23 July 2008 :SYNTHESIS OF THE 2008 REPORT
The U.N. Moratorium on Executions
On December 18, 2007, with 104 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 29 abstentions, the United Nations 62nd General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a Resolution that calls upon all States that still maintain the death penalty to “Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”
With this resolution, presented by the Italian government and supported by 86 governments from all over of the world, the United Nations, for the first time, declared that the death penalty is a human rights issue and its phasing out represents serious progress for the world in this field.
The approval of the Resolution represents a historical achievement, after 15 years of campaigning by “Hands Off Cain” (HOC) and the “Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty” (RP), which in 2007 decided to give extra leverage to its fight by involving members of Parliament, Governments and Public Opinion from around the world.
Towards the end of 2006 and the start of 2007, the leader of the Radical Party, Marco Pannella, went on an eight day thirst-strike for the “Hands Off Saddam” campaign eventually geared towards a universal moratorium on executions. From April until September 2007, numerous leaders and members of the Radical Party held two all-out hunger-strikes in hopes of bringing the pro-moratorium resolution to the U.N. in New York: the first lasted 64 days, the second 25 days, for a total of 89 days.
In 1994, on the initiative of Hands Off Cain and the Radical Party, the Italian Government presented, for the first time in history, a resolution for a universal moratorium on capital executions at the UNGA. The resolution was not approved by only 8 votes!
In 1997, the Italian Government, in the face of fierce opposition by some of its European partners, presented the resolution for the moratorium to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva that approved it by a vast majority.
Since then, every year and lastly in 2005, the resolution has been approved by the Commission in Geneva and it is also thanks to this that the situation regarding the death penalty has radically changed: from 98 U.N. member countries retaining the death penalty to 49 today.
The Worldwide Situation to Date
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for at least a decade, was again confirmed in 2007 and the first six months of 2008.
There are currently 148 countries and territories that to different extents have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 95 are totally abolitionist; 8 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 1 (Russia) is committed to abolishing the death penalty as a member of the Council of Europe and currently observing a moratorium on executions; 3 have a moratorium on executions in place and 41 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. no executions have taken place in those countries for at least ten years).
Countries retaining the death penalty worldwide are down to 49, compared to the 51 retentionists in 2006 and 54 in 2005. In 2007, the number of countries resorting to the death penalty was down to 26 as compared to 28 in 2006.
Regardless of these facts, the total number of executions worldwide increased. At least 5,851 executions were carried out in 2007 up from a minimum of 5,635 in 2006 and 5,494 in 2005. This increase in respect to last year was due in large part to the superior number of executions in Iran, up by one-third, and Saudi Arabia where executions quadrupled.
In 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, there were no executions in 3 countries where executions were carried out in 2006: Nigeria (at least 7), Jordan (at least 4) and Uganda (2).
Once again, Asia tops the standings as the region where the vast majority of executions are carried out. Taking the number of executions in China to be at least 5,000 (despite reports of reductions since the preceding year), the total for 2007 corresponds to a minimum of 5,782 executions. This is an increase compared to 2006, when 5,492 executions were registered and 2005 when at least 5,413 executions were registered.
America would be practically death-penalty free were it not for the United States (US), the only country on the continent to execute anyone in 2007: 42 people were executed (53 people were executed in 2006, and 60 in 2005 in the USA).
In Africa, the death penalty was carried out in 7 countries – Botswana (at least 1), Egypt (actual number unknown), Ethiopia (1), Equatorial New Guinea (3), Libya (at least 9), Somalia (at least 5), and Sudan (at least 7) – where there were at least 26 executions as compared to 87 in 2006 and 19 in 2005 on the entire continent. It should be noted that Ethiopia had not carried out an execution since June of 1998, while Uganda, which executed two people in 2006, carried out no executions in 2007 and 2008.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, where at least one person was executed in 2007 and 3 in the first five months of 2008.
China, Iran and Saudi Arabia: Top Executioners of 2007
Of the 49 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 39 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal States. Twenty-one of these countries were responsible for approximately 5,798 executions, equal to 99% of the world total in 2007.
China alone carried out at least 5,000, or 85,4%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 355 people to death and Saudi Arabia 166; Pakistan, at least 134; Iraq, at least 33; Vietnam, at least 25; Afghanistan, 15; Yemen, at least 15; North Korea, at least 13; Sudan, at least 65 (according to Amnesty International); Libya, at least 9; Syria and Sudan, at least 7; Bangladesh, 6; Somalia, at least 5; Equatorial Guinea, 3; Singapore, 2; Belarus and Kuwait, at least 1; Ethiopia, 1. According to Amnesty International, executions were also carried out in Egypt and Malaysia, but their numbers are unknown.
