AU Watch

The Death Penalty

In Uganda, Mpagi Edward  was wrongly convicted of murdering a neighbour over a land conflict and sentenced to suffer death.
He was locked up in prison for 18 years after being falsely convicted robbery and murder, before finally being released. It was later discovered that his alleged victim was still alive, but court had ruled that he had died. He narrowly survived the hangman because of political tensions in the 1980s. Many of his colleagues on death row were executed in 1991, 1993, 1996 and 1999.

Recent Trends

AU Watch welcomes the progressive steps taken by the African Commission on the death penalty; particularly its standard setting role. However, we are concerned about the lack of progress in the AU in respect of the adoption of the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the abolition of the death penalty. It is high time Africa joined other regions of the world in adopting a regional treaty on the abolition of the death penalty. AU Watch urges the African Commission to work effectively with all relevant organs of the African Union in ensuring that the draft Protocol is successfully adopted without further delay.

At both global and continental levels there is an observable trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. More than two thirds of all states have now either abolished the practice or have long-standing moratoria on its use. Though we have noticed a slight increase in the actual number of executions, the overall decline is unmistakable.
This trend of state practice can be read in conjunction with an interpretation of international human rights law as progressively abolitionist. At the time of its drafting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) made a provision for countries which had not already abolished the death penalty, but established stringent conditions under which it could continue. Article 6 was also drafted in such a way that it envisages and indeed facilitates the abolition of the death penalty over time.

AU Watch is against the death sentence, regardless of the crime or circumstances. Capital punishment equals to inhumane treatment and torture. We know that the death penalty is usually a sentence given at the end of an unfair trial and is carried out according to terms that are often discriminatory. We also know that the so-called deterrent effect of the death penalty has never been proven. The last resolution of the United Nation General Assembly calling for a universal moratorium on the death penalty was adopted by 117 countries in December 2014 and confirms the growing international momentum in favour of universal abolition.

Who We Are

Our mission is to:

Restrict the use of the death penalty around the world, so fewer people are sentenced to death and executed

Provide access to justice and address miscarriages of justice

Protect the human rights of vulnerable prisoners, such as juveniles and those with mental disorder

Develop and promote human rights standards in criminal justice systems

Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa

The African Commission established the Working Group on the Death Penalty (the Working Group) in 2005 by adopting Resolution ACHPR/RES.79 (XXXVIII) 05- Resolution on the Composition and the Operationalisation of the Working Group on Death Penalty. The latter was mandated among other things to carry out a study on the question of the death penalty in Africa, develop a Strategic Plan including a practical and legal framework on the abolition of the Death Penalty, collect information and continue to monitor the situation of the application of the Death Penalty in African States and submit progress reports to the African Commission at each Ordinary Session.


The Working Group is also mandated to collaborate with other partners, including international, national, governmental and non-governmental institutions for the successful fulfilment of its mandate. In 2012, the African Commission was concerned about the upsurge in extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings in the continent and was committed to eliminate the practice in Africa, as it is a grave violation of the right to life guaranteed by Article 4 of the African Charter. To this end, the African Commission extended the mandate of the Working Group to also include extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings in Africa pursuant to Resolution ACHPR/Res.227 (LII) 2012- Resolution on the Expansion of the Mandate of the Working Group on Death Penalty in Africa. Further concerned with the emerging issue of enforced disappearances in the continent, which have in some cases resulted in deaths, and being aware of the need to urgently address this issue, as it is a violation of the right to life, the Commission in 2018, further expanded the mandate of the Working Group to include ‘Enforced Disappearances’ pursuant to ACHPR/Res. 408 (LXIII) 2018: Resolution on the Expansion of the Mandate and Composition of the Working Group on Death Penalty and Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings in Africa.

In addition to its initial mandate on the Death Penalty, the Working Group is assigned to monitor situations relating to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in Africa with all its ramifications; collect information and keep a database of reported instances of situations concerning extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in Africa; undertake studies on these issues; advise the Commission on urgent measures to be taken to address situations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances that require immediate attention; reports to the Commission on the situation of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances at each session; and collaborate with its stakeholders and partners including national governments, international and inter-governmental organizations for the successful fulfilment of its mandate.