Death Penalty Worldwide



Makwanyane Fellows reach out to East African Lawyers on Capital Punishment and the Rule of Law

One of the aims of the Makwanyane Institute is to build the capacity of capital defense lawyers through a specialized training in essential skills geared towards accomplishing great outcomes for their clients facing capital charges. Besides re-shaping legal practice in their respective countries, the Makwanyane Fellows also become empowered to have both a stake and impact in the debate on abolition of the death penalty through zealous advocacy. Such advocacy took place when three Makwanyane Defenders, Evelyn Chijarira (Tanzania), Nelson Ndeki (Tanzania) and Gatambia Ndungu (Kenya) made a presentation titled Death Penalty and the Rule of Law in East Africa at the 24th Annual East Africa Law Society Conference in Kigali, Rwanda on 6 November 2019.

The East Africa Law Society (EALS) is the apex regional bar Association of East Africa and comprises of an over 17,000 members drawn from all the national bars in the East African Community – the Law Society of Kenya, Tanganyika Law Society, Zanzibar Law Society, Uganda Law Society, Rwanda Bar Association, Burundi Bar Association and the South Sudan Bar Association. This year’s annual conference took place from 4th – 9th November 2019 at the Kigali Serena and Intare Convention Centre. It was officiated by the President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame, and the theme was The Role of Lawyers in Developing Economic Communities.

EALS Fellows R – L: Makwanyane Defenders Nelson Ndeki, Gatambia Ndungu and Evelyn Chijarira who were joined in their panel,
“Death Penalty and the Rule of Law in East Africa” by Mwaura Kabata, a capital defense lawyer from Kenya.

In their presentation, the Defenders introduced the Makwanyane Institute and provided a general contextual background of capital punishment and the present status of the death penalty in Africa (in each of its Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern regions). The presentation also sought to create awareness and sensitization on the best practices in capital defense in both domestic and regional Courts and Tribunals especially in respect with those countries in the region that have capital punishment in their law books or carry out executions. Fortunately, since 2015 when there was a surge in executions across the globe, there have been new countries joining the abolitionist league. In Africa these countries include Congo Brazaville (2015), Benin (2016), Guinea (2016 for ordinary crimes), Guinea (2017), and Burkina Faso (2018 for ordinary crimes). 

The gravitation towards abolition of the death penalty is informed by, among other factors, the rule of law, human rights, and international legal issues around the death penalty, which were equally well articulated during the presentation.  The defenders also discussed various landmark cases on the death penalty on the continent, leading with the Kafantayeni decision from Malawi as a model that later impacted on the Susan Kigula and Muruatetu cases in Uganda and Kenya respectively, and inspired the recent case of Jebra Kambole v AG. The latter case, decided on 18 July 2019, had been brought before the Tanzanian High Court by a 2017 Makwanyane Fellow from Tanzania, Jebra Kambole. Though not successful, the Kambole case reinvigorated the death penalty debate in Tanzania, signifying that much as the war may have been lost, the parties live to win the battle, hopefully in the not so distant future.

During the plenary Q & A session, it was evident that the debate between the abolitionists and retentionists still subsists to this date. A robust exchange of information, viewpoints and concerns on capital offences and capital punishment ensued after the main presentation. In the end, the Makwanyane Defenders panel was able to be persuasive enough and conclude, in the words of Sir Nigel S. Rodley: "Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong?"

Paul KagameRwandan President Paul Kagame officiates the East Africa Law Society 24th Annual Conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

While gracing the conference, the President of Rwanda—who is also the sitting Chair of the Summit of Heads of States of the East Africa Community—noted the key role played by lawyers in regional integration. While this includes the harmonization of laws, and allowing the unimpeded movement of people, goods and services, it is important to note that Rwanda is an abolitionist state just as Burundi is, and this just might be the harbinger of other East Africa countries following suit.

-- Gatambia Ndungu, 2017 Makwanyane Fellow and 2019 Makwanyane Trainer from the Republic of Kenya.




Center organizes groundbreaking pilot training for francophone capital defenders

Group photo

Group photo of trainers and participants in the pilot training for francophone capital defenders

In February 2019, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide organized a trailblazing pilot training for capital defenders working in civil law jurisdictions in Africa. The event brought together 20 lawyers and experts from Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Mauritania, Niger, Tunisia, and the United States. Our goal was to gather experienced francophone lawyers to help us design a French-language version of the Center’s hallmark Makwanyane Institute for capital defenders. Over the course of our four-day meeting, we deepened our mutual understanding of the differences between common law and civil law legal traditions, and discussed how to best adapt our training model to lawyers representing capital defendants in civil law jurisdictions. Together, we paved the way for our 2020 Makwanyane Institute, which for the first time will be offered entirely in French.

Like the full-length Makwanyane training, the pilot centered on interactive, experiential learning, exploring client interviewing through role-plays, brainstorming sessions on storytelling skills, and applying knowledge gained through expert mental health lectures to a hypothetical case file. The event also offered opportunities to share strategies to overcome practical challenges in death penalty defense (which will be incorporated into our upcoming civil-law adaption of Representing Individuals Facing the Death Penalty: A Best Practices Manual).


Fatimata Mbaye, an advocate from Mauritania, discussing innovative strategies to overcome obstacles in capital defense

Participants left emboldened with new ideas and a transnational sense of solidarity. The strategic value of beginning a trial with an opening statement informed by crafting a case narrative—quite novel in many of the participants’ jurisdictions—inspired some attendees to try to incorporate it into their practice.  Building an international community of like-minded advocates that continues to grow despite geographical distance has proven a powerful tool to fight isolation. These advocates have continued to support one another with strategic input, moral support in the face of obstacles, and a community with which to celebrate victories.


