By Francis Ssuubi
“I am in the last court. If you don’t hear from me again, know that I am dead, Be firm. I love you so much.” Those were the last words Mariam heard from her husband, Andrew, 39 years, on June 23 2014. He has left behind a daughter 16 years and a widow to fend for themselves now that he is gone.
Two Ugandans Omar Ddamulira and Andrew Ngobi – were executed in China’s Guandong Province on May 21, 2014 and on June 24, 2014 respectively. Both young men were part of 23 other Ugandans convicted of drug trafficking related offences and sentenced to death in China.
I watched on Ugandan TV news, and I saw Andrew’s daughter aged 16 years cry and she said that the last time she talked to him, he promised he would come back, she said she was not sure of the future now that her father’s no more. It was heart breaking seeing the relatives cry and the wife looked so devastated.
The trauma experienced by the families of the two Ugandan men who were executed tells a lot. Firstly we need to know that,a death sentence affects innocent people and this is the family particularly the children. The dead prisoner will never live to tell the pain , but his children will live with the grief and all the pain associated with it all the days of their lives.
The death sentence affects more people; it seems everyone gets traumatized when an execution takes place, the entire community grieves. The day the story ran in the papers, I ran into a man in a taxi, who told me that, he knew Andrew and that on that day he heard the news, he developed diarrhoea and could not eat anything the whole day and he struggled with how to deal with the loss because Andrew was his childhood friend.
Children pay more when their parents are on death or are executed
The loss of a parent is very traumatizing to children, but as opposed to a natural death, death caused by the state when it executes a parent on death row, creates confusion and extreme fear to the child. In cases where one of the parents on death row killed his/her spouse, then when the parent is executed, the child will have lost both parents. The children will live with many questions unanswered.
In a country like Uganda, the child becomes vulnerable to child sacrifice, child labour, they are stunted in their growth ,children live in deplorable conditions characterized by disease, hunger ,poor beddings, the girls face early marriages, and defilement .Children whose parents are on death row or executed are likely to get mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorders .
Working to help children with a parent on death row at Wells of Hope has brought us to observe that these children have night mares, they have low self-esteem, they are sad, Children become angry, and lose hope for the future. They are bombarded by a range of problems such as loss of concentration in school and many dropout of school, they undergo loneliness and confusion. They are ostracized by the community and face a lot of stigma.
Children pay more when their parents are executed ,yet These children are innocent, so since it’s the wrong people who serve the death sentence , it makes no sense to punish someone by death!
Violation of Human Rights
In its resolution 22/11 , the United Nation Human Rights Council expressed deep concern in regard to the negative impact of a parent’s death sentence and his or her execution on his or her children, and urged States to provide those children with the protection and assistance they may require; But in all states that maintain the death penalty ,this resolution is disregarded.
The death penalty tramples on the full enjoyment of a range of rights and obligations by the child as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In particular the rights these children don’t enjoy include, the obligation to ensure that the best interest of the child are duly taken into account(art 3) the right to special protection and assistance by the state when a child is deprived of his or her family environment(art 20) as will be the case of Omar and Andrew’s children.
Children of parents sentenced to death face discrimination, especially when the offence is made public. As I write I cannot stop thinking of what Andrew’s daughter is going through since the media has been awash with her father’s death .She even appeared on Television, so at her school she is likely to face a lot of stigma and ostracism.
There is evidence that the death penalty disproportionately affects the poor and certain racial and religious minorities. Thus a child could suffer discrimination on grounds of economic condition, as well as the stigma due to the deaths sentence faced by their parents. While appearing on TV Andrew’s daughter who looked extremely terrified said she was not sure she would continue with her studies since her father used to provide her school fees and money for all her requirements, unless a good Samaritan intervenes, she is bound to suffer child poverty and will eventually drop out of school.
In most cases Inmates on death row are not informed of their forth coming executions, nor are their families and lawyers and bodies of the executed are not returned to the families. The press reports say that neither the Ugandan nor the Chinese government was committed to giving the ashes of the cremated bodies of Omar and Andrew to their respective families. In Uganda if an execution was to take place,the bodies would be buried in Unmarked graves. In that regard , it should be known that failure to inform family members of upcoming executions and to return bodies of the executed to the families is incompatible with article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and constitutes inhumane or cruel treatment. Such secrecy also violates the right of the child to information regarding sentencing of their parents under article 9 of the UNCRC.
Abolish Death Penalty;
At the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on the Rights of Children of parents on Death row which took place on 11th September 2013,in Geneva , Where I was a panelist, panelists and several delegations emphasized that the best option in dealing with the impact of the death penalty on children would be to abolish the death penalty, however, if that cannot happen immediately, it is imperative to develop measures to minimize the harm suffered by children of parents sentenced to death. But almost no country has taken steps towards this.
Death penalty is cruelty and violence against children, and deprives children affected of full enjoyment of their rights. The execution of Andrew and Omar in china should be a wake up call to Uganda Government to abolish the death penalty in Uganda, so that the families and especially children are not executed for no crime!
The writer is the Executive Director/Founder of Wells of Hope, a Ugandan charity helping children with a parent in prison