Many of these countries do not issue official statistics on the practice of the death penalty, which is sometimes considered a State secret; therefore the number of executions may in fact be much higher.
This is the prevalent situation worldwide concerning the practice of the death penalty. It points to the fact that the fight against the death penalty entails, beyond the stopping of executions, a battle for democracy, for the respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
The terrible podium of the world’s top executioners is again taken by three authoritarian States in 2007: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China: Top Executioner (Despite a Drop in Executions)
China continues to class information concerning the death penalty as a State secret, but in 2007 and in the first months of 2008 reports suggested that condemnations handed down by Chinese Courts in 2007 reflected a reduction of capital sentences as high as 30%.
These facts surfaced on May 9, 2008, during a forum held in the port city of Liaoning Province, northeast China, at which legal experts, researchers and judges from China and Britain participated, with a focus on restriction and abolition of the death penalty. According to Li Wuqing, a judge with the No. 1 criminal court of China’s Supreme People’s Court, the restitution to the same Court of exclusive power in approving death sentences has caused the country’s courts to handle capital cases with greater prudence.
Based on reforms taking effect on January 1, 2007, every capital sentence handed down in China by an inferior court must be reviewed by a panel of three judges of the Supreme Court that are responsible for checking the facts of the case, the legal norms applied and procedures as well as comparing these with the preceding trials.
China’s Supreme Court, the only body that knows the exact number of death sentences and executions, overturned 15 percent of all death sentences handed down by lower courts in 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, “because facts surrounding initial convictions were unclear, evidence insufficient, punishment inappropriate, procedures illegal and other reasons”.
And regarding executions, in 2007 there were at least 5.000. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that advocates for political prisoners and monitors Chinese prisons, about 6,000 people were executed in 2007, a 25 to 30 percent drop from the year before, the result of the 2008 Olympic Games being held in Beijing.
Iran: Once Again Second-Place on the Podium of Inhumanity
This year, once again, Iran has come in second in the bid for the highest number of executions, after China. In 2007, at least 355 people were put to death, a one-third increase as compared with 2006 when executions numbered at least 215. The escalation seems unlikely to abate considering that in 2008, as of June 30, there were already at least 127 executions.
The numbers could be higher as the Iranian authorities do not provide official statistics. The cases that are counted arrive from scattered reports by Iranian journalists that evidently don’t report all executions throughout the nation.
Condemnations to stoning were carried out in 2007 and 2008, contrary to statements in November 2006 by the Iranian Minister of Justice, Jamal Karimi-Rad, who insisted that Iran has not carried out any stoning. In July 2007, a man was stoned to death after being condemned to death for adultery after having spent 11 years in jail.
In 2007, at least seven people aged under 18 at the time of their crime were executed in Iran, in open violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of which it is a co-signatory. As of July 1, 2008, there were at least 3 minors put to death in the first months of the year.
As further testimony to the fervour and fury of the Iranian Regime, mass executions continued in 2007 and the first months of 2008.
Between July 15 and August 2 of 2007, 38 people were executed in 9 Iranian cities; 16 executions were held in public and 12 were broadcast on television. One of these, on August 1, 2007, involved seven men hanged in a public square in Mashad in eastern Iran for robbery, gang-related crimes, kidnapping, carnal violence and “acts against morality.” Expatriate Iranian sources reported that some of the 16 people hanged in public, labelled ‘the most famous hooligans in Tehran’, were executed for being gay.
On September 5, 2007, Iranian authorities hanged 21 people in a single day.
Iran welcomed 2008 with 23 hangings within the first ten days of the new year.
On the 20th of February 2008 alone, Iran hanged 10 people convicted of armed robbery and murder.
Many executions in Iran are for drug-related crimes, but human rights observers believe that many of those executed for common crimes such as drugs are actually political dissidents.
Saudi Arabia: Executions Quadrupled in 2007
Saudi Arabia has among the highest number of executions in the world, in both absolute terms and per capita.
There were 166 executions in 2007, more than four times the 39 executions held in 2006. In 2008, as of June 30, there were at least 65 people beheaded in Saudi Arabia. It’s record number was established in 1995 with 191 executions.
The executions are carried out in public by beheading. Typically, executions are held in the city where the crime was committed in a public place near the largest mosque.