Gozzo Tourndide, an advocate from Chad, receiving his certificate for his participation in the pilot training

-- Anna Kiefer & Delphine Lourtau


World Justice Project: Spotlight on "Malawi Resentencing Project"

Malawi Resentencing Project accepts World Justice Challenge Award
WJP board member Shaikha Abdulla Al-Misnad (left) presents one of five World Justice Challenge: Access to Justice Solutions awards to Chimwemwe Chithope-Mwale, Chief Legal Aid Advocate and Head of the Zomba Legal Aid Office at the Malawi Legal Aid Bureau. The awards were presented on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at the World Justice Forum in The Hague, Netherlands.

July 9, 2019--In the weeks following the 2019 World Justice Forum, WJP has been pleased to highlight winning World Justice Challenge projects in turn. These winners represent the top projects in a global competition to identify, recognize, and promote good practices and successful solutions to improve access to justice. This week, we discuss insights of the "Malawi Resentencing Project" from the Cornell Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide, The Malawi Legal Aid Bureau, and Reprieve.

Thank you to the teams at Cornell Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide, The Malawi Legal Aid Bureau, and Reprieve for detailing the work and impact of this important project.


Can you describe the project in its most simple terms?

In 2007, Malawi’s High Court abolished the mandatory death penalty. In the wake of this decision, approximately 170 prisoners were entitled to seek reduced sentences based on mitigating evidence that had never before been considered by the courts. A coalition of stakeholders created the Malawi Resentencing Project to investigate and present mitigating evidence in these death penalty cases and ensure the sentencing hearings met international fair trial standards. As a result of the project, over 140 former death row prisoners have been released. 


Why was this project so necessary?

As one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi's justice system operates on a shoestring budget. It has fewer than 20 public defenders nationwide. In this context, the implementation of a 2007 High Court Judgment striking down the mandatory death penalty posed a formidable challenge. By late 2014, only a single prisoner’s case had been reviewed. The Malawi Capital Resentencing Project was launched in 2014 to address these challenges and bring justice to the men and women who had languished for years on Malawi’s death row. Without the Resentencing Project, the great majority of prisoners would have remained under sentence of death, or in prison for the rest of their natural lives. 

Prior to 2007, every person convicted of homicide in Malawi was automatically sentenced to death without consideration of their life history or the circumstances of the offense. This sentencing scheme was struck down as unconstitutional by the Malawi High Court in Kafantayeni v. Attorney General.  As a result of the Kafantayenidecision, every man and woman given a mandatory death sentence was entitled to a new sentencing proceeding where they could present mitigating evidence such as good character, youth, mental illness, or any other factor that diminished their moral blameworthiness. Approximately 170 prisoners were legally entitled to a new sentencing hearing under the decision. But it was a very different question as to whether and how this would happen in practice, particularly given Malawi’s under-resourced criminal justice system. 

Before the Malawi Resentencing Project, Malawian lawyers lacked the training and resources to gather mitigating evidence. Mitigation investigations are critical to establish the factors that lead to the commission of an offense. In the Malawi Resentencing Project, the investigations often revealed that prisoners suffered from mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities that directly affected their actions at the time of the crime. Other times, the investigations provided critical context: for example, we discovered that one of our Resentencing Project clients had killed her husband after he attacked her and her mother. We discovered that others were juveniles at the time of the crime, but their youth had not been recognized by the courts because of the length of time they had spent awaiting trial. 

Another challenge was that Malawi lacked psychiatrists qualified to conduct mental health assessments to determine whether any of the prisoners were intellectually disabled or mentally ill—conditions that would preclude the imposition of the death penalty. Through the project, we trained local mental health workers to conduct the assessments. We also utilized a basic screening tool – the Raven’s Progressive Matrices – to determine whether prisoners might have intellectual disabilities.


Can you tell us about the positive human impact the project has had?

The Malawi Resentencing Project has saved lives. It has given those formerly facing a lifetime in prison at risk of execution an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Of the 169 prisoners who were ultimately eligible for a sentence rehearing, 156 received reduced sentences. None was resentenced to death. As of May 2019, a total of 142 former death row prisoners have been released after serving their sentences.

The project has helped ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in Malawian society – prisoners and their families – receive access to the courts and the chance to re-join their communities. At the same time, it has ensured that those who are convicted of serious crimes receive sentences that are commensurate with the gravity of the offence. Not only has it saved lives, it has changed opinions on the use of the death penalty to the point where abolition is a real possibility. The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and the Paralegal Advisory Services Institute conducted a survey of traditional village leaders affected by the project to determine whether and how their views of capital punishment had changed. Each of the leaders presided over a village that had received a released death row prisoner. The overwhelming majority stated that the State should not use the death penalty to punish individuals convicted of murder. Many noted that rehabilitation is impossible if a prisoner is executed. As one traditional leader noted, "There is no reform in death."

The Resentencing Project did not end after the courts delivered their judgments. It worked to endure that the released prisoners received technical skills so they could integrate back into society and become productive citizens in their home communities. A key partner in this goal was The Prison Fellowship of Malawi, the country’s sole Halfway House, which enables newly released prisoners to acclimatize back into society in a supportive environment. 

