Susan Kigula, of Ugandan origin, spent sixteen years in a prison in her country, including fourteen on the corridors of death.
In 2000, she was accused of killing her husband with a machete. She was 20 years old. No one wanted to believe her when she explained that burglars had entered her house in the middle of the night and assaulted her family, even though she was taken unconscious to hospital, with a severe neck wound.
Two years later, she was sentenced to death. "Waiting in prison for the final date, counting the days until death, suffering the anguish of never seeing her family again, is the worst," says the Ugandan woman. "Hope gradually disappears.”
To ward off despair, Susan Kigula began to educate herself behind bars. She achieved the equivalent of a baccalauréat and thus gained access to higher education. "When a prisoner cannot read or write, she cannot even follow her own record or read her rights," explains Charlène Martin, head of the "Educate" program of the association "Ensemble contre la peine de mort". Driven by a desire to see her daughter, aged one year at the time of her arrest, Susan Kigula completed law studies at the University of London, the same distance program that Nelson Mandela had followed. "I was determined to learn, because it was the only way to fight my ignorance and thus escape death"
Based on her new knowledge, she was able to initiate a pioneering appeal before the Ugandan Constitutional Court, for herself, but also for 416 other individuals. The judges noted on 10 June 2005 that the systematic condemnation of the death penalty for certain crimes prevented taking into account of extenuating circumstances. They also condemned the interminable waiting for a cruel and inhuman death.
Since her release in January 2016, Susan Kigula has been campaigning for abolition of the death penalty. She shares her experience with young pupils, "Education and awareness are the keys to success in the fight against the death penalty," she explains. "It is important for young people to understand the implications of a death sentence. It is an irreversible decision, a psychological and physical torture, a hidden vengeance of justice, the useless death of a possibly innocent human being." "Anyone can be sentenced to death for any crime, according to the law and the government of the country," says Susan Kigula. "It is enough that the evidence is convincing, even if it is manipulated or false." She wants to continue living in her country, even though Uganda has deprived her of sixteen years of life; "I've never been a criminal and I do not intend to be a criminal. We need to correct what is wrong for the country to move forward and provide a better future for its citizens" she declares.
Condensed from an account in "Le Monde", 21st October 2016