Almost two-thirds of those executed are foreign nationals, the vast majority being from the poorer countries of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Often, the accused is denied the assistance of a lawyer before the trial and in the courtroom.
In 2007, Saudi Arabia executed at least three juvenile offenders, including a 15-year-old boy who was only 13 at the time of the alleged crime.
Of the 166 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2007, 50 were carried out for drug-related crimes. In 2008, as of June 30, there were at least 22 people beheaded for drug-related crimes.
Democracy and the Death Penalty
Of the 49 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, only 10 are considered liberal democracies. This definition as used here takes into account the country’s political system and its respect towards human rights, civil and political liberties, free market practices and the rule of law.
There were 4 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2007, and they accounted for 53 executions between them, equal to 1% of the world tally. These were: United States (42), Japan (9), Indonesia and Botswana (at least 1). Executions may have taken place in Mongolia.
Two major events characterized the state of the death penalty in the United States in 2007: the decision by the Supreme Court on the constitutional legitimacy of the lethal injection and the abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey.
Doubts on lethal injection arrived as a legal debate at the U.S. Supreme Court causing suspensions of executions in many States that began on September 25, 2007, when the Court decided to hear Baze vs. Rees, a case tried originally in Kentucky. Subsequently, there were 42 executions in the U.S. in 2007, the lowest number of executions in that country in the last 13 years.
The de facto moratorium on executions lasted until May 6, 2008, when a man was executed in Georgia. This followed the decision by the United States Supreme Court on April 16, 2008, that the cocktail of lethal substances widely used in executions throughout the U.S. does not constitute a “cruel and unusual” punishment, and is therefore not in violation of the U.S. Constitution. After the execution in Georgia, as of July 1, 2008, another 9 lethal injections have been carried out in seven States: Mississippi, Virginia (2), again Georgia, South Carolina (2), Texas, Oklahoma e Florida.
The other key event of 2007 was the abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey, the first U.S. State in forty years to abolish it. Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, and Maryland came very close to abolishing the death penalty in 2007, while Illinois, for the eighth year in a row, has respected a moratorium on executions established in 2000. Although falling short of formal abolition, the State of New York should be counted among States that no longer have the death penalty, considering that its death row has been vacant since 2007.
South Dakota, on the other hand, held its first execution in over 60 years in 2007, while laws expanding the scope of the death penalty or facilitating its application were approved in Utah and Texas. In Massachusetts, the reintroduction of the death penalty was halted, while laws expanding its scope or facilitating its application went un-passed in Georgia, Missouri, New York and Virginia.
In 2007, there were 110 capital sentences in the U.S., the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated nationally in 1976. In 2006 there were 115 deaths sentences delivered and 138 in 2005. During the nineties, the number of condemnations to death stabilized around 300 per year. This number began to decrease with 284 capital sentences in 1999. Since then, slowly but surely, the number of death sentence rulings has decreased by more than 61%.
As regards individual States in 2007, Alabama topped the list of States handing down death sentences for the fifth consecutive year. With a population of 4.5 million people, Alabama condemned 13 people to death. Texas handed down 11 such rulings, but has a population of 23.5 million, five times that of Alabama.
The containment of the death penalty to a relatively low number of executions State by State was particularly evident in 2007: 40 out of the 50 States had no executions. As usual, executions were concentrated in the South (86%), and Texas, with its 26 executions, 2 more than 2006, was responsible for 62% of all the executions in the United States of America.
Besides the 26 executions in Texas, 3 were carried out in Alabama and Oklahoma, 2 in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, 1 in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota.
In 2007, numerous condemnations were commuted to life imprisonment without parole: 8 in New Jersey following the abolition of the death penalty, three in Texas, and one in Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
The total number of death row inmates rose to 3.350, as opposed to 3.344 in 2006. Though the number increased slightly, it remains a positive indicator, because the increase of six inmates owes to the decrease of executions and not to an increase in capital sentences which, as already noted, decreased by six cases in respect to the previous year.
The States in which there are more than 100 death row inmates are: California (660), Texas (393), Florida (397), Pennsylvania (226), Alabama (195), Ohio (191), N. Carolina (185), Arizona (124), Georgia and Tennessee (107).
Surveys have indicated significant shifts as well. The annual Gallup Poll reported 69% in favour of the death penalty, up 2% from last year’s 67% result. But as usual, the results alter incredibly when the poll question changes from a “dry” pro or con question to one that offers the possible punitive option of life imprisonment with absolutely no chance of parole for good behaviour or other circumstances. When U.S. citizens are called upon to choose between death and life imprisonment without parole the number in favour of the death penalty drops below 50%.
