02 January 2013 :SUMMARY OF THE 2012 REPORT
The Worldwide Situation to Date
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than ten years, was again confirmed in 2011 and the first six months of 2012.
There are currently 155 Countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 99 are totally abolitionist; 7 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 5 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 rose to 43 in 2011, compared to the 42 in 2010, only because the South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, has retained the death penalty. Retentionist Countries, however, have gradually declined over the last few years: in 2009 there were 45, 48 in 2008, 49 in 2007, 51 in 2006 and 54 in 2005.
In 2011, executions werecarried out in 19 Countries, compared to 22 in 2010, 19 in 2009 and 26 in 2008.
In 2011, there were at least 5,000 executions, compared to at least 5,946 in 2010, at least 5,741 in 2009 and at least 5,735 in 2008. The decline of executions compared to previous years is justified by the significant drop in executions in China, estimated to be down from about 5,000 in 2010 to about 4,000 in 2011.
In 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, there were no executions in 4 Countries where executions were carried out in 2010: Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Malaysia.
On the other hand, 4 Countries resumed executions: Afghanistan (2) and United Arab Emirates (1) in 2011; Botswana (1) and Japan (3) in 2012.
In the United States of America, no “abolitionist” State reintroduced the death penalty, but Idaho, with 1 execution in 2011 and 1 in 2012, resumed executions after a 17 years de facto moratorium dating back to 1994.
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 4,000 (about a thousand less than in 2010), the total for 2011 corresponds to a minimum of 4,931 executions (98.6%), down from 2010 when there were at least 5,855 executions.
In the Americas, the United States of America was the only Country to carry out executions (43) in 2011.
In Africa, in 2011, the death penalty was carried out in 4 Countries (in 2010 there were 6) – Somalia (at least 11), Sudan (at least 7), South Sudan (5), Egypt (at least 1) – where there were at least 24 executions. In 2010 there were at least 43 executions, in 2009 at least 19 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 2011 while another two men were executed in 2012.
China, Iran and Saudi Arabia: Top Executioners of 2011
Of the 43 Countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 36 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal States. Seventeen of these Countries were responsible for approximately 4,952 executions, 99% of the world total in 2011.
China alone carried out about 4,000, or 80%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 676 people to deathand Saudi Arabia at least 82; Iraq, at least 68; Yemen, at least 41; North Korea, at least 30; Vietnam, at least 17; Somalia, at least 11; Sudan, at least 7; Bangladesh, at least 5; South Sudan, 5; Palestinian National Authority (Gaza Strip), 3; Afghanistan, 2; Belarus, 2; Egypt, at least 1; Syria,at least 1; United Arab Emirates, 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 2011: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
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.
According to the US-based Dui Hua Foundation’s estimate, executions in China have dropped 50 per cent since 2007 to around 4,000 per year. Dui Hua based its number on estimates of a Chinese legal expert, Liu Renwen, law professor and director of Criminal Law Department of the Institute of Law under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who told a forum on the death penalty in Suzhou on 30 November 2011 that in the four years since the SPC regained the power to conduct final review over death sentences, the number of executions had declined by more than 50 percent. State media quoted Liu as saying in 2006 that an estimate of about 8,000 executions annually was “realistic.”
These data were confirmed during a major seminar on the death penalty, which was held from 1 to 3 December 2011 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. The seminar was jointly organized by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assisted by the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and was attended by more than 30 Chinese scholars and officials – several of whom are believed to have access to statistics on death verdicts and executions.
The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) dealt with 11,867 cases of various types and concluded 10,515 cases in 2011, a decrease in respect to 2010 when the cases presided over were 12,086 with decisions reached in 10,626 cases. It can be safely presumed that the great majority 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 2011 – between definitive sentences and those suspended for two years – at around 9,400, a slight decrease from 2010.
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 2011, once again, Iran has come in second in the bid for the highest number of executions and, along with China and Saudi Arabia, 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, in 2011, Iran carried out at least 676 executions, a frightening increase over preceding years, and with a sharp increase in executions held in public. On the basis of these same sources, Iran Human Rights had estimated at least 546 executions in 2010, and at least 402 in 2009.
