02 January 2013 :
Synthesis of the 2011 Report
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than ten years, was again confirmed in 2010 and the first six months of 2011.
There are currently 155 countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 97 are totally abolitionist; 8 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 6 have a moratorium on executions in place and 44 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. countries that have not carried out any executions for at least 10 years or countries which have binding obligations not to use the death penalty).
Countries retaining the death penalty worldwide are down to 42, compared to the 45 retentionist in 2009, 48 in 2008, 49 in 2007, 51 in 2006 and 54 in 2005.
In 2010, at least 22 Countries carried out executions, compared to 19 in 2009 and 26 in 2008.
In 2010, there were at least 5,837 executions, compared to at least 5,741 in 2009 and at least 5,735 in 2008. The increase of executions relative to preceding years is a result of the incredible escalation of executions in Iran which went from at least 402 in 2009 to no less than 546 in 2010.
In 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, there were no executions in 3 countries where executions were carried out in 2009: Oman, Singapore and Thailand.
On the other hand, 8 countries resumed executions: Bahrain (1), Belarus (2), Equatorial Guinea (4), Palestinian National Authority (5), Somalia (at least 8) and Taiwan (4) in 2010; Afghanistan (2) and United Arab Emirates (1) in 2011.
In the United States, no “abolitionist” State reintroduced the death penalty, but two States which had not carried out executions for a substantial period both performed an execution, In June 2010, Utah carried out its first execution since 1999 (by firing squad, a method which had not been used in the U.S.A. Since 1996) and in September of 2010, in the United States, the State of Washington carried out its first execution since 2001.
Once again, Asia tops the standings as the region where the vast majority of executions are carried out. Taking the estimated number of executions in China to be about 5,000 (more or less equal to the number in 2009 but diminished in respect to preceding years), the total for 2010 corresponds to a minimum of 5,746 executions (98.4%), an increase in respect to the minimum of 5,670 in 2009.
In the Americas, the United States of America was the only country to carry out executions (46) in 2010.
In Africa, in 2010, the death penalty was carried out in 6 countries (in 2009 there were 4) – Libya (at least 18), Somalia (at least 8), Sudan (at least 8), Egypt (4), Equatorial Guinea (4) and Botswana (1) – where there were at least 43 executions. In 2009 there were at least 19 executions as in 2008 and compared to 26 in 2007 and 87 in 2006 on the entire continent.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, where two men were put to death for homicide in 2010 while another two men were executed on July 21, 2011.
China, Iran and North Korea: Top Executioners of 2010
Of the 42 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 35 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal States. Eighteen of these countries were responsible for approximately 5,784 executions, about 99% of the world total in 2010.
China alone carried out about 5,000, or 85.6%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 546 people to death and North Korea at least 60; Yemen, at least 53; Saudi Arabia, at least 27; Libya, at least 18; Iraq, at least 17; Syria, at least 17; Bangladesh, 9; Somalia, at least 8; Sudan, at least 8; Palestinian National Authority (Gaza Strip), 5; Vietnam, at least 4; Egypt, 4; Equatorial Guinea, 4; Belarus, 2; Bahrain, 1; Malaysia, at least 1.
Many of these countries do not issue official statistics on the practice of the death penalty, 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 transparency of information concerning capital punishment, for democracy, for respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
The terrible podium of the world’s top executioners is occupied by three authoritarian States in 2010: China, Iran and North Korea.
China: Officially the World’s Record-holder for Executions (Despite a Continued Reduction)
Although the death penalty remains a State secret in China, some news in recent years, including declarations from official sources, suggest that the use of the death penalty may have diminished compared to preceding years.
A major turnabout came after the introduction of a legal reform on January 1, 2007, which requires that every capital sentence handed down in China by an inferior court be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
On November 26, 2010, the China Daily newspaper reported the Supreme People’s Court has overturned “on average” 10 percent of death sentences handed down in the country since the top court began reviewing them in 2007.
The SPC itself dealt with 12,086 cases of various types and concluded 10,626 cases in 2010, a decrease in respect to 2009 when the cases presided over were 13,318 with decisions reached in 11,749 cases.