In 2007, 9 people were executed in Japan, compared to 4 in 2006. Ten people were already put to death in the first six months of 2008.
With the new Minister of Justice, Kunio Hatoyama, an outspoken supporter of the death penalty who took office in August 2007, the principles and taboos that Japan maintained with regard to capital punishment are being systematically broken down. In December 2007, with the first execution of the Fukuda government, the Justice Minister broke with the tradition of not publicising them and announced the names and crimes of the three convicts being executed. When the first three executions of 2008 were carried out in February, Justice Minister Hatoyama, who ordered the executions, expressed his views on the death sentences in person at a press conference. He did the same for the four hangings in April and for the three carried out in June. The tradition of not carrying out executions while the Diet, Japan’s legislature, is in session in an attempt to avoid unnecessary controversies was also broken. All of these executions overseen by the current government were done while the legislature was in session.
Japan has executed 13 people under Justice Minister Hatoyama, who is trying to reduce the number of prisoners on death row. The executions carried out on June 17 “reduce” the number to 102.
Executions were relatively rare in Indonesia until 2004, when under the scope of a national campaign against drug abuse and drug dealing launched by then President Megawati Sukarnoputri in view of October elections, three foreigners were shot for trafficking heroin.
At least one person was put to death in Indonesia in 2007, however in 2008 there has been an escalation. As of July 18, 6 people have been put to death. Three men were executed in 2006, and two people were put to death in 2005.
The death penalty has been on the books in Botswana since its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Since then, there have been 40 people put to death. The hangings are usually carried out in secret, without lawyers and families being informed.
The last known execution in Botswana was also held in secret. On November 2, 2007, Sepeni Thubisane Popo was hanged for the murder of a woman. Neither Popo’s family members nor his lawyer were informed that he was to be executed. “Some people told me that it was announced over Radio Botswana lunch time news,” Popo’s lawyer said.
Europe: Death Penalty Free but for Belarus and Russia
Europe would be a death penalty free continent if not for Belarus, a country that has continued to execute its citizens regularly, unlike many of the former Soviet bloc States. According to the country’s Supreme Court, one execution was held in November of 2007 and another three in February of 2008. According to OSCE records, there were at least 3 executions in 2006 and 4 in 2005.
The situation in Russia is different for its commitment to abolish the death penalty as member of the Council of Europe, and for a moratorium on executions that is still in effect.
As far as the rest of Europe is concerned, with Albania’s ratification, in February 2007, of Protocol No. 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty in all Circumstances, it has become completely abolitionist, and, with the exception of Latvia which retains the death penalty for crimes during wartime, all other European countries have abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.
Abolition, De Facto Abolition and Moratoriums
The worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty by law and de facto of the last ten years was reaffirmed in 2007 and in the first six months of 2008. Nine countries moved from retention to a form of abolition of the death penalty.
Rwanda went from retentionist to abolitionist in July of 2007 with a law that abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
Kyrgyzstan abolished the death penalty in January 2007, after years of moratorium.
Uzbekistan went from retentionist to abolitionist on January 1, 2008.
Comoros, South Korea, Guyana and Zambia have gone more than ten years without practicing the death penalty, establishing themselves as de facto abolitionist countries.
Cook Islands went from being abolitionist for ordinary crimes to being abolitionist under all circumstances in 2007.
Albania, having abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes, has gone on to abolish the death penalty under all circumstances on June 1, 2007, with its ratification of Protocol No. 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty in all Circumstances.
In France and Italy, already abolitionist countries, all references to the death penalty were eliminated from the Constitution in 2007.
As already mentioned, in the United States, in 2007 New Jersey became the first State in four decades to abolish the death penalty.
In 2007 and in the first months of 2008, significant steps towards abolition or positive developments were reported in Africa: Burundi, Gabon, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
In May 2007, Kazakhstan amended its Constitution abolishing the death penalty for all crimes except terrorist acts that cause loss of human life and exceptionally grave crimes committed during wartime.
A ruling confirming the unconstitutionality of mandatory death sentences was handed down in Malawi in 2007.
In many countries that have long been considering the abolition or suspension of the death penalty, there have been amnesties given such as in Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and Thailand.
In April of 2008, Cuba announced the commutation of all death sentences. At the beginning of July 2008, Pakistan approved the commutation of the death penalty of some 7,000 prisoners to life imprisonment.
For the second consecutive year Taiwan did not put anyone to death.