The project helped demonstrate that all persons—even those convicted of violent crimes—are capable of reform. One example is Byson Kaula, who spent 24 years in prison before he was released, and who now works as a volunteer with the Prison Fellowship and counsels prisoners in the same prison where he was once incarcerated. Another is Mtilosera Pindani, who was arrested at the age of 16 for killing a man who had assaulted his sister. He had been sentenced to die, but thanks to the Resentencing Project, he was released after 22 years and is now a traditional leader in his village.

Finally, the project is having an impact outside of Malawi. Kenya is now looking to Malawi as a model for a similar project relating to the application of the death penalty. Like Malawi, Kenya abolished the mandatory death penalty in 2017 and is preparing to resentence over 4,000 prisoners. The blueprint created by the Malawi Resentencing Project will guide Kenyan stakeholders to ensure that mitigating evidence is gathered and presented to the courts, and that the jurisprudence created in Malawi is available to help guide fair sentencing decisions.

Malawi Resentencing Project poster


What has made this project so effective?

Building a broad coalition of partners from both grass roots organizations to international NGOs was key to the success of this project. Members of the coalition included the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), the Legal Aid Bureau, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the judiciary, the prison service, Chancellor College, the Malawi Law Society, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, and Reprieve. 

The Cornell Center trained paralegals and lawyers regarding the investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence.  With the support of the Tilitonse Fund, lawyers and judges also received training in topics such as mental health, trauma, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Psychiatrists from the United States and South Africa trained Malawian mental health workers in the administration of a non-verbal test to screen for intellectual disability.  At the same time, working with the judiciary, the project proposed creative strategies to streamline the re-sentencing process and conserve resources.

Resentencing hearings began in February 2015 and members of the coalition were involved at every stage of the process to ensure the hearings met international fair trial standards. From providing direct representation to prisoners, to assisting in the drafting of legal submissions, to providing logistical aid (including funding for travel expenses so that lawyers, prosecution and the judiciary could attend the hearings), the coalition supported and guided the process. All stakeholders involved in the project were a vital element in its success. They pulled together to organize and attend hearings, conduct mitigation investigation, obtain mental health assessments, collect records, and ensure that prisoners had enough bus fare to return to their villages after their release. 

Capacity building among local organizations was another key element of the project – and essential to ensure its sustainability. The coalition included organizations such as the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and Reprieve, who have vast experience and expertise in undertaking mitigation investigations. These organizations worked closely with the Malawi-based members of the coalition, supporting them in the investigation process, creating guides to effective legal representation, and supplying helpful precedent from international and foreign jurisdictions. Not only was this exercise essential in ensuring prisoners on death row received access to justice, but it also built capacity within Malawi’s legal civil society. 

The project was truly invested in each individual it supported. It monitored and counseled each prisoner before he or she was released. It provided expenses for meals and transport to their home villages. It identified the most vulnerable prisoners and ensured they received skills training in a six-month program at the halfway house. In the months and years after each prisoner’s release, paralegals checked in on the former prisoners to ensure they were safe and healthy. 

Finally, the stakeholders worked hard to secure the support of traditional leaders (who are highly respected and influential in the community) for those returning from death row. This was crucial to not only facilitate each prisoner’s rehabilitation following his or her release, but to ensure the broader community would accept the prisoner and enable his successful reintegration. Paralegals travelled to the villages of prisoners eligible for a sentence rehearing to inform villagers about the change in the law and the possibility of the prisoner’s return. This not only ensured that the community’s views were considered in each resentencing hearing, but allowed the community to prepare for the prisoner’s return to their community. Many villages prepared welcome celebrations for released prisoners, helping to lessen the stigma that each prisoner faced.


How can the approach of this project be applied in other parts of the world?

The principles and best practices developed through the Malawi Resentencing Project can be adapted to tackle a death row of any size. At the heart of this project is the principle that every person is entitled to access to justice. In order to ensure this, each case has to be examined on its own merits. The investigation techniques developed through this project can be applied to any case in any jurisdiction—even those with minimal resources.  If it can be done in Malawi, it can be done anywhere. Moreover, the dozens of helpful court decisions, including progressive jurisprudence covering the mitigating weight of mental illness, intellectual disability, economic hardship, and foreign nationality (among other issues) can be applied in other retentionist countries in the region.

The collaborative aspect of the project is also replicable. The project brought together a huge array of stakeholders mentioned above, as well as international lawyers, law students from Malawi’s Chancellor College, and a host of judges, court officials, investigators, prison officials, and mental health experts, to deliver new sentence hearings to nearly 160 prisoners to date. The stakeholders met regularly to ensure buy-in to the resentencing exercise, reflect on their role in delivering it, develop strategies and processes for implementing the project, and build new knowledge, skills and capacities.


What is next for this project?

The next phase of the project is twofold: first, we will share the lessons learned from Malawi with stakeholders in Kenya and other countries that retain the death penalty.  Second, we will use the lessons learned from the project to support a national dialogue in Malawi regarding abolition of the death penalty. 

As noted above, in December 2017 Kenya’s Supreme Court struck down the mandatory death penalty. Members of the coalition who were involved in the Malawi Resentencing Project have been working closely with the Kenyan Taskforce on Resentencing to replicate the success in Malawi. Moreover, neighboring Tanzania may also abolish the mandatory death penalty. Tanzania, which shares a common border and many of the same legal challenges as Malawi, is perfectly situated to benefit from the Malawian legal community’s expertise.