IHR emphasizes that the actual number of the executions is probably much higher than the figures included in its annual report.
The execution of child offenders continued into 2011, in open violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it is a co-signatory. At least 4 people were hanged, after being convicted of offences they had allegedly committed when they were under the age of 18. Two of them were under 18 years of age at the time they were executed. Two other juvenile offenders were executed in 2011 according to unofficial sources but IHR hasn’t confirmed their age yet. At least 2 juvenile offenders were hanged in Iran in 2010 and at least 5 in 2009.
In 2011, public executions have more than tripled, with at least 65 people being executed in public. This is the highest number in more than 10 years. Public executions have continued in 2012: as of 28 June, at least 31 public executions were held.
In 2011, Iran continued to apply the death penalty to clearly non-violent crimes. In September, three men were hanged in the Karoun prison of Ahwaz, after being found guilty of charges related to homosexuality.
The use of the death penalty for purely political motives continued in 2011. But it is probable that many of the people put to death 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.
At least 3 of those executed in January 2011 were arrested for participation in demonstrations against the fraudulent Presidential Election results of 12 June 2009, which saw the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
However, the death penalty is not the only punishment dictated by the Iranian implementation of Sharia. 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.
Saudi Arabia: Executions Tripled
Saudi Arabia had among the highest number of executions in the world a few years ago, but in recent years the numbers have decreased considerably, thanks, in part, to some reforms in the penal system.
However, the number of executions in the Gulf Country tripled in 2011 compared with 2010. At least 76 inmates were executed in 2011, according to an Agence France Presse count, while Amnesty International believes that Saudi Arabia carried out at least 82 executions, including five women and 28 foreign nationals, during this period.
In 2012, as of 26 June, there were 45 people executed in Saudi Arabia, according to an AFP tally based on official reports.
Democracy and the Death Penalty
Of the 43 retentionist, only 7 Countriesare 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 2 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2011, and they accounted for 48 executions between them, 1% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (43) and Taiwan. In 2010 there were 4 (United States, Taiwan, Japan and Botswana) and they carried out 53 executions.
In Indonesia, 2011 was the third consecutive year without an execution since 2004, while India has not carried out an execution in seven consecutive years.
Botswana and Japan have however resumed executions in 2012.
United States: The Number of Death Sentences and Death Row Inmates Continues to Decrease
In 2011, there were 43 executions as compared to 46 in 2010. This is a reduction of 6.5% and 43 is the lower number of executions in the last 15 years.
Executions in 2011 took place in 13 of the 32 States with the death penalty: Texas (13); Alabama (6); Ohio (5); Georgia and Arizona (4); Florida, Mississippi and Oklahoma (2); Delaware, Idaho, Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia (1).
In the first six months of 2012, twenty-three executions were carried out in 8 States. In the same period last year, there were 25 executions in 9 States.
In 2011, 78 new sentences of death were handed down, a steep decrease from the past, when they never came under 100. In 2010, there were 114 and there were 112 in 2009.
As of 1 January 2012, there were 3,189 people on death row. As of the same date a year earlier, there were 3,261 people.
On 25 April 2012, the State of Connecticut abolished the death penalty, becoming the fifth State in five years, and the 17th in the United States, to do away with capital punishment. Illinois abolished the death penalty on 9 March 2011, and, in Oregon, the Governor declared a moratorium on all executions on 22 November.
To date, therefore, the death penalty no longer exists in 18 of the 53 U.S. jurisdictions (considering that, other than the 50 States, there is also the District of Columbia, better known as the nation’s capital city Washington D.C., the Federal Government and the Military Justice System). Of the 35 jurisdictions where it is still in effect, 8 have not carried out an execution in more than ten years. Among the remaining 27 jurisdictions, there are still moratoriums in effect that in the last few years have been brought about mostly because of considerations regarding lethal injection protocol.
