In 2002, a young 21-year old wife and mother was sentenced to death in Uganda after she was wrongfully accused for the murder of her husband. In 2003, the Death Penalty Project organization collaborated with Ugandan lawyers and other groups to assist with preparing a constitutional challenge to the mandatory death penalty in Uganda for over 400 prisoners as of that time. Thanks to the efforts of the people involved, in 2005, the Constitutional Court struck down this penalty citing it as a violation of human rights. Susan, among hundreds of others, went from being sentenced to death to having a chance at life again. Since her release in 2016, Susan has served as an advocate for other current and former prisoners, trying to help them get jobs and acquire skills after so many years of being locked up, and she is also an ambassador for African Prisons Project, a charity that supported her in obtaining a law degree while she was in prison.
Susan found herself in a helpless position because she could not afford legal representation as of the time of her conviction and she along with the other parents who were locked up were concerned about the welfare of their children now that they are behind bars or after they would be executed. As we recently celebrated International Women’s Day, I think it is important to highlight the work that Susan is doing in her home country fighting for the reintegration of former prisoners in Uganda, helping orphaned children of prisoners, and other work she is doing to help the needy in her country. Despite the challenges that she has gone through, she is very determined to make a positive change in the life of others around her starting with challenging the legal system and changing the laws in her country with the landmark case. She is a hero.
Working with Alexander McLean and African Prisons Project, Kigula plans to establish the world’s first prison-based legal college and law firm, where prisoner lawyers would represent peers who can not afford legal help. “The hope is to create a new generation of servant lawyers who follow in the footsteps of Susan and the others who pioneered this alongside her,” says Alexander McLean. “The legal system in Uganda is not like the UK’s.” “People can be put in prison for being gay, women are on death row for not being able to get care for a sick child in rural areas, or if their husbands commit crimes and can’t be found. Of course there are guilty people in prison but we believe that everyone deserves due process. We believe everyone deserves a second chance to be of use to society. Susan has always maintained her innocence and she wants to serve her community.”
(1) “Uganda’s Lady Justice.” (8 March 2020). Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2020/03/uganda-lady-justice-200308074200690.html.
(2) Mohan, Megha. (13 April 2018). “Susan Kigula: The Woman Who Freed Herself and Hundreds from Death Row.” BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-43739933.
(3) “Susan Kigula.” The Death Penalty Project, https://www.deathpenaltyproject.org/story/susan-kigula/.