Reintroduction of the Death Penalty and Resumption of Executions
In 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, only 2 countries – Afghanistan and Ethiopia – resumed executions after several years of suspension, compared with 6 in 2006.
In February of 2008, the Parliament of Guatemala approved a law that proposed the end of the moratorium on capital punishment in place since 2002, but it was vetoed by President Alvaro Colom.
In Peru, a proposal by President Alan Garcia to reinstate the death penalty was rejected by Parliament.
In the United States, South Dakota carried out its first execution after 60 years of de facto suspension.
Sharia Law and the Death Penalty
In 2007, at least 754 executions, up from 546 the previous year, were carried out in 15 Muslim-majority countries, many of which were ordered by religious tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law. Nineteen retentionist countries look explicitly to Sharia law as the foundation of their judicial system.
However, the problem is not the Koran itself as illustrated by the fact that not all countries that observe its teachings predominantly practice the death penalty, or make the text the basis of their penal or civil codes, or their fundamental law. It lies rather in the literal translation of a centuries-old text into penal norms, punishments and rules applied to our times, a transposition performed by fundamentalist, dictatorial or authoritarian regimes and used by them to impede any democratic progress.
Of the 49 Muslim-majority States worldwide, 24 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 25 retain the death penalty, of which 15 applied capital punishment in 2007.
Stoning, hanging, beheading and firing squad are the methods which were used to enforce the Sharia in 2007 and in the first six months of 2008.
Death sentences by stoning have been issued, but not carried out, in the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria. In Iran, however, a man was stoned to death on July 5, 2007, after being convicted of adultery and having already spent 11 years in prison on the same charge. Three men and two women were stoned to death in Pakistan in 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, but in extra-judiciary cases, tried by a tribal jury.
A common alternative to death by stoning in sentences based on Sharia law is hanging, preferred for men but used for women as well. Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution. Such has been the case in Iran and Sudan.
In 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, hangings carried out on the basis of Sharia law were practiced in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan, Syria and Sudan.
Beheading as a means of carrying out executions provided by Sharia law is exclusive to Saudi Arabia, the Islamic country that most strictly interprets Islamic law, and prescribes the death penalty for homicide, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, witchcraft, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality, highway robbery, sabotage, and apostasy (renouncing Islam).
Typically, executions are held in the city where the crime was committed in a public place near the largest mosque. The condemned is brought to the site with their hands tied and forced to kneel before the executioner, who draws a long sword to cries of “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is great.”) from the crowd.
Sometimes, beheading is followed by the public display of the bodies of the executed.
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2007 and 2008 in carrying out Sharia-based executions in Afghanistan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
What has happened in Afghanistan is especially troubling. On October 7, 2007, after two years without executions. Fifteen people were executed for crimes including murder and rape. Once the shooting began, it took more than five minutes to kill the last of the 15 condemned men. Stumbling blindly into one another in the darkness, hooded, shackled and handcuffed, some had somehow survived the automatic fire from a ten-man firing squad at almost point-blank range. However, when the final coup de grace had been applied and the night was silent again, it was clear that one man was missing. Timur Shah, perhaps Afghanistan’s most infamous criminal, sentenced to die for kidnap, rape and murder, had escaped in the mêlée, perhaps, with the complicity of corrupt guards. The slaughter occurred at 9.30pm on October 7 on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. The bodies of the slain were so badly mutilated that in some cases identification was impossible.
According to Islamic law, the relatives of the victim of a crime can request financial compensation, called “blood money”, granting clemency to the accused or allowing the execution to take place.
Cases involving “blood money” ended in pardon or death in Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
In some Islamic countries, the death penalty has been expanded on the basis of Sharia law to cases of blasphemy. That is, the death penalty can be imposed in cases of those who offend the prophet Mohamed, other prophets or the holy scriptures. Non-Muslims cannot make attempts at converting Muslims to their religion and some Governments officially prohibit the performance of religious rites in public by non-Muslims. Conversion from Islam or renouncing Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital crime.
In 2007 and in the first months of 2008, death sentences for blasphemy and apostasy were handed down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Saudi Arabia, an Egyptian man was executed for “sorcery”, profaning the Koran and adultery.
The Death Penalty for Minors
The execution of people for crimes committed before 18 years of age is a breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
In 2007 at least 12 juvenile offenders were put to death: in Iran (at least 7), Saudi Arabia (3), Pakistan (1) and Yemen (1). In 2006, there were at least 8 minors put to death (7 in Iran and 1 in Pakistan). At least 3 juvenile offenders were executed in Iran in 2008, as of July 1.