An unforeseen event impacted dramatically on the practice of the death penalty in the United States in 2010 and 2011: first, the shortage and then, the absolute end of the production of Sodium Thiopental, also known as Pentothal. 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. Some States thought to buy the drug abroad (some lots were imported from Great Britain and India), but when it was discovered that because of existing laws these importations risked to be declared irregular, they, instead, modified their execution protocols by introducing the use of Pentobarbital, a common barbiturate, widely distributed and readily available in the U.S..
However, on 1 July 2011, the Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Inc., which is not the only producer of Pentobarbital but the only one 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 brand name of Pentobarbital] to prevent it from being used for lethal injections in American prisons. Due to the shortage of both Sodium Thiopental and Pentobarbital, and while several appeals are pending in courts on any possible foreign purchase of such drugs, in May 2012 Missouri adopted the new drug, Propofol.
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. Studies have calculated that approximately 50% of the death sentences handed down eventually is transformed into sentences of life imprisonment after the appeals process. Other studies have shown, even in cases where the death sentence “holds,” keeping a person in prison for life costs twenty times less than keeping someone on death row for a few years and then putting them to death. 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.
The question of “cost” is bound to become more compelling in the years to come and, together with the question of errors of justice, should bring about important changes. In many interviews with politicians and in bills presented in numerous States, the problems related to the “cost of the death penalty” came under focus with consideration of an alternative: giving up on capital punishment, which usually involves people for which there is already ample proof for conviction and using the money saved to solve cases where criminals have yet to be identified.
Japan: Resumption of Executions in 2012
On 29 March 2012, Japan hanged three death-row inmates in its first executions since 2010. The men were hanged in three different prisons in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.
The hangings are only the second time the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan has implemented the death penalty since it came to power in September 2009.
Japan did not execute anyone in 2011, the first year in nearly two decades the Country has not carried out a single death sentence.
In Indonesia, 2011 was the third consecutive year without an execution. The last executions, of 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 2011, for the seventh year in a row, India has not carried out a death sentence. India’s first reported execution since 1995 took place in Kolkata jail on 14 August 2004, when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged for raping and killing a girl.
In 2011 eight commutations were decided by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, who has so far only cleared those mercy petitions wherein the Home Ministry has advised the commutation to life imprisonment. In the first six months of 2012, another twelve commutations were decided by President Patil.
President Patil was the most merciful of all presidents during the last three decades as she commuted death sentences of 38 petitioners to life imprisonment during her tenure, which is over 90 per cent of the total pardon granted. During her tenure, which expired in July, Patil rejected the petitions of only five persons, which include Rajiv Gandhi’s three killers – Santham, Murugan and Arivu; Khalistan militant Devinder Pal Singh who was convicted in 1993 Delhi car bombing and Mahendra Nath Das who had murdered a truck drivers association leader.
On 30 April 2010, Taiwan took up executions again after a five year de facto moratorium. Four death row convicts were executed for murder and kidnapping, in the island’s first cases of capital punishment since December 2005, when two men were put to death for murder in Taichung prison.
On 4 March 2011, another five convicts on death row were executed in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung.
The number of executions, often carried out in secret, has always been low, one or, at most, two a year. There were no executions in 2004 and 2005. Between 2006 and 2010 there were five executions, one a year.
In 2011, there were no executions. Botswana resumed executions on 31 January 2012, when Zibani Thamo was hanged in the morning.
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 2011, two men were executed for murder and another two were executed in 2012 for terrorism.
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.
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 2011 and in the first six months of 2012.
After 2010, when 2 Countries became total or de facto abolitionist, another 3 joined the list in 2011 and the first six months of 2012.
As of April 2011, Guinea has gone more than ten years without practicing the death penalty, establishing itself as de facto abolitionist Country.
In January 2012, Latvia abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
In March 2012, Mongolia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), concerning the abolition of the death penalty.
In July 2012, Benin has become part of the Second Optional Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty.
In the United States, the State of Connecticut abolished the death penalty in April 2012, and Illinois abolished it in March 2011. In Oregon, the Governor declared a moratorium on all executions in November 2011.
In 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, 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.
In March 2011, the Maldives said is committed to maintaining a moratorium on executions with a view to formally abolishing the death penalty.
In September 2011, Suriname agreed on formalizing its longstanding non-use of capital punishment by abolishing all legal provisions for it.
