- The capital punishment will not be abolished in Benin, at least not for the moment. This was decided by the government of Benín and a large number of parliamentarians this week, holding that it was necessary to stick to this much criticised punishment to avoid that the country becomes a refuge for international criminals. Human rights groups already have denounced the government's decision and demand an abolition of this cruel punishment.
As the Beninese government is in the process of revising the national Penal Code, Justice Minister Abraham Zinzindohoué on Monday had an announcement to make. "Capital punishment must remain a part of the Penal Code, but only with the purpose of scaring off criminals. If not, our justice system would stand without sufficient means," Minister Zinzindohoué stated.
The announcement, the Minister made clear, had not been an easy decision. Mr Zinzindohoué recalled that Benin is a democratic country that should be part of international dynamics towards the abolition of the death penalty. Since Benin gained its independence in 1960, nevertheless, the capital punishment has been applied in only three occasions, the last case going back to 1984.
The anti-death penalty movement has indeed been rather successful in West Africa lately, making the decision in Benin - one of the region's most democratic countries - rather surprising. The last victory was in December 2004, as Senegal decided to abolish the capital punishment. In Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade had presented a bill to abolish the cruel punishment, which was later adopted unanimously by the government and by an overwhelming majority in the Dakar parliament. Senegal had not carried out executions since 1967.
Before Senegal, only a few West African countries had outlawed death sentences. These are Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d'Ivoire. In the rest of region, the death penalty still is legal, while executions are almost never carried out. Several West African countries however consider following the lead of Senegal. Important steps have been taken by Sierra Leone and Nigeria towards the abolition in the past years.
Also in Benin, the question has been raised at several occasions. The debate around abolishing the capital punishment in the country recently has been the main focus of human rights activists and organisations - who mostly find very favourable conditions in Benin. The Benin offices of Amnesty International, which is a staunch opponent of death sentences worldwide, yesterday filed its disappointment with he Minister's announcement.
Amnesty Benin called on national authorities to put an end to the "cruel and inhumane practice," in a press released signed by its President, Yves Sylvestre Bankolé, in Cotonou. The human rights group nevertheless said it was optimistic, because it had been demonstrated that the debate around the issue had been painful to both government and members of the Beninese parliament.
According to Amnesty Benin, "the capital punishment violates the right to the life, because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises each individual the right to life, and article 4 of the African Declaration of Human and Peoples' Rights stipulates that the human person is inviolable." Every human being has "the right to respect for his life and for the physical and moral integrity of his person," the group recalled.
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