Death sentences were handed down in cases where the defendant was a minor at the time of the crime in the aforementioned countries, as well as in Sudan and United Arab Emirates.
The “War on Drugs”
The prohibition on drugs continued its contribution to the morbid litany of the death penalty again in 2007 and the first six months of 2008. In the name of the war on drugs and as a result of increasingly strict laws, there were executions carried out in Saudi Arabia, China, Kuwait, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. Death sentences were handed down but not carried out in Algeria, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Of the 166 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2007, 50 were carried out for drug-related crimes. In 2008, as of June 30, there were at least 22 people beheaded for drug-related crimes.
The number of executions for drug-related crimes in China has decreased in respect to 2006. It is probable that this change is a reflection of the reform passed on January 1, 2007, that passed judicial review of death penalty cases back to China’s Supreme People’s Court, as well as the directive of the same court holding that the death penalty should be imposed on an “extremely reduced number of hardened criminals”. Regardless, again in 2007 and in the first months of 2008, as has long been the case in China, death sentences and executions increased markedly around National holidays and dates of symbolic international importance.
The first and only hanging of 2007 in Kuwait was for a conviction on drug-trafficking.
The two executions carried out in Indonesia in the first six months of 2008 were for drug trafficking.
There are many drug-related executions in Iran, but in the opinion of human rights observers, many of those executed for common crimes, especially drug-related crimes, are actually political executions. Of the 355 people executed in Iran in 2007, at least 138, including a child offender, were condemned for drug-related crimes.
Of the 13 people executed in North Korea in 2007, at least 5 were condemned for drug-related crimes.
Singapore is considered to have one of the highest execution rates relative to population. According to data made public in January of 2007, more than 420 people have been executed since 1991, most of them for drug-related crimes. The only two hangings of 2007 in Singapore happened for drug-trafficking.
The “War on Terror”
In 2007 and in the first six months of 2008, anti-terrorism laws were approved in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Singapore.
Numerous executions related to acts of terrorism were carried out in Iran and Iraq.
Among those condemned to death or executed for terrorism in Iran, some may very well be dissenters, in particular, members of Iran’s ethnic minorities, including Iranian Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs.
Of the 33 executions in Iraq in 2007, 30 were of those condemned of crimes related to terrorism. In April of 2008, another 28 people were put to death under similar charges.
At least two people were executed and numerous death sentences linked to acts of terrorism were ordered by special Anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan.
In May 2008, Egypt extended a controversial decades-old state of emergency by two years, in a move slammed by rights-groups as anti-constitutional.
Hundreds of death sentences were handed down though not carried out in Algeria.
In the name of the war on terrorism and “legitimized” by the participation of the Great Coalition born out of the September 11th Attacks in the United States, authoritarian and illiberal countries like China continue in their violation of human rights within their own countries and, in some cases, have executed and persecuted people that, in reality, are only involved in passive opposition or activities that displease the given regime. In particular, China passes off repression against Tibetans and the Uyghurs as part of the war on terrorism. In the first six months of 2008, Chinese police detained 82 suspected terrorists in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). The 82 belonged to five groups that allegedly “plotted sabotage against the Beijing Olympics.” “The experience of Uyghurs has shown that the Beijing regime is prone to manipulating threats of religious extremism and terrorism in order to crack down on peaceful dissent,” said Uyghur American Association president Rebiya Kadeer. On July 9, 2008, Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang executed two Uyghurs and sentenced 15 others for alleged terrorist links.
On June 12, 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts. The court also said that the military justice apparatus put into place after the September 11th Attacks to detain and prosecute presumed terrorists, is inadequate. “These trials utterly fail to meet the basic due process standards required for fair trial and international humanitarian and human rights law,” Philip Alston, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, said. He highlighted that access to counsel was limited and hearsay evidence was allowed in the military trials, and that the act’s rules allowed for “coerced statements” obtained during interrogations. He also said that at least one of the detainees facing trial has been subjected to “waterboarding,” a simulated drowning technique denounced by rights’ groups as torture.
Persecution of Adherents to Religious and Spiritual Movements
In 2007 and in the first months of 2008, repression of members of minority religious groups and religious and spiritual movements not recognized by authorities continued in China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.
