Ex­e­cute jus­tice, not peo­ple, says Amnesty In­ter­na­tional

Anal­y­sis

Afro Voice (National Edition) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

AS THE UN con­tin­ues to lead the global fight to abol­ish the death penalty, coun­tries in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa have recorded a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in death sen­tences, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port re­leased by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

In its 2017 global re­view of the death penalty, it sin­gled out Guinea, Kenya, Burk­ina Faso and Chad for their pos­i­tive steps among abo­li­tion­ist states in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Guinea be­came the 20th state in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa to abol­ish the death penalty for all crimes, while Kenya abol­ished the manda­tory death penalty for mur­der. Burk­ina Faso and Chad also took steps to re­peal this pun­ish­ment with new or pro­posed laws.

“The progress in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa re­in­forced its po­si­tion as a bea­con of hope for abo­li­tion.

“The lead­er­ship of coun­tries in this re­gion gives fresh hope that the abo­li­tion of the ul­ti­mate cruel, in­hu­man and de­grad­ing pun­ish­ment is within reach,” Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s sec­re­tary Salil Shetty said.

“With the gov­ern­ments in the re­gion con­tin­u­ing to take steps to re­duce and re­peal the death penalty well into 2018, the iso­la­tion of the world’s re­main­ing ex­e­cut­ing coun­tries could not be starker.

“Now that 20 coun­tries in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa have abol­ished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time the rest of the world fol­lows their lead and con­signs this ab­hor­rent pun­ish­ment to the his­tory books.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, there was a drop in the num­ber of “ex­e­cut­ing coun­tries” across sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa, from five in 2016 to two in 2017, with only South Su­dan and Somalia known to have car­ried out ex­e­cu­tions.

How­ever, with re­ports that Botswana and Su­dan re­sumed ex­e­cu­tions in 2018, the or­gan­i­sa­tion high­lighted that this must not over­shadow the pos­i­tive steps be­ing taken by other coun­tries across the re­gion.

Else­where in Africa, Gam­bia signed an in­ter­na­tional treaty com­mit­ting the coun­try not to carry out ex­e­cu­tions and mov­ing to abol­ish the death penalty. The Gam­bian pres­i­dent es­tab­lished an of­fi­cial mora­to­rium (tem­po­rary ban) on ex­e­cu­tions in Fe­bru­ary 2018. Sig­nif­i­cant progress

De­vel­op­ments across sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa in 2017 ex­em­pli­fied the pos­i­tive trend recorded glob­ally, with Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s re­search point­ing to a fur­ther de­crease in the global use of the death penalty in 2017.

It recorded at least 993 ex­e­cu­tions in 23 coun­tries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 (1 032 ex­e­cu­tions) and 39% from 2015 (when the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­ported 1 634 ex­e­cu­tions, the high­est num­ber since 1989).

At least 2 591 death sen­tences in 53 coun­tries were recorded in 2017, a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease from the record­high of 3 117 recorded in 2016. These fig­ures do not in­clude the thou­sands of death sen­tences and ex­e­cu­tions that Amnesty In­ter­na­tional be­lieves were im­posed and im­ple­mented in China, where fig­ures re­main clas­si­fied as a state se­cret.

In ad­di­tion to Guinea, Mon­go­lia abol­ished the death penalty for all crimes – tak­ing the to­tal of abo­li­tion­ist states to 106 in 2017. Af­ter Gu­atemala be­came abo­li­tion­ist for or­di­nary crimes such as mur­der, the num­ber of coun­tries to have abol­ished the death penalty in law or prac­tice now stands at 142.

Only 23 coun­tries con­tin­ued to ex­e­cute – the same num­ber as in 2016, de­spite several states re­sum­ing ex­e­cu­tions af­ter a hia­tus, ac­cord­ing to the study.

Sig­nif­i­cant steps to re­duce the use of the death penalty were also taken in coun­tries that are staunch sup­port­ers of it. In Iran, recorded ex­e­cu­tions re­duced by 11% and dru­gre­lated ex­e­cu­tions re­duced to 40%. Moves were also made to in­crease the thresh­old of drug amounts re­quired to im­pose a manda­tory death penalty.

In Malaysia, the anti­drug laws were amended, with the in­tro­duc­tion of sen­tenc­ing dis­cre­tion in drug traf­fick­ing cases. These changes will likely re­sult in a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of death sen­tences im­posed in both coun­tries in the fu­ture.