It can be safely presumed that the great majority (more than 90 per cent) of these cases are death penalty review cases, as the SPC doesn’t have jurisdiction over many other cases.
Under such circumstances, an approximate but realistic estimate would put the number of death sentences in 2010 – between definitive sentences and those suspended for two years – at around 9,500, a slight decrease from 2009.
In February 2010, China’s highest court has issued new guidelines on the death penalty that instruct lower courts to limit its use to a small number of “extremely serious” cases. In its 2011 report, the Supreme People’s Court said it would continue to reduce the number of executions from this year by ensuring that only small numbers of extremely serious criminals are executed.
On February 25, 2011, China dropped the death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes and banned capital punishment for offenders over the age of 75 in a move seen as symbolic but unlikely to significantly reduce executions. China’s newly revised Criminal Law has reduced the number of crimes punishable by death from 68 to 55. The new rules came into effect on May 1, 2011. However, the changes would not bring down the number of people executed because it targets economic-related non-violent offences that have rarely, if ever, had capital punishment applied to them.
Iran: Still at Second Place on the Podium of Inhumanity
In 2010, once again, Iran has come in second in the bid for the highest number of executions and, along with China and North Korea, finds itself atop the loathsome awards podium of the champion Executioner-States of the world.
According to monitoring carried out by Iran Human Rights (IHR), an NGO based in Norway which works against the death penalty in the Islamic Republic, in 2010, Iran carried out at least 546 executions, a frightening increase over preceding years. In 2009, Iran Human Rights had estimated at least 402 executions.
In 2011, there was no sign of progress. Actually, Iran has witnessed a dramatic increase in executions in the first months of the year, and the rate was three times that of last year. Iran Human Rights has recorded 390 executions from the beginning of the year up to 7 July.
The numbers could be higher, if news from former prisoners, family members and the lawyers of the condemned is taken into consideration.
The execution of child offenders continued into 2010, when at least 2 people under the age of 18 at the time of their were hanged in Iran, in open violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it is a co-signatory. At least 3 other juvenile offenders were hanged in the first six months of 2011.
Proof of the upsurge of repression on the part of the Iranian regime, in 2010 and in the first months of 2011, the practice of public executions has almost returned to the frequency of past levels. In 2010, at least 19 people were hanged publicly. In 2011, public executions increased with at least 36 people being executed in public as of June 20.
The use of the death penalty for purely political motives continued in Iran in 2010. But it is probable that many of the people put to death in Iran for ordinary crimes or for “terrorism,” may well be in fact political opponents, in particular members of Iran’s ethnic minorities, including Iranian Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs. Accused of being mohareb – enemies of Allah – those arrested are often subject to rapid and severe trials that often end with a sentence of death.
However, the death penalty is not the only punishment dictated by the Iranian implementation of Sharia or Islamic law. There is also torture, amputation, flogging and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments. These are not isolated incidents and they occur in flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Iran signed and which expressly prohibits such practices.
North Korea, Executions Tripled
After a decline since 2000 amid international criticism, North Korea resumed frequent public executions in 2010, targeting officials accused of drug-trafficking, embezzlement and other non violent crimes, and North Koreans who attempted to cross into China and South Korea in search of food and to avoid political oppression.
On January 12, 2011, a diplomatic source familiar with North Korean affairs said there were 60 confirmed public executions in the North in 2010, more than triple the number of 2009.
North Korea has increased public executions, apparently in a bid to tighten controls amid the designation of North Korean leader’s son Kim Jong-un as his father’s heir. Kim Jong-un has called for “gunshots across the country.” Kim Jong-il did exactly the same thing when he took power.
Democracy and the Death Penalty
Of the 42 retentionist, only 7 countries 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 2010, and they accounted for 53 executions between them, about 1% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (46), Taiwan (4), Japan (2) and Botswana (1). In 2009 there were 3 and they carried out a total of 60 executions: United States (52), Japan (7) and Botswana (1).
In Indonesia, 2010 was the second year without an execution since 2004, while India has not carried out an execution in six consecutive years.
United States: The Number of Death Sentences and Death Row Inmates Continues to Decrease
During 2010, only 12 U.S. States carried out executions: there were 46 executions as compared to 52 in 2009. In 2010, 114 new sentences of death were handed down. In the first six months of 2011, 25 executions were carried out in 9 States.