The Chinese authorities recognize, in concept, freedom of religion as a fundamental human right in the country’s Constitution and as established by principle international treaties. Regardless, repression continues of religious or spiritual movements not authorized by the State: Protestants and Catholics, Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. The Government has also continued its persecution of so-called “cult” movements, in particular, the Falun Gong. Tibet’s largest anti-China protests in almost two decades, begun on March 10, 2008 to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Beijing’s rule, the Tibetan authorities in exile compiled a confirmed list of the total number of deaths, injuries and arrests or detentions of Tibetans in the three traditional provinces of Tibet, from March 10 to May 31, 2008. These figures show that 209 people were killed, 1000 were injured, more than 5972 detained, and around 40 were convicted. The arbitrary sentences imposed range from one year to life imprisonment.
Religious and human rights groups outside of North Korea continue to provide information on the persecution of Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and members of clandestine Christian churches. Faithful Christians are imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for reading the Bible or preaching the word of God, and in particular, for having any contact with evangelists beyond the border in China.
The repression of the Montagnards, the ethnic Christian minority from the central high plains, has continued to be particularly harsh in Vietnam. The Government shows extreme prejudice towards this group, accused of believing in an “Americanist religion”. According to the Montagnard Foundation, which has operated for years to obtain religious freedom for the “population of the high plains,” there are “hundreds” of Christian Montagnards, ethnic Degars, detained in Vietnamese prisons. They can choose to renounce their religion or emigrate to Cambodia.
Death Penalty for Political Motives and Dissent
In 2007 and in the first months of 2008, death sentences and executions for essentially political motives were confirmed in Iran.
The Iranian judiciary continued to treat as moharebs – enemies of Allah – people arrested during anti-regime protests in the capital and other Iranian cities. The charge of being a mohareb brings on a rapid trial that can often end with the death penalty.
The Province of Khuzestan, where ethnic Arabs adhering to Sunni Islam make up the majority of the population, has been theatre to harsh repression during the year, after bombing attacks occurred in the city of Ahwaz in 2005. Contrary to Tehran’s propaganda, most Arab movements in al-Ahwaz are not violent separatists. They primarily want an end to discrimination, cultural rights, social justice and regional self-government – not independence. Several Ahwazi Arab activists were hanged.
The Province of Sistan-Beluchistan has also been the centre of heated repression towards Baluchi dissidents, adherents of Sunni Islam, which has upped the number of executions during the year.
Also in Iranian Kurdistan, death sentences and executions have been the response to political dissenters accused of “actions against National security” and “contact with subversive organizations.” In July 2007, Iranian authorities condemned two ethnic Kurds, journalist Adnan Hassanpur and journalist and social activist Hiwa Butimar, to death for acting against the country’s national security. However, Hassanpur’s sister rejected such suggestions. “I think his only offence is his pen and the articles he has written,” she said.
Death Penalty for Non-Violent Crimes
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.”
Regardless, in 2007 and the first months of 2008, the death penalty for non-violent crimes, mostly of an economic nature, was handed down and carried out in China, Iran, North Korea and Vietnam. In April 2007, Uganda’s Parliament passed a law that prescribes the death penalty for those who intentionally transmit the HIV virus.
In China, Supreme People’s Court formed a series of directive to combat, also with the death penalty, the theft of gas, petrol, copper and other acts of vandalism having grievous impact on the populace, communications and energy distribution.
In North Korea, a co-operative farm chief and two colleagues were publicly executed in December 2007 for “starting a private farm”. In February 2008, twenty-two North Koreans were reportedly executed by a firing squad for attemping to defect to South Korea.
In Iran, the parliament approved a bill that provides the death penalty for people involved in the production of pornographic films.
In May 2008, a court in Vietnam’s southern province of Bac Lieu sentenced a female post office clerk to capital punishment for theft.
Top Secret Death
Many countries, mostly authoritarian, do not provide official statistics on the use of the death penalty and the lack of information under public scrutiny serves to augment the number of executions.
In some cases, like in China and Vietnam, where the death penalty is considered a State Secret, news on executions reported by local newspapers and independent sources cover only a part of the phenomenon.
In Belarus and Mongolia, where the death penalty is also a State Secret, a practice held over from the days of the Soviet Union, news on executions filters out through family members of the executed and international organizations long after they have taken place.
In almost all the other authoritarian countries such as Iran, Yemen, and Sudan, where there is no State Secret regarding the death penalty, the only information available comes from State media, other official sources and some independent sources, but, evidently, they do not give a full and accurate picture.
There are also situations where executions are carried out in hiding and news is not reported even on the local level. This is the case in North Korea.
Then, there are countries like Saudi Arabia, Botswana, and Japan, where executions are public domain only after they have been carried out, while family members, lawyers and even the condemned are kept in the dark.
