Death penalty loses popularity worldwide
On 19 and 20 September, Penal Reform International (‘PRI’) brought 120 people from retentionist countries to London to discuss global trends towards abolition of the death penalty.
PRI Chair, David Daubney, described this conference as “an opportunity to inspire decision- and policy-makers in death penalty countries to identify new ways of harmonising their criminal justice systems with evolving standards and values that indicate that the death penalty has no place in civilised society.”
While two-thirds of the world’s states have already abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, those who continue to retain it are taking positive steps to reduce or restrict its application in law or in practice, reflecting its declining use.
“The death penalty violates the fundamental right to life,” said Daubney, “and amounts to torture, cruel and inhuman punishment. It is time for the world to eradicate this harsh and irrevocable form of punishment that has very little or any effect on changing criminal behaviour, and to develop a more evolved criminal justice system that aims to tackle the root causes of crime and violence.”
The Arab region is one of the most notorious executers in the world. In 2010, at least 378 executions were known to have been carried out in the region.
“The Arab Spring has created a golden opportunity for safeguarding civil liberties, and attention is turning towards criminal justice reforms including abolition of the death penalty,” stressed Taghreed Jaber, PRI Middle East Director. “This conference will be a fundamental building-block on the path towards abolition in Arab states and at the global level.”
Syrian MP and leading Islamic Scholar, Dr Mohamad Al Habach, attended the conference to address the misconceptions surrounding Sharia Law and the death penalty. “Almost all Arab states justify the use of the death penalty as an explicit link to Islam. But in practice, the crimes punishable by death go far beyond what has been provided for in Sharia law.”
The trend towards abolition is truly significant. The death penalty has been around for thousands of years however a new dynamic has been at work during the last 50 years. The abolitionist movement had been embraced across the globe by many different political systems, peoples and cultures:
• There are fewer executions than ever before: in 2010, only 23 states actually carried out an execution.
• States are taking legal steps to reduce the number of death penalty applicable crimes: China removed 13 of 68 death penalty crimes from its Criminal Law in December 2010.
• Support for a moratorium is growing: in December 2010, 104 states voted in favour of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
• 82 states have ratified international and regional instruments calling for abolition of the death penalty.
• Even the United States, to which many retentionist countries point to in support of their position, presents a varied picture on the death penalty. 16 of their 50 states are abolitionists in law (Illinois being the 16th state on 9 March 2011). Of the 34 states that retain capital punishment, only 12 carried out executions in 2010.
Participants included representatives from the Arab world, Africa, the United States, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Arab League, Amnesty International, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and Reprieve.
Miss Jacqueline Macalesher, Death Penalty Project Manager
Penal Reform International
firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7247 6515 / 07786 030 146
Speakers who would be available for pre-record or live broadcast interviews:
• Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative, Alabama, USA
• Taghreed Jaber, Middle East Regional Director, Penal Reform International
• David Daubney, Chair Penal Reform International
• Alison Hannah, Executive Director Penal Reform International
• Dupe Atoki, Commissioner for Human Rights, African Commission, Nigeria
• Renny Cushing, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, USA
• Roger Hood, Oxford University
• Olawale Fapohunda, West African Human Rights Forum, Nigeria
• Andrew Coyle, International Centre for Prison Studies
• David Sellwood, Reprieve, UK
International conference “Progressing toward abolition of the death penalty and alternative sanctions that respect international human rights standards” will be held on 19 and 20 September, 2011 at the European Commission Representation in the UK, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU.
PRI have been working on abolition of the death penalty for the last 20 years. PRI’s current programme of work aims to positively challenge society’s attitudes in relation to the effect and efficacy of the death penalty and to support governments and other stakeholders in progressing towards abolition through legal and policy reforms. It aims to challenge the unacceptable forms of life imprisonment and life without the option of parole (LWOP) as an alternative sanction to the death penalty, and to increase human rights safeguards and promote better transparency and accountability in criminal justice systems.
This programme of work is being carried out in 19 countries across 5 regions: Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan); East Africa (Kenya and Uganda); Eastern Europe (Belarus, Russia and Ukraine); Middle East and North Africa (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen); and South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).