International human rights advocacy and the abolition of irreducible life imprisonment in Zimbabwe

Andrew NovakAuthor: Andrew Novak
Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University

On July 13, 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe (ConCourt) found that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional as it violated the rights to equal protection and human dignity and the prohibition on cruel and degrading punishment.  The decision, Makoni v. Commissioner of Prisons, is undoubtedly a victory for human rights, due to the dismal state of prison conditions in Zimbabwe and the emotional and psychological harm caused by indeterminate sentences. In its decision, the ConCourt cited a wide range of jurisprudence from foreign and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, South African Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Namibia, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London to discern a global trend toward rehabilitative criminal sentences.  Many of these foreign and international legal sources were brought to the ConCourt’s attention by transnational human rights lawyers themselves in their Heads of Argument, underscoring the important role that advocates play in the diffusion of international human rights norms.

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Regulating the sentencing of young offenders convicted of serious crimes: Case law from South Africa and the United States of America

Zita HansunguleAuthor:  Zita Hansungule
Assistant Project Co-ordinator, Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria

Is it constitutional to sentence young offenders according to laws providing for mandatory or minimum sentences? This was the central question raised and answered in two important judgments from the highest courts in South Africa and the United States of America.

On 25 June 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the sentencing of youths convicted of murder to mandatory life terms (without the possibility of parole) was in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court had before it two cases involving men who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when they were both 14 years old. In both cases the courts sentencing them did not have the discretion in law to impose different punishments, as State law directed they “die in prison”.

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