In March 2011, Liberia insisted that it remained committed to honouring its international human rights obligations, including the abolition of the death penalty.
In March 2011, Mauritania has reiterated its commitment to a de facto abolition of the death penalty.
Nigeria continues to respect the “self-imposed moratorium” on executions in place since 2006.
In June 2012, the Government of Ghana accepted the recommendation of the Constitution Review Commission that the death penalty be completely abolished.
There were also a significant number of amnesties and commutations of death sentences in Ethiopia, Uganda, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Myanmar
Resumption of Executions
Regarding steps backwards, in 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, 4 Countries resumed executions: Afghanistan (2) and United Arab Emirates (1) in 2011; Botswana (1) and Japan (3) in 2012.
Some of these did so after years of suspension.
In February of 2011, the United Arab Emirates resumed executions after three years of suspension.
In June of 2011, Afghanistan resumed executions after two years of suspension.
In the United States, Idaho, with one execution in 2011 and one in 2012, resumed executions after a 17 years de facto moratorium dating back to 1994.
Sharia Law and the Death Penalty
In 2011, at least 898 executions, compared to 823 in 2010, were carried out in 12 Muslim-majority Countries (there were 13 in 2010), 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 12 applied capital punishment in 2011.
Hanging, beheading and firing squad are the methods which were used to enforce the Sharia in 2011 and in the first six months of 2012.
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 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning or sentences of death by stoning issued.
In January 2012, Iran approved a new penal code which would ban execution by stoning for those convicted of adultery, but experts who have studied the new code questioned the claims that Iran had abandoned its use of stoning.
In July 2012, a Sudanese court sentenced a woman to death by stoning for adultery.
However, in 2011 and 2012, extra-judiciary sentences by stoning were carried out in Afghanistan in the zones controlled by the Taliban, in Somalia once again by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, and in Mali at the hands of Islamic extremists who control the North of the country.
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 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, hangings carried out on the basis of Sharia law occurred in Palestine, 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 12 July 2011, the Japanese crane company Tadano announced it would end contracts with the Iranian government following a “Cranes Campaign” launched by the association United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) that published on its website a list of eight international companies that send crane resources to Iran, with photos of the cranes being used as execution devices. In August 2011, another Japanese crane manufacturer, UNIC, announced the end of its business in Iran, joining Tadano and Terex in pulling out of Iran following UANI’s Cranes Campaign.
Beheading as a “legal” means of carrying out executions provided by Sharia law is exclusive to Saudi Arabia.
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”. The number of executions in the Gulf Country more than tripled in 2011 compared with 2010.
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2011 and 2012 in carrying out Sharia-based executions in Yemen 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 diya, or blood money.
In 2011 and in the first six months of 2012, cases involving “blood money” ended in pardon or death in Afghanistan, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
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.
HANDS OFF CAIN PRO MORATORIUM CAMPAIGN OUTLOOK
After 19 years of international initiatives against the death penalty, we are able to evaluate the success of Hands Off Cain’s “business” from its foundation to the present. In terms of the cost-benefit ratio, emerges there the extraordinarily clear “productive” value of the “public offering” that we built in 1993. Since the founding of Hands Off Cain, 56 of the 97 retentionist States that were member of the UN at that time, have abandoned the practice of the death penalty and 15 of them have done do since 2006, the year following the re-launching of the initiative at the United Nations. Three more countries (Palau, East-Timor and Tuvalu), that became members of the UN after 1993, are also abolitionist ones.
The approval, in December 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 in the affirmation of the Rule of Law, as well as those natural rights historically taken up and often written into the laws of Nations, but not always respected.
Since then, the concrete effects of the U.N. Resolution have been witnessed in several nations, where many positive steps regarding abolition took place, as documented in this new report published by Hands Off Cain.
In December 2012, the General Assembly will vote a new resolution in favor of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and Hands Off Cain has established two priorities, two objectives for its initiatives in support of the UN Resolution.
