Redemption on Uganda's Death Row
Uganda is one of the few countries in the world to recognise the psychological impact of extended death row incarceration prior to execution. In the landmark decision Susan Kigula & 417 others v Attorney General in 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the decision to limit the delay between the death sentence being affirmed by the highest court and execution to three years. If a prisoner has not been hanged within that time frame, the subsequent execution is invalid, and their sentence is commuted to life. The court stated that the extended period of incarceration prior to execution amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
The lead applicant on the case was Susan Kigula, a young woman waiting to die for the murder of her husband. She had been convicted in 2002, and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty, meaning that no mitigating circumstances could be presented in her defence, nor a lighter sentenced considered. She, and 416 of her fellow condemned challenged the mandatory nature of their sentence, the use of hanging as the method of execution, the use of the death penalty, and the delay. They won on the first and last point, and the Supreme Court upheld the decision, meaning hundreds of death row inmates were eligible for sentencing hearings, where they could present mitigation and the judge had the discretion to decide their sentence. In 2011, Susan was resentenced to 20 years imprisonment; in 2016, she was released.
While in prison, Susan had begun a correspondence course with the University of London, to study law. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of law in 2018, and now works as an human rights activist.
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