Programme Coordinator, HURI LAWS, Collins Okeke

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Human Rights Law Service of the Olisa Agbakoba law firm have made a strong case for a worldwide moratorium on death penalty during this period of global pandemic.

The duo invoked a popular saying by the President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Kevin Miguel Rivera Medina,which says: “When the whole world is trying hard to save lives from COVID-19, an execution by the state is contradictory and perverse”.

In a statement signed by the Human Rights Law Service HURI Laws Programmes Coordinator,–Collins Okeke Thursday, the duo called on all countries that still apply the death penalty to impose a moratorium on death sentences and executions on the grounds that fair trials and fair legal representation are impossible to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement reads in part: “While some countries now sentence people to death by videoconference, as in Nigeria or Singapore, in others the prison restrictions have seriously infringed the rights of those awaiting execution because courts are stalled and law firms are closed. Options to help people whose lives are at risk are decreasing.”

“The current global health crisis has demonstrated how profoundly unfair the system has been on people already weakened by their heavy sentence. A lack of visits to people on death row and the inability for lawyers and judges to work normally are all unfair consequences of an ill-equipped system.” By comparison, those countries that have had the courage during this time to take a step, big or small, towards abolition, shows that our world is made better without this archaic, cruel and degrading practice of capital punishment. For example, Cameroon, Kenya, Morocco and Zimbabwe have granted commutations, which also extended to those sentenced to death”.

It was gathered that the civil society across the world will mobilise to celebrate the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10, 2020, which will focus on the right to legal representation and highlight the role of lawyers in protecting those facing the death penalty.

The duo believes that this right has been fractured by the health crisis occasioned by the outbreak of the coronavirus, since lawyers are less able to assist their clients who are also weakened economically.