The 46 executions of 2010 took place in Texas (17), Ohio (8), Alabama (5), Oklahoma, Virginia and Mississippi (3), Georgia (2), Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Utah and Washington (1).
As of 1 January 2011, there were 3,261 people on death row. As of the same date a year earlier, there were two more, 3,263. The highest number of death row inmates was recorded in 2000 with 3,593 total inmates. Since that time the number has steadily decreased.
During 2010 and in the beginning of 2011, there were many legislative proposals concerning the death penalty, some towards abolition, others to create stricter norms regarding its application and others to facilitate its application. Many of these bills were short-lived, blocked in the preliminary phases of the legislative review process.
Illinois brought its abolitionist legislation to completion with the law going into full effect on July 1, 2011. Meanwhile, de facto moratoriums continue there course in states which still have the death penalty but have not carried out an execution in at least ten years: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and the U.S. Military Administration.
In January of 2011, the only pharmaceutical company authorized to produce and sell Sodium Pentothal in the United States, Hospira Inc. with its headquarters in Illinois, first decided to move its production facilities to an Italian subsidiary and, after an intense campaign conducted in large part by Hands Off Cain, decided to close down the operation definitively to avoid the risk that the barbiturate might end up in US penitentiaries.
Because of a scarcity of Pentothal or the imminent expiration date of supplies of the drug on a national level, many American States have been forced to suspend or postpone executions.
Lacking Pentothal, many States have modified their execution protocol introducing a new barbiturate, Pentobarbital. On 16 December 2010, Oklahoma, for the first time in the United States, used Pentobarbital for an execution and, as of June 30, 2011, another six States followed suit: Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, and South Carolina.
On July 1, 2011, the Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Inc., which is not the only producer of Pentobarbital but the only to have an American subsidiary licensed to produce the drug in the U.S., announced that it would create rigid checks on distribution of Nembutal [the commercial name of Pentobarbital] to prevent it from being used for lethal injections in American prisons.
Besides the consideration of misplaced justice, which has been the subject of political debate in recent years, questions of the “cost of the death penalty” are coming to the fore. On average, in the United States a death sentence costs between 1 and 3 million dollars, as compared to the 500,000 dollars a sentence of life without parole costs taxpayers. In California, for example, the state's 714 death row prisoners cost $184 million more per year than those sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The debate over “costs” is sure to heat up in following years and, along with the debate over misplaced justice, should bring about important changes. In fact, an alternative idea seems to have taken on increasing interest: give up on seeking death penalty convictions in cases which often involve overwhelming evidence of guilt on the part of the accused and dedicate the savings to solving cases where the perpetrator is still at large.
Of course, there is always the media to show that the family of the victim after an execution is “very satisfied and finally relieved,” but to this, which always helps politicians garner consensus, some associations of victims’ families are answering by saying that, in the interest of the victims, it would be better to direct funds to “cold cases,” those thousands of unsolved cases that present themselves every year.
Japan: Executions Significantly Dropped
The number of executions in Japan has significantly dropped since the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September 2009, after more than 50 years of nearly unbroken rule by conservatives.
The only executions since then came on July 28, 2010, when two men were hanged for murder. Before the government changed, in 2009 there were 7 executions.
On July 28, 2011, the Minister of Justice Satsuki Eda declared that “for the moment” he had no intention of authorizing any executions. In August of 2010, the Minister announced the formation of a special research team to examine the death penalty with the possibility of abolition.
In Indonesia, 2010 was the second year without an execution since 2004. The last executions, of the Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, took place in November 2008.
While few anticipate the moratorium will last forever, or that Indonesia will abolish the death sentence, there has been a discernible shift in attitude. Perhaps the best explanation for the new reluctance to carry out executions lies with a seminal ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2008, saying capital punishment should be used sparingly and those on death row should be given the chance to rehabilitate.
In 2010, for the sixth year in a row, India has not carried out a death sentence.
On February 10, 2010, the Supreme Court held that long incarceration and socio-economic factors leading to crime are relevant and mitigating considerations for commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment. Besides those handed down in the halls of justice, in 2010 another thirteen commutations were decided by Indian president Pratibha Devisingh Patil.
