Skip to main content arrow-down arrow-tail-right arrow-triangle-right calendar camera compass download email eye facebook flag mail phone pin play send square-right tag twitter youtube badge message

Zimbabwe Constitutional Court Declares Life Without Parole To Be Cruel and Inhuman

  • News
  • 13 Sep 2016

In a unanimous decision, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court declared life sentences without the possibility of parole to be both cruel and inhuman punishment and a violation of human dignity.

In the opinion of all eight judges, the “unavoidable cruelty of incarceration”, without a prisoner being able to believe in the realistic possibility of his eventual liberation, would “unnecessarily aggravate and dehumanise the delivery of corrective justice”.

This decision adds to the increasing number of jurisdictions worldwide in which sentences that are irreducible, such as being passed for natural life or without parole, have been found to offend fundamental human rights.

Obediah Makoni, who has spent more than 20 years behind bars after being sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of only 19, recently challenged the country’s parole regime which excluded all life sentence prisoners, meaning that under his sentence he had no real prospect of ever being released.

In a landmark decision on 13 July 2016 the constitutional court of Zimbabwe ruled that periodic reviews of detention and rehabilitation programs with a view to re-integration into society must be provided equally to prisoners serving indefinite terms of imprisonment. It held that any imprisonment that continued unreasonably – that is beyond the duration of detention necessary to fulfil the aims of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation – was liable to be quashed by the courts. Consequently, the parole regime must be interpreted as applying to all long-term prisoners and not just those with fixed term sentences.

The Court ordered that a full inquiry and report by the Parole Board be prepared to determine Mr Makoni’s aptitude and suitability for parole. It would then be a matter for the Parole Board to make such recommendations as it may deem fit and proper, and thereafter for the Minister of Justice to decide whether or not to release Mr Makoni on licence.

Related articles:

International human rights advocacy and the abolition of irreducible life imprisonment in Zimbabwe, AfricLaw, Andrew Novak, 13th September 2016

Notes to editors

The Death Penalty Project assisted local lawyer Tendai Biti, who was instructed by Zimbabwe NGO Veritas, in this case. Joseph Middleton of Doughty Street Chambers and Amanda Clift-Matthews (In-house counsel) were instructed by The Death Penalty Project and advised on a pro bono basis.

Latest news

The Conversation: 'Why has Kenya not abolished the death penalty? Habit and inertia'
Read More
Political and legal issues: reflections on our report launch in Kenya, Nairobi
Read More
Efforts towards Abolition: Our recent trip to Ghana
Read More
There is strong evidence Kenyans want abolition of death penalty
Read More
New research examines Kenyan attitudes towards the death penalty
Read More
As Africa rapidly turns away from capital punishment, is it time for Kenya to abolish this relic of a colonial past?
Read More
Challenge to the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago dismissed by UK Privy Council
Read More
Lescene Edwards's murder conviction overturned by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
Read More
A punishment reserved for the poor and marginalised? New study shines light on the profiles and experiences of death row inmates in Bangladesh
Read More
The Death Penalty Project pays tribute to Professor Nigel Eastman
Read More
Taiwan’s legislators hold the key to abolition as new research reveals the majority favour an end to capital punishment
Read More
The Death Penalty Project pays tribute to Nancy Anderson
Read More
UK’s Privy Council set to hear important challenge to constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago
Read More
Indonesians’ support for the death penalty declines with more rigorous survey methods
Read More
The Kalisher Trust Legal Internship - Applications now open
Read More
World Day Against the Death Penalty - Women and the Death Penalty
Read More
People may change mind about death penalty, but government?
Read More
Dismantle the gallows! Sierra Leone becomes the latest country to abolish the death penalty
Read More

Stay up-to-date with our work