“The fact that coun­tries con­tinue to re­sort to the death penalty for drug­re­lated of­fences re­mains trou­bling. How­ever, steps taken by Iran and Malaysia to amend their anti­drugs laws go a long way to­wards show­ing that cracks are ap­pear­ing, even in the mi­nor­ity of coun­tries that still ex­e­cute peo­ple,” Shetty said.

In­done­sia, which ex­e­cuted four peo­ple con­victed of drug crimes in 2016 in an ill­con­ceived at­tempt to tackle drug crime, did not carry out any ex­e­cu­tions last year and re­ported a slight de­crease in the num­ber of death sen­tences im­posed.

Dis­turb­ing trends

How­ever, dis­tress­ing trends con­tin­ued to fea­ture in the use of the death penalty in 2017.

A to­tal of 15 coun­tries im­posed death sen­tences or ex­e­cuted peo­ple for drug-re­lated of­fences, go­ing against in­ter­na­tional law. The Mid­dle East and North Africa re­gion recorded the high­est num­ber of drug-re­lated ex­e­cu­tions in 2017, while the Asia­Pa­cific re­gion had the most coun­tries re­sort­ing to the death penalty for this type of of­fence (10 out of 16).

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional recorded dru­gre­lated ex­e­cu­tions in four coun­tries – China, Iran, Saudi Ara­bia and Sin­ga­pore. The se­crecy that shrouded cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in Malaysia and Viet­nam made it im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine whether ex­e­cu­tions for drug crimes oc­curred.

Sin­ga­pore hanged eight peo­ple in 2017 – all for drug­re­lated of­fences and dou­ble the num­ber in 2016. There was a sim­i­lar trend in Saudi Ara­bia, where drug-re­lated be­head­ings rock­eted from 16% of to­tal ex­e­cu­tions in 2016 to 40% in 2017.

“De­spite strides to­wards abol­ish­ing this ab­hor­rent pun­ish­ment, there are still a few lead­ers who re­sort to the death penalty as a ‘quick­fix’ rather than tack­ling prob­lems at their roots with hu­mane, ef­fec­tive and ev­i­dence­based poli­cies. Strong lead­ers ex­e­cute jus­tice, not peo­ple,” Shetty said.

“The dra­co­nian anti-drug mea­sures widely used in the Mid­dle East and Asia­Pa­cific have to­tally failed to ad­dress the is­sue,” he said.

The gov­ern­ments also breached several other pro­hi­bi­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional law in 2017.

At least five peo­ple in Iran were ex­e­cuted for crimes com­mit­ted when they were un­der 18 and at least 80 oth­ers re­mained on death row, and peo­ple with men­tal or in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties were ex­e­cuted or re­mained un­der sen­tence of death in Japan, the Mal­dives, Pak­istan, Sin­ga­pore and the US.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional recorded several cases of peo­ple fac­ing the death penalty af­ter “con­fess­ing” to crimes as a re­sult of tor­ture or other ill­treat­ment in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Ara­bia. In Iran and Iraq, some of these “con­fes­sions” were broad­cast on live tele­vi­sion.

Al­though the over­all num­ber of ex­e­cut­ing coun­tries re­mained the same, Bahrain, Jor­dan, Kuwait and United Arab Emi­rates re­sumed ex­e­cu­tions af­ter a hia­tus. In Egypt, recorded death sen­tences in­creased by about 70% com­pared to 2016.

Look­ing for­ward

With at least 21 919 peo­ple known to be un­der sen­tence of death glob­ally, now is not the time to let up the pres­sure.

Pos­i­tive steps were taken in 2017 and the full im­pact will be seen in the com­ing months and years. How­ever, with some coun­tries tak­ing steps back­wards – or threat­en­ing to – the cam­paign against the death penalty re­mains as es­sen­tial as ever.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge pos­i­tive shift in the global out­look for the death penalty, but more ur­gent steps need to be taken to stop the hor­ri­fy­ing prac­tice of state killing,” Shetty said. – IPS

PIC­TURE: AFP

WHERE LIFE IS CHEAP: A Mi­grant Care pro­tester in Jakarta de­liv­ers a speech over the ex­e­cu­tion by Saudi au­thor­i­ties of an In­done­sian mi­grant worker Zaini Misirin last month who had said he was forced to con­fess to a mur­der with­out hav­ing the ben­e­fit of...

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