“When I was of 2 years, my father Hari Bahadur Ghale went Malaysia to earn money. After some years, my mother married to other man. I left alone. I could not recognize fully my father yet. When I heard the news about death sentence to my father in Malaysia, it has given me a unbearable sock. I urge all of you to do something to save the life of my father“.
– Jharana Ghale, 13, Nuwakot, Nepal.
(Daughter of Hari Bahadur Ghale who was sentenced to death in Malaysia in 2012)
Today, Amnesty International is releasing its annual report on death penalty statistics across the globe. Once again, we have seen the world move closer to becoming death penalty-free, slowly but surely.
Only 21 countries were recorded as having carried out executions last year – this is the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 a decade earlier in 2003.
A longer historical perspective makes the change even more striking – when we first started campaigning for abolition of the death penalty some 35 years ago, the world’s 16 abolitionist countries were a clear minority. Now 97 countries have completely abolished the death penalty in law, while 140 in total are de facto death penalty free.
In 2012, we saw progress in all regions of the world. The trend is clear: whether it is Latvia fully abolishing the death penalty; Benin and Mongolia taking clear legal steps in this direction; the governments of Ghana and Sierra Leone turning their backs on capital punishment; long-term executioners Viet Nam or Singapore not carrying out any executions; or Connecticut becoming the 17th abolitionist US state.
With the exceptions of Belarus and the USA, Europe and the Americas and the Pacific sub-region remained execution-free.
But it is not all good news. There were some extremely disappointing developments last year which highlighted how, unless it is fully abolished in law, the death penalty is still an ever-present risk.
In Asia, we saw India, Japan and Pakistan all carrying out executions for the first time in years.
In November 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was suddenly hanged – it was the first execution in India since 2004. In Pakistan the military authorities put a soldier to death in November – the first execution in more than four years.
In Africa, Gambia carried out its first death sentences in almost three decades when eight men and one woman were shot by firing squad on the same day in August. President Yahya Jammeh first said that all death sentences would be “carried out to the letter”, but backtracked following an international outcry and announced a “conditional” moratorium on executions which would be “automatically lifted” if crime rates increased.
Iraq carried out almost twice as many executions in 2012 as the year before, and has replaced Saudi Arabia as the third biggest executioner in the world, after China and Iran.
Equally worrying is that the use of the death penalty in many countries across the world appears to be motivated more by politics than anything else.
In several countries that executed in 2012 there is evidence that leaders use the death penalty to show they are tough on crime – a shocking way to play with people’s lives.
In other countries the death penalty is too often used as just another tool of outright repression. In July 2012, Iran sentenced five men to death for “enmity against god” – a charge aimed against those threatening the central government with armed violence, but in practice often used against anybody associated with banned organizations. All five were activists from the long-suppressed Ahwazi Arab minority, and had been arrested in the run-up to planned demonstrations.
Another example is Sudan, which together with Gambia is responsible for a rise in reported executions and death sentences in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012; death sentences in Sudan were imposed against real or perceived political opposition activists.
Other governments cling to alleged public support for the death penalty as a way to justify executions. But not only are there indications that this popular support is wafer thin across much of the world, this argument also ignores the fact that the death penalty is a human rights violation; governments should be engaging the public on abolition, in order to promote and protect the right to life.
The death penalty is the premeditated, judicially sanctioned killing, by the state, of a human being. It is, in fact, the ultimate denial of human rights. The use of such calculated violence in the name of justice stains any society.
Our message to the minority of governments that still execute is simple – the death penalty is cruel and inhuman; it cannot be defended, and in retaining it you are out of step with the rest of the world. We hope that, one year from now, we’ll be able to look back on even more leaders coming around to this fact.