To date, the project has contributed to the government’s softening approach towards the death penalty and indirectly contributed to Malawi’s first vote in favor of the UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on the application of the death penalty on 19 December 2016. The survey of traditional leaders has shown that public support for the death penalty is weak. The groundwork laid through the resentencing project has created a favorable environment for Malawi to achieve abolition. 

Finally, all those involved in the Project will continue to support and facilitate the sentence rehearings of the prisoners who are still incarcerated. Approximately ten persons are awaiting the results of a Supreme Court decision that will determine their entitlement to a sentencing hearing. We are hopeful that the court will rule in their favor. Depending on the availability of resources, we will also continue to support those who have been released or are due for release under the project, by ensuring they have the support they need in order to successfully reintegrate back into their communities. 


How has the World Justice Forum and winning the World Justice Challenge helped your work?

Recognition of the project at the World Justice Forum has been incredibly valuable. We were able to share the success of the Malawi Capital Resentencing Project on an international stage – something that would not have happened without the Forum. It provided a valuable networking opportunity for the representatives of the Malawi Resentencing Project at the Forum to meet and speak with funders and others working in the criminal justice sector. Winning the World Justice Challenge has enhanced the profile of all the stakeholders involved in the project. 

The prize money will also have a large impact on the project. The coalition of organizations involved in the Project have decided that the money should be spent on facilitating the sentence rehearings of the ten prisoners who are still awaiting their day in court. This will ensure that each remaining prisoner will receive access to justice, despite ongoing resource constraints. 


Is there anything else you want to add?

We are incredibly grateful that the Malawi Resentencing Project was chosen to be recognized at the World Justice Forum and selected as a winner of the World Justice Challenge and we thank you for all your support. 


Learn more about the World Justice Challenge and all 30 finalists here, and watch the 2019 World Justice Challenge awards and more videos from the World Justice Forum: Realizing Justice for All here.


Nigeria’s Debate on Capital Punishment: Sign Execution Warrants or Impose a Moratorium?


June 21, 2019—The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide recently updated Nigeria’s country report. Led by Research Associate Paulina Lucio Maymon, this update comprehensively captures the most recent developments in Nigeria’s use of capital punishment and marks a significant contribution to achieving transparency in death penalty laws and practices. As the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is an influencer in the whole region. It is estimated that by 2047, Nigeria will become the world’s third largest nation, surpassing the population of the United States.


The Death Penalty in Nigerian Law: The World’s Longest List of Capital Offenses

Nigeria is one of only ten countries in Africa to have carried out executions in the last ten years, leading to its classification by the UN as a retentionist death penalty state. No other country in the world punishes a longer list of offenses with death. Unlike other countries whose laws provide for numerous capital offenses, such as China or Iran, there has been no recent trend to restrict the scope of the death penalty in Nigeria. On the contrary, state legislatures regularly propose new death penalty laws for kidnapping, cultism, and other offenses. Most recently, Katsina State approved capital punishment for cattle rustling. By the end of 2018, Nigeria’s death row of at least 2,000 inmates was the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Amnesty International, at least 46 new death sentences were imposed in 2018 and 621 in 2017.

Our new death penalty report sheds light on Nigeria’s exceptionally complex legal system. Nigeria operates under a federal system comprised of three legal traditions: customary law, Shariah law, and English common law. It contains 37 jurisdictions (36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja), each of which passes its own penal laws defining crimes and penalties, in addition to federal criminal law. Twelve northern states have incorporated Shariah law into their criminal laws, introducing new capital offenses based on religious principles, particularly on issues of sexual morality such as same-sex relations, incest, and adultery.

Numerous crimes, including non-lethal crimes, are death-eligible in Nigeria. These include murder, armed robbery, rape, “cultism,” kidnapping, terrorism-related offenses, and treason. In the Northern Region, where Shariah law is applied, adultery, apostasy, incest, same-sex sexual relations, and witchcraft also carry the death penalty. Nigeria continues to impose mandatory death sentences, which leave judges with no discretion to impose a lesser sentence if the defendant is convicted. Mandatory death sentences violate international human rights law and are on the decline around the world.   

Unlike most jurisdictions, Nigerian law provides for more than one method of execution. Lethal injection, hanging, and shooting are the prescribed methods of execution, but lethal injection has not been used since its introduction in 2015 by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. In the Northern Region, Shariah law prescribes beheading, stoning, and crucifixion as methods of executions for certain offenses. Nigeria last executed three individuals by hanging for armed robbery in 2016. The executed men reportedly had appeals outstanding, and may therefore have been executed in violation of Nigerian and international law.

Some recent legislative reforms, however, offer signs of improved compliance with international human rights standards. Since the enactment of the 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act—a unified procedural law applicable in all federal courts with respect to federal criminal offenses—no person under the age of 18 may be sentenced to death. Previously, only children under age 17 were excluded from capital punishment, in defiance of international norms. The law also ensures that pregnant and nursing women cannot be executed in Nigeria. The Act also makes it mandatory for courts to assign a state-funded defense lawyer to indigent capital defendants at trial.


The Death Penalty in Practice

The gap between black letter laws and their practical implementation is conspicuous in Nigeria, as in many other death penalty states. Our research indicates that capital defendants rarely receive adequate legal representation due to lack of resources and systemic failures. Poor and indigent defendants struggle to access legal representation, particularly at the appellate level. In-country experts note that few attorneys specialize in criminal defense and that the government sometimes appoints inexperienced attorneys to represent those facing capital charges. Prisons and death rows are overcrowded in the entire country. Prison overcrowding is partly due to a dearth of lawyers for accused and convicted persons. As of May 2019, a total of 49,875 inmates, or 68% of the total inmate population, was awaiting trial.

