To hang or not? We must make up our mind

The reigning Miss Lang’ata, Ruth Kamande was recently sentenced to death for the murder of her boyfriend.

It transpired that the incident in which the young man met his death caught the attention of the nation as she had stabbed him 22 times.

The day she was sentenced to death, I remember friends at a social joint remarking about her beauty, and wondering what would happen if she was set free and were to date again. Was there a chance the crime could recur?

Given the manner in which the group ogled at her pictures, it was unanimous that her stunning beauty would no doubt soften hearts, enough to overlook her crime, commonly referred to as a crime of passion.

Of course, it is not easy to agree on whether her deed was justifiable, or indeed necessary, because the issues are vexed and not easy to render for pontification or rationalisation. Now that no one has been hanged in this country for over 20 years, it is baffling that our statutes still contain the death sentence. Of course, there is a good chance the threat of a death sentence has served as deterrent for crime to some degree, but that is another point altogether.

The question I would like answered is why we have not taken the trouble to amend our laws so that if in practice we do not hang anyone, then we do not need to have the death decree in our Penal Code, or is it the Criminal Procedure Code.

I am aware that the the Law Reform Commission exists for just such purpose, perhaps in concert with other outfits.

The law reform body was established to keep under review all the laws of Kenya to ensure systematic development and reform of the same laws.

It is supposed to initiate or receive and consider any proposals for the reform of the law that may be made or referred to it, as well as formulate, through draft Bills or otherwise, any proposals for reform.

Ideally, it should examine particular branches of the law and formulate proposals for their reform; and prepare comprehensive programmes for the consolidation of the law.

So, why won’t Parliament, which makes laws, collaborate with the law reform body to do away with the death sentence from the statutes?

Human rights activists have proffered all manner of arguments, whose import is that  nobody, not even governments have a right to take away life, and that such an act is a serious violation of human rights.

The other side of the coin maintains that those who have committed serious crimes, capital ones at that, lose all claim to the dignity that the sancity of life confers on individuals.

In between, a healthy balance must be sought so that we send home the message that crime does not pay, even as we decide whether we want to kill capital convicts or just jail them for life.

Of course, it is inhuman to keep in gaol the odd 4,500 death row convicts who must suffer the mental anguish of knowing they will not be killed but will also never leave jail.

If we have sentenced criminals to death by hanging, let us hang them. If not, let the law be clear that we have done away with the hangman’s noose. Period.

—The writer is the Special Projects and Assignments Editor, People Daily

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