A Death Wish

Mustapha Lule survived. He jumped from a tall building (whether willfully or unconsciously), fell down on the street, but did not die.

No one knows why he jumped. A few stories whose reliability cannot be confirmed have reported him saying that he fell, but accidentally. That he only climbed up the building to get some fresh air.

Not dying is his crime.

Now, he must face the full force of law, he must plead (guilty or not guilty) to his crime before a court of law.

They say, life is precious thus the right to life. When you are tired of it, try to end it right. Finish the job.

Under the Ugandan Penal Code Act, cap 120 (the Penal Code defines what a crime is and prescribes a punishment for that crime), under offences connected with murder and suicide, it is provided that, ‘any person who attempts to kill himself or herself commits a misdemeanor.’

The same position is so stated under section 226 of the Kenyan Penal Code, Cap 63.

As provided under Cap 120, section 36, all misdemeanors carry a 2 year prison sentence or a fine, or both.

Proponents of suicide as a criminal offence argue that the jail term serves the victim a chance to reconsider taking their lives and also learn that it is wrong to commit suicide.

Opponents see this as a waste of tax payers’ money since the root cause of the suicide attempt is not dealt with. They argue that first, the victim suffers the depression of whatever reason forces him/her to attempt suicide; second, the agony he/she feels when there is a failed suicide attempt and lastly, the burden that comes with the legal action instituted.

If the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) continues to pursue the  charges against Mustapha Lule, he will require a standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt like Lord Denning is famously quoted in Miller vs Minister of Pensions (1947):

“That degree is well settled. It needs not reach certainty, but it must carry a high degree of probability. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt. The law would prevail to protect the community if it admitted fanciful possibilities to deflect the course of justice. If the evidence is so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility of his favour which can be dismissed with the sentence of course it is doubt but nothing short of that will suffice”.

The burden to prove guilt in cases of attempted suicide rests upon the DPP. The DPP will have to prove that Mustapha intended to commit suicide, planned and executed his plan but failed to do so; and therefore must serve as an example to others who may attempt his ‘stunt’.

Mathare in Kenya and Butabika in Uganda have one thing in common: they are hospitals where mentally incapacitated patients are treated, kept and monitored. The newest diagnosis blamed for suicidal attempts is the ‘bipolar disorder’, which is a mental illness controlled by proper medication.

While Kenya’s Ministry of Health proposes to de-criminalise suicide since it cites mental health related issues as causes, Uganda’s DPP will proceed with the suit against Mustapha for his attempt at killing himself. May be, the DPP’s hands are tied because the law on crime calls that a crime and no other law speaks otherwise.

Suicide and attempts at suicide may also be looked at from a religious and or cultural perspective, a perspective which is limited to moral and spiritual standards or convictions which are usually relative.

But there are several other factors that contribute to suicidal tendencies. Lack of or failure to find purpose in one’s life, depression, marital conflicts, taboos, poverty, bullying and abuse, mental breakdown, etc. are all contributory factors.

The character of Mustapha builds us a logical argument. He is a seventeen year old male whom society calls ‘a man’. Who calls a teenager ‘a man’ like a grown adult? Perhaps it is what our society expects of a man that overwhelmed the lad, leading him to jump.

Unluckily/luckily for him, he will have to defend his alleged failed attempt in a court.

NB: We suggest that the law on suicide be revisited. In as much as the act should not go unpunished, it should not be punitive but restorative; that is, no imprisonment but commitment to a facility where health diagnosis is given and monitored, and the victim restored back to society. Caution: Meanwhile, before the act, know that the legislature is too busy to amend the law. So, in case of a botched suicide attempt, prepare for the dock.


This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 6, Issue 4 of September 23rd 2016

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