Furthermore, human rights organizations have documented numerous allegations of torture or other ill-treatment in police custody. It is common for police officers to extract confessions during pre-trial detention when prisoners have no access to a lawyer. Suspects are often arrested arbitrarily and detained incommunicado. They are not informed of their rights, have no access to lawyers, and may be detained for years without trial. The majority of those awaiting trial come from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

At the same time, Nigeria has signaled potential for change through the implementation of positive legal reforms to improve fair trial procedures. For instance, in December 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2017 Anti-Torture Act, which criminalizes acts of torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. A torture conviction can carry up to 25 years in prison. The 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act introduced provisions on humane treatment during arrest and gave courts enhanced authority to suspend sentences, prescribe community service, and grant parole.


Signals for the Future

Since 2017, an internal debate has been taking place in Nigeria on how to reduce the death row population and address prison congestion: Should governors sign execution warrants or commute death sentences? While some governors have argued in favor of carrying out executions, Attorney General Abubakar Malami has asked state governors to act in line with section 212 of the Nigerian Constitution, which gives governors the power to review cases and grant mercy. In 2018, according to Amnesty International, 32 death row inmates had their sentences commuted and 16 were granted pardons.

On the international stage, Nigeria has been signaling a change in its attachment to capital punishment.  In 2007 and 2008, Nigeria voted against UNGA Moratorium resolutions, which call for the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Since then, however, including in last year’s moratorium vote, Nigeria has registered an Abstention vote on UNGA Moratorium resolutions. In its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council that the federal and state governments were negotiating the adoption of an official moratorium on capital punishment. The result of these negotiations remains to be seen.  


View the complete country update here.


-- Paulina Lucio Maymon, Research Associate


Cornell Center and Tanzanian Partners Host Workshop on Advocacy and Training on Mental Health

On 30-31 March, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and partners in Tanzania hosted a series of workshops and trainings to build capacity around the representation and treatment of people on death row in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar.

There are currently about 500 people on death row in Tanzania, including one confirmed death sentence in Zanzibar, and many more awaiting trial. Though no executions have been carried out in mainland Tanzania or Zanzibar since 1994, the death penalty is mandatory for homicide under the respective criminal codes and is handed down regularly.

On 30 March, lawyers from the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), East African Law Society (EALS), Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and others working pro bono convened in Stone Town, Zanzibar to workshop their oral arguments for the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Center is working together with these local partners to provide representation for death-sentenced Tanzanian prisoners who have brought their cases to the African Court.  The Court, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, has jurisdiction to hear claims regarding states’ violations of human rights treaties such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nearly all of the death row prisoners in Tanzania that have filed applications to the Court have done so without legal representation.  In response, the Center and its partners in Tanzania have formed a coalition to represent the most vulnerable prisoners.  The team is reviewing the prisoners’ case files, investigating their backgrounds, and supplementing their legal claims before the Court.

Each case has been taken by a pro bono by a lawyer based in Tanzania. These lawyers are responsible, in most cases, for making oral submissions to the Court in addition to the written applications. The workshop offered counsel an opportunity to discuss strategy for presenting oral arguments and allowed them to practice their arguments and receive feedback from colleagues. Nelson Ndeki of PALU and Hanningtone Amol of EALS gave presentations on the procedure for presenting oral arguments to the Court, and on best practices for strong oral advocacy. Oral arguments before the Court are expected to begin as soon as mid-2019.

On 31 March, 25 officers of the Zanzibar Prison Service, led by Prison Commissioner Ali Abdalla Ali, participated in a training on mental health that addressed best practices in identification, communication, and treatment of mentally ill and intellectually disabled prisoners. Commissioner Ali requested this training, as he is keen to ensure that those in his prison with mental illness are provided with the necessary treatment that they require. 

The training was opened with remarks from Commissioner Ali and Professor Sandra Babcock. Isaac Lema, a mental health clinician from Muhimbili University, presented on identification and treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Dr. Isaac Lema speaks at the Center's mental health training for prison officers.

Prison officers were extremely engaged, asking questions and providing examples of specific situations that they have faced with prisoners who are mentally ill. Multiple members of the mental health community in Zanzibar also participated in the training and were able to offer insights into culturally specific signals and treatments of illness, and to share their experiences of working with prisoners’ mental health.

Professor Babcock followed Mr. Lema’s presentation by providing a lawyer’s perspective on the issue. She highlighted the relevant United Nations Mandela Rules—the international standards for treatment of prisoners, including prisoners with mental illness or intellectual disability—noting in particular the detrimental impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ mental health. Lawyers from mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar were also present to share their experiences working with mentally ill prisoners.

The participants received copies of the relevant provisions of the Mandela Rules translated into Kiswahili, as well as summary documents that describe best practices in death penalty representation.

At the conclusion of the session, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner expressed their appreciation for the training and their hope that further trainings on these issues could take place in future.

Following the mental health training, a small group of lawyers from Zanzibar met with Center staff to discuss strategic litigation in Zanzibar. Zanzibar has its own independent constitution and criminal code that are distinct from those applied in mainland Tanzania. The meeting offered an opportunity for Center staff to learn more about the system and practice of law in Zanzibar and to discuss avenues for potential future collaboration with members of the Zanzibar bar.