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.
In 2010 two men were executed for murder and others were killed on 21 July 2011.
The situation in Russia is different for its commitment to abolish the death penalty as member of the Council of Europe, and for a 1996 moratorium on executions that is still in effect.
As far as the rest of Europe is concerned, 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
After 2009, when 4 countries became total or de facto abolitionist, another 4 joined the list in 2010 and the first six months of 2011. As of January 2010, The Bahamas have gone more than ten years without practicing the death penalty, establishing themselves as de facto abolitionist country. In January 2010, Mongolia’s President announced a moratorium on the death penalty. In February 2010, Gabon abolished the death penalty. As of April 2011, Guinea has gone more than ten years without practicing the death penalty, establishing itself as de facto abolitionist country.
In the United States, the State of Illinois abolished the death penalty on March 9, 2011, becoming the 16th State in the US without a death penalty. New York and New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007. New Mexico followed suit in 2009. In 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, significant political and legislative steps towards abolition or at least positive signs, such as collective commutations of capital punishment, have been seen in numerous countries.
The government of Thailand has declared its intention to abolish the death penalty, as announced in the human rights plan for the years 2009-2013. In Tajikistan, a Working Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty was established in April 2010. In January 2010 a law came into effect in Vietnam eliminating the death penalty for eight crimes. In February of 2011, Tunisia announced the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol relating to the abolition of the death penalty. There were also a significant number of amnesties and commutations of death sentences in Ethiopia, Uganda, in Cuba, in Morocco and in Sierra Leone. In May 2011, Myanmar’s new President commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment.
Resumption of Executions
Regarding steps backwards, in 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, 8 countries resumed executions: Bahrain (1), Belarus (2), Equatorial Guinea (4), Palestinian National Authority (5), Somalia (at least 8) and Taiwan (4) in 2010; Afghanistan (2) and United Arab Emirates (1) in 2011.
Some of these did so after many years of suspension.
In the United States, in June of 2010, Utah carried out its first execution since 1999 and, in September of 2010, the State of Washington carried out its first execution since 2001.
Sharia Law and the Death Penalty
In 2010, at least 714 executions, compared to 658 in 2009, were carried out in 13 Muslim-majority countries (there were 10 in 2009), many of which were ordered by religious tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Eighteen 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 47 Muslim-majority States worldwide, 23 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 24 retain the death penalty, of which 13 applied capital punishment in 2010.
Hanging, beheading and firing squad are the methods which were used to enforce the Sharia in 2010 and in the first six months of 2011. In Iran, there were also sentences to stoning, but it seems that none were carried out in 2010 (the last time this happened was in 2009).
Of all Islamic punishments, stoning is the most terrible. It is meant to cause a slow torturous death. The condemned person is wrapped head to foot in white shrouds and buried in a pit. A woman is buried up to her armpits, while a man is buried up to his waist. A truckload of rocks is brought to the site and court-appointed officials, or in some cases ordinary citizens approved by the authorities, carry out the stoning. The stones used must be neither too large, or they may cause instant death, nor too small to be fatal. If the condemned person somehow manages to survive the stoning, he or she will be imprisoned for as long as 15 years but will not be executed.
In 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, sentences of death by stoning were issued in Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan, Even though it seems that they were not carried out to date.
One man was stoned to death in Somalia in 2010, but he was condemned to death by an extra-judicial Islamic tribunal. Other extra-judiciary stonings were carried out in 2010 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the zones controlled by the Taliban.
Hanging – But Not Only...
Of the methods employed to carry out death sentences based on Sharia law, the most common is hanging, preferred for men but used for women as well.
In 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, hangings carried out on the basis of Sharia law occurred in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.
Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution.
In Iran, hanging is often carried out by crane or low platforms to draw out the pain of death. The noose is made from heavy rope or steel wire and is placed around the neck in such a fashion as to crush the larynx causing extreme pain and prolonging the death of the condemned. On July 12, 2011, Tadano, a Japanese producer of cranes, declared that it would no longer have dealings with the Iranian government following the “Crane Campaign” launched by the association UANI (United Against Nuclear Iran), which published a list of eight international companies on its website that send cranes or their parts to Iran, along with numerous photos of the cranes being used to carry out public executions.