The first is increasing the number of co-sponsor countries and votes in favor of the Resolution. To reach this goal, Hands Off Cain, with the support of Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has planned to organize, during next months, some missions to Africa, in particular, to four countries – Zimbabwe, Chad, Central African Republic, Swaziland – where there have been significant steps towards abolition of the death penalty.
The second priority is to strengthen the text of the new Resolution adding two basic requirements to be addressed to the countries that still practice capital punishment.
The first is to abolish “State Secrets” concerning the death penalty: several countries, mostly authoritarian, do not provide information on its application and the lack of information available concerning public opinion is a direct cause of an increasing number of executions. This is the case, for example, of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which, not by chance, are among the first executioner-countries in the world.
The second request is to limit death penalty to the “most serious crimes” and abolishing its mandatory prediction for certain typologies of crime. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “In those countries where death penalty has not been abolished, death sentences 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, the death penalty for non-violent crimes, in particular economic ones, and for certain drug-related offences, continue to be handed down and carried out in countries like China, Iran and North Korea. Mandatory death sentences that do not consider the individual merits of a particular case have also been widely criticized by human rights authorities.
Finally, Hands Off Cain proposes to include in the new Resolution the institution by the UN Secretary-General of the position of a Special Envoy. His job should be, not only to monitor the situation and to push for increased transparency within the systems of capital punishment, but also to continue to persuade those who still maintain the death penalty to accept the request of the United Nations for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty.
Yet, to move decisively towards eliminating the bogus and archaic system of the death penalty, it is necessary for all the Nations supporting the UN Pro-Moratorium Resolution to work to enforce it concretely and under all circumstances.
Coherence in international anti-death penalty commitment requires first of all to deny any support to this practice all over the world.
In 2010, the only pharmaceutical producer authorized to produce and sell Pentothal in the United States, Hospira Inc., whose headquarters is in Illinois, decided, because of problems with its production line and a weak American market, to pass the production to an Italian subsidiary. After an intense campaign, conducted in particular by Hands Off Cain, in January of 2011, the company decided to definitively end the production and to completely avoid the barbiturate ending up in American penitentiaries. Hospira's decision opened the way for other pharmaceutical companies to take similar decisions – from multinationals like Novartis or its subsidiary Sandoz, from the Indian pharmaceutical Kayem to Danish Lundbeck – and, eventually, it led to the European Decision in December 2011 to review European rules concerning trade of certain goods that could be used for capital punishment.
Because of a scarcity of key execution drugs, many American States and Vietnam have been forced to suspend or postpone executions.
On 28 May 2012, Vietnamese State media said a shortage of the drug used in lethal injections had halted the execution of hundreds of prisoners on death-row. Apparently, the authorities in Vietnam have failed to execute anyone, since when death by firing squad was replaced by lethal injections in July 2011. “In the past year, the execution of more than 400 inmates could not take place. More than 100 of them have completed all the paperwork,” Deputy Public Security Minister Dang Van Hieu, quoted by Tuoi Tre, said. He added that: “Their execution awaits the drug, which is not available yet” and that imports of the unspecified drug “had proved difficult.”
Another front of the campaign against the death penalty targets in particular Iran, where hangings are often carried out in public by crane. The noose is made by heavy rope or steel wire and it is placed around the neck in such a way that it crushes the larynx causing extreme pain and prolonging the death of the condemned.
In July 2011, the Japanese crane company Tadano announced it would end contracts with the Iranian government following a “Cranes Campaign” launched by the association United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) that has published on its website a list of eight international companies that send crane resources to Iran, with photos of the cranes being used as execution devices. In August 2011, another Japanese crane manufacturer, UNIC, announced the end of its business in Iran, joining Tadano and Terex in pulling out of Iran following UANI’s Cranes Campaign.
Ways to obtain abolition of the death penalty are endless and Hands Off Cain will continue to try them all to truly bring an end to the aberrant and contradictory principle according to which life should be defended by inflicting death. The liberal and anti-prohibition way of the moratorium – instead of a tout court abolition of the death penalty – that Hands Off Cain together with Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty have chosen to tread and bring in all international forums since 1993, has demonstrated to be the principle way to overcome obstacles apparently insurmountable, and open doors otherwise inaccessible.