‘Death penalty or right to life’ in Zambia


Photo credit: The Nation

‘Death penalty or right to life’

Since the year 2000, the mandatory death penalty has taken over the scope of national debate in Zambia. This topic has been one that provokes the intellect and has led anyone attempting to conclude it in a conundrum. This is because it seems to invade morality whenever an argument is optimistic about it even though it radically depends on what one considers to be morally right or wrong. Nevertheless, arguments against it have been obtained on grounds that death by hanging is equivalent to inhuman and degrading treatment, contrary to Article 15 of the Constitution[1]. However, the Supreme Court has always depended on Article 12(1) of the Constitution in holding capital punishment to remain Constitutional[2]. Although capital punishment is constitutional and strengthens the Zambian criminal justice system, it has to a larger extent received a negative response from the Christian community, Civil Society Organizations and the general public. Therefore, this article seeks to present an analysis and a variety of arguments put forward towards the mandatory death penalty.

As capital punishment continues to be declared unconstitutional by some African Countries, Zambian Judges continue to put criminals convicted of murder, aggravated robbery using a firearm and treason on death row. This is subject to Section 201(1) (a), section 294 and section 43 of the penal code respectively[3] and is evident in the case of Lubuto v Zambia[4] where the appellant was convicted of aggravated robbery using a firearm earning him the death penalty[5]. However, implementation of this kind of punishment has been slow due to the uncertainty of Political Scientists, Presidents, Lawyers and Judges among others on capital punishment. The last executions were carried out in 1997 when President Chiluba F.T.J authorized eight executions[6]. Till today, convicted criminals put on death row are not yet executed. And, many of them have been put off death row and commuted to life imprisonment, 600 in 1997 by President Chiluba F.T.J[7], 200 in 2004 by President Mwanawasa L.P[8] and 245 by former President Lungu E.C[9] among other inmates. The delay in executing death row convicts has been due to negative responses that the mandatory death penalty has received across the country. And, in the case of Penry v Lynaugh[10], it is evident that the ethical dilemmas faced by Judges whenever one is proven guilty of a crime amounting to a death sentence have also contributed to the delay in carrying out executions. Therefore, from Statutory Law, it is evident that Zambian Law is in support of the death penalty. This may be because capital punishment deters capital crime thus, safeguarding human life and promoting its value.

On the contrary, the death penalty raises the question of ‘who has the authority to take away another individual’s life in the Christian community?’ And, arguments have been put forward that killing is in and of itself wrong whether or not on legal grounds. This, according to the Christian Community is in line with Exodus 20:13 which states that ‘thou shall not kill’[11] and the preamble of the Constitution stating that Zambia is a Christian nation. For example, it is argued that whether or not capital punishment is in effect, people will still commit murder, treason and aggravated robbery so, what’s the point of taking away the life of a criminal when it does not in any way make the world a better place to live in. Moreover, following the enactment of the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1 of the laws is Zambia, the prisons service was changed into a correctional service to shift from penal treatment of prisoners to rehabilitation and reformation[12]. Therefore, the Christian community concludes that no one ought to take away the life of another because none is the author of life but God.

Additionally, unlike the Christian community, human rights activists, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have argued against the mandatory death penalty on grounds that everyone must enjoy the right to life, for it is of intrinsic value[13]. This is because every individual is entitled to human rights and the right to life is one that the state cannot take away from the individual; thus, capital punishment violates such a right. It is on these grounds that organizations such as Amnesty International have concluded that the death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence and not a solution to it[14].  Furthermore, the Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) and the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) have argued that the death penalty promotes justice systems that violate the rule of law and impedes the achievement of sustainable development goal (SDG) 16, which aims to endorse strong institutions, justice and peace[15]. Zambia may not abolish the mandatory death penalty because it has not yet ratified the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which provides for the abolition of the death penalty[16]. However, Human Rights Activists have continued without tire to advocate for its abolishment.

To sum it all up, it is highly affirmative that capital punishment is as good as killing in the case of murder. The death sentence, however, should be a fundamental punishment in Zambian criminal law because it reinforces the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, seeing that the death penalty in Zambia is wholly in statute and partially in practice, many have been prompted to advocate for its abolition. Moreover, no Zambian President has in their period of tenure authorized sanctions to execute inmates on death row except President Chiluba F.T.J. This largely shows how the Zambian community is against it. Therefore, as it remains a conundrum, the question of whether or not to abolish capital punishment has been left to the Zambian citizenry to decide.








Online articles

Death Penalty Dilemma, ‘Death Penalty Information Centre’ (2021) <>>>>> accessed 1st March 2022

Mulambo Mwaba, ‘The Death Penalty Lives on Zambia despite the Country’s Constitutional Reform’ (2015) Oxford Human Rights Hub< > accessed 3rd March 2022

Ng’andu Fredrick, ‘The death penalty in Zambia’ (2015) <  > accessed 3rd March 2022


The Constitution (Amendment) Act No.2 of 2016

The Penal Code, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia


Lubuto v Zambia Commission No. 390/1990.UN.Doc. CCPR/C55/zd/390/Rev/1. (1995).


Kaaba O’Brien, ‘Constitutionality of Criminal Procedure and Prison law in Africa: Zambia’ (2016)

[1] The Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016.

[2] ibid

[3] The penal code Act, Chapter 87 of the laws of Zambia.

[4] Lubuto v Zambia Commission No. 390/1990.UN.Doc. CCPR/C55/zd/390/Rev/1. (1995).

[5] Kaaba O’Brien, ‘Constitutionality of Criminal Procedure and Prison Law in Africa: Zambia’.

[6] Rickard C. (2021) ‘Time to end mandatory death penalty in Zambia’, AfricaLii


[8] The new humanitarian, (may 11, 2004) ‘Fight to abolish the death penalty’, 

[9] Kaumba M. (2021) ‘Human Rights Commission Extols Lungu for communal of 246 Death Row Inmates’ 

[10] Penry v. Lynaugh, Director, Texas Department of corrections

[11] Exodus 20:13, The Holy Bible

[12] Human Rights Commission, NHRI Submission for Zambia’s third universal periodic review- November 2017

[13] Amnesty International, ‘Death Penalty’, We know that together we can end death penalty everywhere

[14] Ibid

[15] Parliamentarians for Global Action(2021) ‘Campaign for the abolition of the death penalty (ADP)’

[16] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, vol.999, 1-14668

1 comment

  1. Very precise and well articulated