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.
The beheadings carried out in Somalia by Moslem extremists of Al-Shabaab are to be considered extra-judiciary.
In Saudi Arabia, 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. The typical procedure of beheading provides for the executioner to re-fix the decapitated head onto the body of the executed, so that it may be hung, generally, for about two hours, from the window or balcony of a mosque or hung upon a pole, during midday prayers. The pole is sometimes shaped in the form of a cross, hence the use of the term “crucifixion”. In 2010 there were 27 executions, fewer than half of those carried out in 2009 (at least 69), but in 2011 executions have increased significantly (34 as of July 25).
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2010 and 2011 in carrying out Sharia-based executions in Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
According to Islamic law, the relatives of the victim of a crime have three options: to allow the execution to take place, to spare the murderer’s life to receive blessings from God, or to grant clemency in exchange for diyeh, or blood money.
In 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, cases involving “blood money” ended in pardon or death in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In Saudi Arabia, numerous cases involving “blood money” were resolved positively thanks to the Reconciliation Committee, a nation-wide organization that secures pardons for death row prisoners and helps settle lengthy inter-family and tribal disputes through mediation.
Iranian law provides that the “blood money” for a woman is half that of a man. Furthermore, if a man kills a woman, a man cannot be executed, even if condemned to death, without the family of the woman first paying to the family of the murderer half the price of his blood money.
Blasphemy and apostasy
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 Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, there are people on death row accused of witchcraft, apostasy and blasphemy.
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 2010 and in the first six months of 2011, Iran was the only known Country to carry out the death penalty in cases involving those who were minors at the time of their crimes. In 2010, death sentences were handed down, but not carried out, in cases where the defendant was a minor at the time of the crime in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and United Arab Emirates.
In the first six months of 2011, people who were minors at the time of their crime were also condemned to death in Mauritania and Egypt.
The “War on Drugs”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) grants an exception to the right to life guaranteed in Article 6(1) to countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty, but only in relation to ‘the most serious crimes’. UN human rights bodies have declared that drug offences are not among the ‘most serious crimes’. The ‘most serious crimes’ threshold for the lawful application of capital punishment is also supported by UN political bodies, which clarified that by ‘most serious crimes’ it is intended only those ‘with lethal or other extremely grave consequences’.
Another concern is the presence in many states of legislation prescribing mandatory death sentences for certain categories of drug offences. Mandatory death sentences that do not consider the individual merits of a particular case have been widely criticized by human rights authorities.
According to 2010 Report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences, produced by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), thirty-two jurisdictions in all maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug-related crimes, including thirteen countries that allow for mandatory capital punishment for certain drug offences: Brunei-Darussalam, Egypt, India, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Syria, Laos, Yemen, Oman and Sudan.
The prohibitionist ideology concerning drugs, dominant worldwide, once again made its contribution to the practice of the death penalty in 2010 and the first six months of 2011.
In the name of the war on drugs and as a result of increasingly strict laws, there were executions carried out in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Death sentences were handed down but not carried out in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Yemen.
HOC pro moratorium campaign outlook
The approval, in December of 2007, of the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Executions by the General Assembly of the United Nations, was a fundamental step, not only in the struggle against the death penalty, but also for the affirmation of the State of Law as well as for rights historically guaranteed by the State but not respected.
Since then, the concrete impact of the U.N. Resolution, which saw an increased level of adherence in 2008 and again in 2010, with numerous Nations, even those which until recently seemed inaccessible, showing signs of positive growth in terms of the death penalty as is documented in the Hands Off Cain's 2011 Report.
The outlook on abolition is even more favorable when considering the enormous social and political changes in the Arab world and beyond. The end of the myth of invincibility of dictators entrenched in power for decades, may bring about humanitarian and democratic reforms that will bring an end to the systems and practices of the death penalty of the past.
In Morocco, the new Constitution approved by a popular referendum on 1 July, posits, for the first time, the right to life as being fundamental. In Tunisia, on 1 February 2011, the united national interim government ratified immensely important international treaties including the Statute of Rome on the institution of the International Court of Justice [ratified on 24 June 2011] as well as two additional protocols to the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, including that relative to the death penalty. Meanwhile, de facto moratoriums continue in Jordan (since 2006) and Lebanon (since 2004).
