Malawi Debates Death Penalty to Halt Attacks on Albinos

It has been 24 years since the Malawi government executed a convicted murderer, but President Peter Mutharika has called for discussions on implementing the death penalty to deter attacks on people with albinism.

False beliefs that the body parts of albinos bring good fortune have led to a series of attacks on them in Malawi. Since 2013, at least 20 albinos have been killed and 130 injured in the southern African country.

Most recently, police officers, a medical officer and a Roman Catholic priest were charged in last month’s slaying of MacDonald Masambuka, 22, whose body was found dismembered.

Mutharika wants the nation to debate imposing the death penalty for murder.

While the country has a death penalty law on the books, it hasn’t been used since the change to a democratic government in 1994. Instead, convicted murderers remain in prison for life, even if they are given a death sentence.

That is cruel because there is no pardon or commutation of the sentence, says Imran Shareef of the Chancellor College of the University of Malawi. It “means the person still lives with psychological torture in his mind,” Shareef said. “What if the incoming president will be willing to sign [a death warrant]?”

Shareef believes the death penalty is the best way to deter potential murderers.

Ahmed Chiyenda agrees.

“The perpetrators should be taken to an open ground, and they should be executed there while the public is watching,” he said. “It will be dehumanizing at that moment, yes, but they [other people] will also stop thinking of killing each other like what people are doing at the moment.”

The United Nations, however, encourages Malawi to take other approaches to end attacks on albinos.

Maria Jose Torres, the U.N. Development Program’s representative in Malawi, says the U.N. opposes the death penalty.

“First, because it undermines human dignity,” she said. “Second, it is because it is irreversible, meaning that innocent persons can be executed but if they prove she or he was innocent, it will never be reversible. And, thirdly, there is no conclusive evidence that death penalty is the deterrent to future perpetrators.”

Instead, Torres said, Malawi should strengthen its justice system to ensure that killers receive tough sentences.

What’s more, the death penalty isn’t necessarily popular nationwide. A study by the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute, or PASI, and the Cornell Law School in the United States found that 94 percent of traditional leaders in Malawi oppose capital punishment.

There are several reasons why, says Clifford Msiska, PASI’s national director.

“For instance, innocent people have been killed, and it would not give people a chance to reform,” he said. “And people who have been killed cannot contribute to the society, and the trauma that is associated with death penalty.”

Hetherwick Ntaba, who leads the government’s technical committee tasked with ending attacks on people with albinism, said the topic is a contentious one.

“You know, there are some [people in the] international community, some people of our own, saying ‘No, no, no, we should not implement that.’ So it’s not that simple, it’s not that straightforward,” he said.

And while it’s debated, Ntaba says the government will continue to look for new approaches to end attacks on albinos.

Source: Voice of America