LUSAKA, Zambia — Caritas Zambia welcomed an announcement by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema that he intends to abolish the death penalty.

Father Gabriel Mapulanga, director of the Catholic charitable agency’s Zambia programs, said Aug. 23 that abolishing the death penalty is a visible manifestation of a heightened moral awareness.

“The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 405, says: ‘The church sees as a sign of hope a growing public opinion to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of legitimate defense on the part of society,'” said Mapulanga. “Criminals should still be given a chance to reform.”

He said other methods of punishment were more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Bishop David Masupa, president of the Independent Churches of Zambia, said his organization welcomed the government’s decision because it was in line with God’s teachings and in conformity with Christian values.

“Only God can take a life because he created it, and our country being a Christian nation, we have to uphold that,” said Masupa.

Hichilema said his government would work with Parliament and others to abolish the death penalty, which Zambia has maintained for capital offenses since its independence in 1964. The last executions were in 1997.

In welcoming the decision, the U.N. human rights office said Zambia’s plan to abolish the death penalty added to the growing global chorus against the practice.

“Use of the death penalty is incompatible with fundamental human rights and dignity,” said Seif Magango, spokesman for the U.N. office.

Magango said the office “stands ready to provide technical assistance and cooperation to the Zambian authorities to make this promise a reality.”