But perhaps the real proof of a regime change in the Arab world rests with Egypt, the Nation that at the United Nations was always in the frontline against the Pro-Moratorium Resolution. If the interim Egyptian government can guarantee the heads of the former state, starting with ex-President Hosni Mubarak, fundamental human rights, including a fair and open trial that excludes the death penalty, it will be the most evident departure from the ways of the past.
Last December, besides Jordan and Lebanon, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritania and Oman also abstained from voting on the Resolution for a Moratorium at the U.N. General Assembly. While Algeria, voted in favor and also cosponsored the text, in full accord with its legal moratorium on executions in the Country that has been in place since 1993. The vast majority which approved the last U.N. Resolution, was largely a result of changes in the Arab world and further confirms that the whole world is decisively heading towards the elimination of the bogus and archaic system of the death penalty.
However, to truly end the aberrant and contradictory principle which seeks to defend life by inflicting death, the Nations that supported the moratorium at the U.N. must concretely respect it in all circumstances.
Hands Off Cain will do its part with a project that will bring the Association, over the next two years, to work in 17 countries in North Africa, the Middle East and East and South-East Asia where, in recent years, political events, legislative reforms and other positive factors suggest the possibility of abolishing the death penalty or at least limiting its use with de facto moratoriums and collective commutations of death sentences. In many of these Nations, the top priority is to overcome State Secrecy regarding the death penalty, which is often a direct cause of a greater number of death sentences and executions.
The work of the association will take place on two distinct but complementary levels: the first, geared towards informing the public and sensitizing it to the necessity to abolish the death penalty, regards those working in the information and social communications sectors of target Nations; the second, more directly regards institutions, particularly at the Governmental and Parliamentary level, in seeking to move them towards adherence to norms established by the United Nations and the European Union.
Because of difficulties regarding the cost of a massive multimedia campaign against the death penalty Nation by Nation organized by abolitionist organizations themselves, Hands Off Cain intends, through two instructional seminars organized in collaboration with Oliviero Toscani and the RAI Social Action Department, to share and provide local and regional operators in the information and communications sectors with the instruments and basic knowledge, examples and techniques of communications to enable them to realize their own campaigns, honed to their particular contexts, bringing light to the realities of the death penalty while informing public opinion on the reasons for its abolition. A seminar, geared towards the Countries of North Africa and the Middle East will take place in Tunisi and will be carried out in partnership with the Arab Institute for Human Rights; the other will be held in Tokyo and will be developed in partnership with the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network, and will include countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
At the same time, Hands Off Cain will organize missions in the 17 target countries of the project to encourage them to implement the United Nations' request of a moratorium on executions with a view to the abolition of the death penalty, and gain new support for the Resolutions against the death penalty that are already on the agenda of the forthcoming sessions (2012 and 2014) of the UN General Assembly.