The Tanzania page of the Death Penalty Database was fully updated on March 21, 2019, thanks in large part to the contributions of our partners in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar who provided invaluable information about their experiences working with prisoners on death row in Tanzania.


-- Katie Campbell, Expert Consultant on the death penalty in Africa 


Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Professor Sandra Babcock addresses the prison officers. 

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Mental health training for prison officers in Zanzibar. 


Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Group photo of training attendees. 


Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

L-R: Hanningtone Amol, Nora Mbagathi, Isaac Lema, Sandra Babcock, Katie Campbell, Zohra Ahmed.


Cornell Center Launches Alice Project: Research and Advocacy for Women Facing the Death Penalty

Alice Project Launch 1

John Carlson, Elizabeth Brundige, Delphine Lourtau, and Sandra Babcock at the launch of the Alice Project.


March 8, 2019—On International Women’s Day, it is only fitting that we report on the launch of the “Alice Project,” the first project dedicated to research, advocacy, and litigation on behalf of women facing the death penalty worldwide.  On February 13th, the Center hosted a panel of professors and advocates to commemorate the launch of the Alice Project and the release of the Center’s groundbreaking report, Judged for More than Her Crime, the first global survey of on women facing the death penalty worldwide. The panel featured Professor Sandra Babcock, Center Executive Director Delphine Lourtau, Professor Elizabeth Brundige, and attorney John Carlson. View the recorded panel at this link

Judged for More than Her Crime analyzes available data regarding women on death row and concludes that women are often sentenced to death in proceedings infected by gender bias. Specifically, the report catalogs a number of cases where decision-makers have condemned women to die after considering evidence of gender “transgressions:”  for example, that they neglected or harmed their children, had affairs outside of marriage, or failed to properly care for their parents.


“It’s impossible to overstate how important this new project is,” noted Professor Brundige.

“For the first time ever, it’s exploring the use of capital punishment against women, it’s telling the stories of women on death row.”


Alice Project Launch 2.png

 Alice Nungu, whose case inspired the Alice Project.


The Center’s research also demonstrates that capital prosecutions of women perpetuate multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination based on factors such as poverty, migrant worker status, marginalized racial or ethnic identities, and mental illness or intellectual disability. Many of the women in the countries surveyed have not only experienced discrimination based on one or more of these factors, but are also victims of gender-based violence. Many were convicted of killing men who wielded and abused their power over them. Yet it is all too rare for courts to consider gender-based violence as a mitigating factor at trial or at sentencing. 

In many countries, women are the fastest growing category of prisoners. The launch of the Alice Project is an effort to join academics, activists, and lawyers in fighting the uniquely gendered challenges facing women charged with capital offenses.


Alice Project Launch 3

Center Executive Director Delphine Lourtau presents the findings of the Center's report.


Professor Babcock explained in her remarks that The Alice Project was launched with four broad goals in mind: research, advocacy, training, and alliance-building. Each speaker on the panel at the launch shed light on the compelling reasons behind selecting these objectives and the ways in which the Project’s work has already begun to make a difference.

As Delphine Lourtau discussed at the launch event, it is currently impossible to get an accurate count of women on death row — our best estimate is 800 worldwide. Scholars and advocates continue to turn a blind eye to this population of prisoners, partially because women are sentenced to capital punishment at lower rates than men. The Alice Project aims to build upon the research in its first report by delving into country-specific and thematic data on women facing the death penalty.

The Project also aims to engage in direct advocacy for women on death row in national courts and international tribunals, said Professor Babcock, as well as conduct trainings for lawyers and judges around the world “to sensitize them to the specific kinds of issues that face women prosecuted for capital crimes.”

Alliance-building with gender rights groups is also a key focus for The Alice Project. Delphine Lourtau highlighted one heart-wrenching story of a female death row inmate in India who gave birth in prison.


On the story of a pregnant woman sentenced to capital punishment:

 “Her son stayed with her until he was six years old. At that point, prison regulations mandated that he leave the prison, and because the prisoner had no family willing to raise him he was placed in foster care. He has had severe problems adapting to life outside prison, and his mother has sunk into a deep depression.”


Panelist John Carlson, who represents Brenda Andrew, the only woman on Oklahoma’s death row, shared the story of his client and the gender bias she faced in sentencing. Painted by prosecutor as promiscuous, the jury was urged to sentence her to die for having “plotted with her lover” to kill her husband. The prosecutorial narrative was overtly gendered — calling on all of Brenda’s former partners to testify, displaying her underwear to the jury, and describing her sexual history in lurid detail.

These stories unveil the specifically gendered challenges women face when they are charged with capital offenses. They also illustrate how the goals of women’s rights advocates can and should align with the goals of those involved in death penalty work — and why The Alice Project is equipped to form those connections.

The launch of The Alice Project at Cornell University is just the beginning for the Center and its partners. Moving forward, The Alice Project will work towards expanding its efforts in each of its four focus areas — research, advocacy, training, and alliance-building — and continuing to tell the stories of the invisible population of women on death row.

View the recorded panel at this link



2019 Makwanyane Institute Call for Applications

The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide is pleased to accept applications for its third Makwanyane Institute, an intensive training workshop for capital defenders. The Makwanyane Institute will take place in Franschhoek, South Africa from July 28 to August 8, 2019. Named in honor of the South African Constitutional Court’s seminal decision abolishing the death penalty, the Makwanyane Institute will offer selected Fellows the opportunity to participate in specialized training, litigation support, and community-building. 

