Countries practicing the death penalty remain the minority as the progress to abolition continues.

11 October 2016, 11:34 UTC | Worldwide
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By Anushka Batuwantudawe, Advocacy and Research Intern, Amnesty International NZ

Yesterday, 10 October, marked the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a person is guaranteed:

  • The right to life (article 3)
  • The right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment (article 4).

However, these two human rights are continually denied and around the world countries continue to sentence their citizens to death.

According to Amnesty International figures, at least 1,634 people were executed in 25 countries in 2015. China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA carried out the most executions in 2015 with Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia being responsible for almost 90% of all recorded executions. However, with death penalty statistics in China being treated as a state secret, we can have no way of knowing just how many executions China may have carried out last year.

Although more countries than ever have put an end to the death penalty, and the UN General Assembly have voted for a global moratorium, it still persists. And now countries like the Philippines who had previously imposed a moratorium on the death penalty are backtracking.

The Philippines was the first Asian nation to abolish the death penalty. Now in 2016 the new President, Rodrigo Duterte, has made it clear that he wants to see the full restoration of the death penalty in the country. Duterte has asserted that “the law had previously lost its effectiveness because it was not fully implemented.” And it is Duterte’s intention to administer the death penalty on a number of crimes which would not be considered “the most serious crime,” the only time where international law allows the use of the death penalty.

Many advocates of the death penalty continue to put forth the notion that its use deters violent crime. But this is not the case. In fact, there has been no reasonable evidence to indicate that the threat of the death penalty will act as a deterrent to criminals.

Another common myth associated with the death penalty is that all those who are executed have been proved guilty of a serious crime. This is not always the case, in fact many people find themselves facing execution for petty crimes, for instance Moses Akatugba, a young Nigerian man sentenced to death after being accused of stealing mobile phones.

There are also a number of instances around the world where prisoners are executed on the basis of confessions made under torture or following unfair trials.

A recent example of this is the trial of Mir Quasem Ali, a senior political leader in Bangladesh. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International raised major concerns about his trial including International Crimes Tribunal proceedings, the lack of time that defence lawyers were given to prepare and the limiting of numbers of witnesses that could be called upon. All of these concerns went unheard with his execution on 3 September 2016.

Although there are now a number of countries appearing to backtrack when it comes to the death penalty, abolition still remains the majority with 102 countries now having completely abolished the practice and 140 states being abolitionist in law or practice.

This World Day Against the Death Penalty day, with more than two thirds of the world’s states having chosen to abolish the death penalty in law or practice, it is time for other governments to follow suit and and end the use of the death penalty.

Amnesty International opposes the use of the death penalty in every single case and circumstance and will continue to work worldwide to bring an end to this practice that is a violation on a person’s right to life.

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