The “Humane” Lethal Injection Countries that recently decided to abandon the electric chair, hanging or the firing squad for lethal injection as the preferred method of execution, presented this “reform” as a conquest of civility and a humane and painless way to execute the condemned. The reality is far different. During 2007, in the United States there were numerous appeals against lethal injection, which more than not, resulted in the suspension of executions in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. The argument common to the appeals in various States is that the second drug administered to paralyze muscles, in reality, only impedes the executed from demonstrating pain caused by the third drug, which stops the heart, but does not prevent the executed from feeling pain. A pain of excruciating intensity and of considerable duration. Various experts and technicians of anaesthesiology have pointed out that the first drug to be injected, a barbiturate which functions as an anaesthetic, may not be sufficient to render the condemned unconscious for the successive phases of the execution. Finally, after many years of arguments and appeals, doubts on lethal injection arrived as a legal debate at the U.S. Supreme Court. However, on April 16, 2008, the Supreme Court, ruling against Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, two inmates on death row in Kentucky, established that the cocktail of lethal substances used widely in executions throughout the U.S. does not constitute a “cruel and unusual” punishment and is therefore not in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In 1997, China introduced the lethal injection, applied first in Yunnan province, and has recently introduced mobile execution units. The units consist of specially-modified vans manned by execution teams and equipped with facilities to put people to death with lethal injections close to the venue of the trials. Convicts are strapped to gurneys a few minutes after their death sentences become final, the needle is inserted into their arm, a member of the execution team presses a button, and the fatal chemicals are injected into the veins. The whole procedure can be viewed on a monitor next to the driving seat and recorded. In January 2008, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) said that China is to expand the use of lethal injections to replace execution by shooting. “It is considered more humane and will eventually be used in all Intermediate People’s Courts,” the SPC stated. To achieve the goal, the SPC will allocate the toxin used in the injection to local courts under strict supervision. Currently, court officials have to come to Beijing for the toxin. The city of Chengdu, capital of south-western China’s Sichuan Province, will formally adopt lethal injection instead of shooting. The change came on March 1, 2008, after a 10 year trial-period. Staff involved in the injection process will receive special training, especially psychological training, to help them cope with the execution. A barrier with a hole will be set up between prisoners and police officers so that neither of them will see each other during the execution. Prisoners will be asked to stretch their arm through the hole and the police will inject the fatal medicine into the arm. The medicine first makes the prisoner unconscious, then stops the heart. PRO MORATORIUM CAMPAIGN PERSPECTIVES AFTER THE SUCCESS AT THE U.N. With the vote of December 18 at the U.N., it’s as though a contract has been signed, and as with contracts, the difficulties come after signing, when the terms must then be applied. The General Assembly of the U.N., in fact, did not and can not impose the Moratorium on its member States. The real work begins now. It is necessary to double our efforts so that this success doesn’t wear out and fade away. It is necessary to use the Moratorium to finally arrive at abolishing the death penalty completely. This means that we must see that the U.N. Resolution takes a prominent position worldwide, continuing to monitor the situation country by country, organising political, parliamentary and public events in countries that still maintain the death penalty to get them to adhere to the principles established by the U.N. The Radical Party and Hands Off Cain are already committed to championing the moratorium in various hotspots: Africa, where there are the highest number of de facto abolitionist countries and where there have been many positive steps towards abolition in the last two years; the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia; Southeast Asia… As expressly stated in the Resolution approved in December, the next General Assembly must come back to the subject. The principal players that, until 2007, were prevented from declaring a moratorium at the U.N. are already looking towards the next meeting in New York as either simply procedural or even with a possibility of “reinforcing” the Resolution in its scope towards abolition. In order to reinforce the position of the U.N., it is sufficient for them to re-approve the Resolution on the Moratorium over the next years as the ultimate road leading to the fore-drawn conclusion of the abolition of the death penalty. But there is a way that the Resolution can truly be reinforced politically: the abolition not of the death penalty but of State Secrecy regarding the death penalty. The new resolution should call for all retentionist States to make available to the Secretary General and the public all information concerning the death penalty and executions. This addition should also provide for a Special Envoy of the Secretary General, who has the responsibility of monitoring the situation, but also of helping to move along the process of individual countries in satisfying the indications of the Moratorium of the U.N. and maintaining a high degree of transparency regarding capital punishment. Clearly, in these countries, the definitive solution of the problem, more than the abolition of the death penalty, regards Democracy, Rule of Law, the promotion and respect of political and civil liberties.