The Institute invites applications from criminal defense lawyers practicing in common law jurisdictions in Africa, including Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Applications are due March 18, 2019.

 The 2019 Makwanyane Fellows will travel from July 28 to August 8, 2019 to South Africa to be trained and mentored by a team of leading experts in death penalty representation. After training, the participants will join a growing network of Makwanyane Fellows throughout Africa who are devoted to innovative practices and challenges to the application of the death penalty. Fellows are expected to organize follow-up trainings in their country of practice to spread the lessons they learn at the Institute to their colleagues and beyond.

 Airfare, accommodation, and meals are provided for Makwanyane Fellows.

The application form and more information is here:




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Les sentiers de l’abolition et les erreurs judiciaires : publication de la version française de deux études sur les pratiques des États face à la peine de mort

Le Centre Cornell sur la peine de mort (Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide) est heureux d’annoncer la publication des versions françaises de deux rapports qui analysent de manière comparative les différentes approches des États face à la peine de mort et contribuent ainsi à étayer le débat sur son abolition.

Le premier rapport, « Peine de mort : les sentiers de l’abolition », examine les processus historiques et politiques ayant mené dans 14 juridictions à l’abolition en droit de la peine de mort. Ce rapport fait suite à l’étude « Comment les États abolissent la peine de mort » menée en 2013 dans 13 pays par la Commission internationale contre la peine de mort.

Les pays sélectionnés dans le présent rapport couvrent chaque continent ainsi que différentes époques et représentent diverses traditions juridiques et culturelles, systèmes politiques et conditions socio-économiques. Cette étude expose les différentes méthodes employées pour parvenir à l’abolition et le rôle des acteurs étatiques et non-étatiques, de la société civile, des organisations internationales et de l’opinion publique, afin d’en dégager des leçons utiles pour les acteurs d’aujourd’hui engagés sur la thématique de la peine de mort.

Les débats nationaux sur les mérites et défauts de la peine de mort gravitent souvent autour de problématiques similaires : la question de la dissuasion, le risque d’exécuter une personne innocente et la nécessité de se conformer aux normes internationales relatives aux droits de l’Homme. L’abolition devient souvent possible lorsque les termes du débat sont altérés par de nouvelles évolutions (par exemple un cas de personne innocentée très médiatisé) et lorsque les dirigeants politiques saisissent ces opportunités pour avancer sur le front de l’abolition. Dans certains pays, l’abolition a été le résultat d’amendements législatifs, de réformes constitutionnelles, de décrets exécutifs et de la ratification de traités internationaux. Dans certains cas, la peine de mort a été abolie seulement quelques mois après la dernière exécution ; dans d’autres, il a fallu attendre des décennies.

Il ressort de ce rapport que les processus d’abolition sont complexes et comprennent une multitude d’aspects politiques, historiques et sociaux. La relation de chaque État à la peine de mort reflète certes son histoire et les circonstances qui lui sont propres, cependant, des exemples de pays qui ont aboli peuvent être trouvés dans tous les continents, systèmes juridiques, traditions et religions du monde.

Le deuxième rapport, « Déni de justice : une étude mondiale sur les erreurs judiciaires dans les couloirs de la mort », constitue une première tentative d’identification des facteurs systémiques qui accroissent la probabilité qu’un innocent soit condamné à mort. Ce rapport met en lumière des affaires dans lesquels des innocents ont été condamnés à mort dans six pays de régions, cultures et systèmes politiques différents : le Cameroun, l’Indonésie, la Jordanie, le Malawi, le Nigéria, et le Pakistan. Pour chaque pays étudié, une analyse des défaillances du système de justice pénale ainsi qu’une étude de cas d’erreur judiciaire (un cas où les preuves disponibles indiquent que le prévenu est innocent du crime pour lequel il a été condamné) ont été réalisées. Les cas présentés illustrent le fossé problématique entre les garanties constitutionnelles et législatives en faveur des prévenus encourant la peine capitale et l’incapacité des États à mettre en œuvre ces garde-fous dans la pratique.

Ainsi en 2016, au moins 60 détenus ont été innocentés après avoir été condamnés à mort. Ce nombre représente toutefois une infime fraction des personnes actuellement dans les couloirs de la mort pour un crime qu’elles n’ont pas commis. Peu de détenus innocents sont à même de s’adresser aux tribunaux, faute d’avocats ou à cause de l’absence de mécanismes procéduraux leur permettant de présenter de nouvelles preuves attestant de leur innocence. Par conséquent, les erreurs judiciaires sont rarement signalées.

Les expériences de ces hommes et femmes privés de leur liberté et de leur droit à la vie témoignent que chaque pays qui continue d’appliquer la peine de mort court le risque d’exécuter une personne innocente et aucun système de justice pénale n’est exempt d’erreur, quel que soit le système, la région ou le régime politique. Face à ce constat, le rapport émet des recommandations de réformes afin de réduire le risque d’erreurs judiciaires et de condamnations à mort injustifiées. Cependant aucun système, aussi performant soit-il, ne peut éliminer le risque d’erreur judiciaire. Aussi longtemps que les États maintiendront la peine de mort, des innocents continueront à en payer le prix, au prix de leur vie.