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.” The ‘most serious crimes’ threshold for the lawful application of capital punishment is also supported by UN political bodies, which clarified that by ‘most serious crimes’ it intends only those ‘with lethal or other extremely grave consequences’. Regardless, in 2010 and the first months of 2011, the death penalty for non-violent crimes, mostly of an economic nature, was handed down and carried out in China, Iran and North Korea. Top Secret Death Several countries, mainly authoritarian ones, do not issue official statistics on capital punishment, therefore the number of executions may in fact be much higher. In some countries, such as China and Vietnam, the death penalty is considered a State secret and reports of executions carried by local media or independent sources – upon which the execution totals are mainly based – in fact represent only a fraction of the total of executions carried out nationwide every year. The same is applicable for Belarus, where news of executions filters mainly through relatives or international organizations long after the fact. In Iran, that carries out executions regularly without classifying the death penalty as a State secret, the main sources of information on executions are reports selected by the regime and carried by State media. These reports do not carry news of all executions, as evidenced by information occasionally divulged by individual citizens or by political opposition groups. Absolute secrecy governs executions in some countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia, North Korea and Syria, where news of executions does not even filter through to the local media. Secret executions are being carried out in Iraq in the prisons run by Nouri al-Maliki’s government. Other States, like Japan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore divulge news of executions after they have taken place with relatives, lawyers and the condemned people themselves being kept in the dark before the actual executions take place. The “Humane” Lethal Injection Countries that 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. United States, the New One-Drug Solution Finally, after years of debate and appeals, doubts on the method of lethal injections made their way into the hands of the United States Supreme Court, which in April 2008 ruled, in a 7-2 vote, against the appeal presented by two death row inmates in the State of Kentucky, Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, establishing that the cocktail of lethal substances used does not represent a “cruel and unusual” punishment and is, therefore, not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court recognized the risk of accidents and malfunctions, but argued that such problems always exist in any system. The Court stated that the Constitution protects citizens from “willingly” cruel and painful practices, but this does not mean that every practice of the State must be free of pain and risk. The amount of pain and/or risk involved in lethal injection, while being unpleasant and worthy of elimination, does not represent a violation of the Constitution, but is, rather, “inevitable.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court recognized the validity of the proposal of the lawyers of Baze and Bowling, and by many lawyers and experts, to use a single, massive dose of barbiturate in place of the three-drug cocktail. According to the Court, it would seem that this would be the least painful and risk-free method available. As is well known, in recent years there has been much controversy over the second of the three drugs used in the lethal injection protocol. The second drug, which paralyzes the muscles, in reality only serves to impede the condemned from demonstrating any pain brought on by the third drug, which stops the heart, but it does not prevent the pain itself. Numerous States have started procedures to modify their protocols from the three drug method to the single large dose of sleeping pills. Because of a shortage of Pentothal at the national level and after the decision of Hospira to close down its production definitively, many States have modified their protocols switching over to the new barbiturate of choice, Pentobarbital, very similar to Pentothal, but more widely available, thus more economical and easier to obtain. As well as being used as a sedative and an anaesthetic agent, it is also used in the treatment of Huntington's Disease, epilepsy and a host of other diseases which strike the central nervous system. It is also widely known for killing lame horses and a variety of terminally ill animals. On December 16, 2010, the first execution of a human being using a drug normally designated to euthanizing suffering animals was carried out on John Duty, 58 years old, put down with an overdose of Pentobarbital in the maximum security prison of Oklahoma City. He died six minutes after his lethal injection. China: a “Privilege” for Top Officials and Foreigners In China, executions are mostly carried out with a shot to the back of the head or the heart from close range. The condemned are made to kneel, with their legs in shackles and their hands tied behind their backs. Even though, in 1997, China had already introduced the lethal injection and half of the 404 Intermediate People’s Tribunals already use lethal injection, the “privilege” of being sent to one's death in such a way is often reserved for ex top officials of the regime condemned to death and foreign citizens. Between April 6 and 9, 2010, China executed four Japanese nationals in Liaoning province for drug smuggling. On July 7, 2010, China executed Wen Qiang, former head of the judiciary in the Chongqing region, by lethal injection, after he was sentenced to death in April for charges including rape and taking bribes to protect criminal gangs. On March 30, 2011, three Filipinos were executed by lethal injection in Xiamen. China has also 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. This removes the need to transfer prisoners to execution grounds, a procedure that requires considerable security measures. 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 their veins. Makers of the death vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad, ending the life of the condemned more quickly, clinically and safely. It is easy to imagine that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners’ organs. Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot. Vietnam, Lethal Injection Costs Less and Reduces Psychological Stress for the Executioner On June 17, 2010, the Law on Execution of Criminal Sentences was approved by the National Assembly. Almost all of the 433 lawmakers present in the Assembly approved the change after lawmakers sought to find a “more humane” method of execution. A paper issued by a key group of deputies before the month-long legislative session said it was necessary “to find a more humanitarian method” of execution than firing squads. “Injection of poison causes less pain to people being executed and their bodies stay intact. It costs less, and reduces psychological pressure on the executors,” said the document. This is said to be more advantageous than shooting because families of death-sentence criminals can take the bodies. Executions with the new method were slated to begin as of July 1, 2011, but the Minister of Public Safety postponed the date to 1 September as the facilities for the new procedure still needed to be completed and personnel still needed to be trained. Because of the delays, planned executions were postponed until September.