reflect on international proceedings, as proven by Kenya’s abstention from the moratorium at the UN General Assembly.

8. Rwanda
State of the death penalty: abolished
Date of abolition: July 25, 2007
Date of last execution: 1998

The debate on the abolition of the death penalty was initiated before the beginning of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It was reignited by the time Rwanda expressed its desire to judge the perpetrators of crimes against humanity internally, as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda indeed does not recognize the death penalty.

This situation led to the abolition of the death penalty in 2007. The government of President Paul Kagame, otherwise criticized for diverse violations of human rights, ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which permanently prohibits the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Rwanda has also voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution.

9. Burundi
State of the death penalty: abolished

Date of abolition: April 22, 2009
Date of last execution: 2001

After the bloody civil war of the 1990s, the institutions created by the 2001 Arusha Accords tackled the revision of the Penal Code in 2008. This approach led to the adoption of a new Code free of the death penalty, which was released the following year.
The abolition took place under the authority of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who had been sentenced to death during the war for his participation in the rebellion.
The prevalence of corruption in the judiciary system and the fear of unjust convictions or miscarriages of justice helped convince the public on the merits of abolition.
Burundi is now one of the countries that support the UN General Assembly resolution for a moratorium.

10. Tanzania
State of the death penalty: de facto abolition
Date of last execution: 1994
Number of prisoners on death row: 233

Although there is no record of any execution in Tanzania for almost 20 years, the death penalty continues to be imposed according to national law, which provides for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder and treason.
The debate on abolition is active in Tanzania, where the Constitution guarantees the right to life. Since 2008, three local organizations have been objecting to the constitutionality of capital punishment, and the Government has put this issue on the agenda for constitutional reform launched in late 2011.
However, the authorities are reluctant to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, arguing that the public is too divided.

Source proceedings of the regional conference on strategies for abolition in Central Africa (in French).