-- Anna Kiefer


Undaunted by Rising Anti-Internationalist Phobia, Death Penalty Abolitionists Persevere

October 10, 2018

It is a trying time to be an internationally-minded human rights advocate. Just this week, the United States announced its withdrawal from two international treaties—including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations—in response to litigation before the International Court of Justice. Denouncing the ICJ as “politicized and ineffective,” the United States stated it would be reviewing all treaties granting the ICJ binding jurisdiction to resolve treaty disputes. The United States seems to have forgotten that it invoked the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations when it sued Iran over the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. In that case, the ICJ handed the United States a victory—but our current government officials have short memories. They petulantly object to every legal holding that criticizes, even in the most measured terms, actions taken by the United States. The Trump Administration’s actions shame the memory of those—including U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who sought a post-war international order that would use law, rather than brute force, to resolve disputes.

But amidst this distressing news, we take heart from the implacable march toward abolition of the death penalty around the world. The most extraordinary news today came from the government of Malaysia, which announced that it would abolish the death penalty, “full stop.” Malaysia has suspended all executions and intends to move swiftly to pass appropriate legislation. The import of this announcement cannot be overstated. Malaysia has been a staunch supporter of the death penalty in a region that has long resisted international trends toward abolition. It has the potential to sway other countries in the region, such as Singapore and Indonesia, who remain in the ranks of retentionists.

Even in countries that seem far from abolition, abolitionists continue their fight to save the lives of those on death row. Our colleagues at Justice Project Pakistan are today screening a reenactment of twenty-four hours in the life of a condemned man in solitary confinement on death row. We are live-streaming this event at Cornell, where we express solidarity with JPP to expose injustice in the application of the death penalty there.

Our colleagues at Penal Reform International have worked with us to research and expose the plight of women on death row around the world, and these efforts promise to bring a new legion of feminist activists into the struggle to abolish the death penalty. (For World Day, we produced a factsheet illuminating prison conditions for women on death row, which is based on our research published in “Judged for More than Her Crime: a Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty.” This research was also cited by ten UN Special Rapporteurs in a statement issued today.) Reprieve continues its efforts to vindicate the rights of persons facing the death penalty in all corners of the world, and we are grateful for their support of our work on behalf of death-sentenced prisoners in Malawi and Tanzania. The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, under the leadership of Aurélie Plaçais, has inspired activists around the world to convene workshops, hold press conferences, and educate the public about capital punishment. A shout out as well to our friends at Project 39A in Delhi, LBH Masyarakat in Indonesia, the Legal Defense and Assistance Project in Nigeria, and the Death Penalty Project in London. And our Makwanyane Institute Fellows across Africa are convening trainings to equip lawyers to effectively defend men and women who are facing capital charges. As I write, a group of Nigerian lawyers have convened in Lagos to attend the first Nigerian iteration of the Makwanyane Institute under the leadership of former Makwanyane fellow Angela Uwandu.

In our current political environment in the United States, it seems appropriate to note that many abolitionist organizations are led by women—including Reprieve, JPP, the World Coalition—and of course, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. As women, we amplify the voices of our colleagues and work with young advocates to train the next generation of lawyers, scholars, and activists. Today, we send strength to all of those who continue this difficult fight around the world, and to the prisoners who remain under sentence of death.

--Sandra Babcock


New Cornell Study Documents Injustice and Discrimination Against Women Facing the Death Penalty Around the World

Geneva, Switzerland; September 18, 2018): Today the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide (CDPW) launched its new report, Judged for More Than Her Crime: A Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. This groundbreaking study is the first to examine how and when women receive death sentences and the conditions under which they are detained on death row. The report documents widespread discriminatory practices in the capital prosecution and detention of women on death row, with particular focus on India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malawi, Pakistan, and the United States.

Although there are at least 500 women on death row worldwide, they have to date remained a largely invisible population, impeding efforts to understand patterns in capital sentencing and the operation of gender bias in the criminal legal system.  Most activists have assumed that women benefit from leniency in sentencing, but the authors conclude that women who violate gender stereotypes—for example, women who have multiple lovers, or who kill children—are more likely to receive death sentences. One criminal lawyer from Iran noted that courts trying women in capital cases judge their whole lives, not just the offense for which they are charged.  

Moreover, prosecutors and courts have cast women as “femme fatales” or “morally impure” to justify capital sentences. In the case of Brenda Andrews, sentenced to death in the United States, the jury heard details of her alleged extramarital affairs from years before the offense, and the prosecution showed her underwear before the jury during her capital prosecution—allegedly to show that she was not behaving as a grieving widow after the offense.  As an appellate judge noted, Brenda was put on trial not only for murder but for being “a bad wife, a bad mother, and a bad woman.”

Female survivors of domestic abuse are particularly vulnerable to unfair sentencing practices in countries that retain the death penalty. Many women on death row have been affected by gender-based violence and socio-economic deprivation. The report describes several cases of women sentenced to death for crimes committed while they were minors, often against older husbands to whom they had been forcibly married as children. These factors receive little to no attention from lawyers and courts. In Malawi, Alice Nungu received a death sentence for killing her husband after he attacked her and her elderly mother in a drunken rage.  The court never heard or considered evidence of her abuse in sentencing her to death.

Speaking from Ithaca, New York, Faculty Director Sandra Babcock said, “Hundreds of women have been unjustly sentenced to death around the world, yet their cases have been neglected by activists, scholars, and the international community. We hope that this report will draw attention to their plight and inspire courts and policymakers to modify their sentencing practices.”

Click image for full report:

Women on DR Cover