12 January 2017 :
SUMMARY OF THE 2013 REPORT
The Situation Today
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than fifteen years, was again confirmed in 2012 and the first six months of 2013.
There are currently 158 countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 100 are totally abolitionist; 7 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 5 have a moratorium on executions in place and 46 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 declined to 40 (as of 30 June 2013), compared to 43 in 2011. Retentionist countries have gradually declined over the last few years: there were 42 in 2010, 45 in 2009, 48 in 2008, 49 in 2007, 51 in 2006 and 54 in 2005.
In 2012, executions were carried out in 22 countries, compared to 20 in 2011, 22 in 2010, 19 in 2009 and 26 in 2008.
In 2012, there were at least 3,967 executions, compared to at least 5,004 in 2011, 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 4,000 in 2011 to about 3,000 in 2012.
In 2012 and in the first six months of 2013, there were no executions in 3 countries where executions were carried out in 2011: Egypt, Singapore and Vietnam.
On the other hand, 8 countries resumed executions: Botswana (at least 1), Gambia (9), Japan (7), India (1) and Pakistan (1) in 2012; Indonesia (1), Kuwait (5) and Nigeria (4) in 2013.
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 3,000 (about a thousand less than in 2011), the total for 2012 corresponds to a minimum of 3,879 executions (97.8%), down from 2011 when there were at least 4,935 executions.
In the Americas, the United States of America was the only country to carry out executions (43) in 2012.
In Africa, in 2012, the death penalty was carried out in 5 countries (in 2011 there were 4) – Sudan (at least 19), Gambia (9), Somalia (at least 8), South Sudan (at least 5), and Botswana (at least 1) – where there were at least 42 executions. In 2011 there were at least 24 executions on the entire continent.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, where three men were put to death for homicide in 2012.
Top Executioners for 2012: China, Iran and Iraq
Of the 40 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 33 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal States. Seventeen of these countries were responsible for approximately 3,909 executions, 98.5% of the world total in 2012.
China alone carried out about 3,000, about 76%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 580 people to death and Iraq, at least 129; Saudi Arabia, at least 84; Yemen, at least 28; North Korea, at least 20; Sudan, at least 19; Afghanistan, 14; Gambia, 9; Somalia, at least 8; Palestine (Gaza Strip), 6; South Sudan, at least 5; Belarus, at least 3; Syria, at least 1; Bangladesh, 1; Pakistan, 1; and 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 2012: China, Iran and Iraq.
China: Executions Down by More Than 50 Per Cent Compared to 2006
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 1 January 2007, which required that every capital sentence handed down in China by an inferior court be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). Since then, the top court has overturned “on average” 10 per cent of death sentences handed down each year in the country.
According to William A. Schabas, Professor of international law at Middlesex University in London, in 2012 “China has probably executed about 3,000 people.” “This represents a decline of more than 50% from the number only five years ago,” he wrote on his blog on 18 December 2012, after more than a decade of his participation in various conferences on capital punishment in China and many encounters with experts in the Chinese criminal justice system.
According to the Dui Hua Foundation’s estimate, “the number of executions has been sharply reduced, although in 2012 it remained high at around 3,000 per year.” The Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that works on behalf of political prisoners and monitors Chinese prisons, estimated that China had carried out “about” 4,000 executions in 2011, while there were “about” 5,000 in 2010, as in 2009, still a slight decrease as compared to 2008, when the number of executions “exceeded 5,000 and may have been as high as 7,000.” According to the Foundation, run by business executive-turned-human-rights advocate John Kamm – who still maintains good relations with government officials – about 6,000 people were executed in 2007, a 25 to 30 per cent drop from 2006, in which estimates reported at least 7,500 executions.
Given that the great majority – at least 90 per cent – of these cases are death penalty review cases, as the SPC doesn’t have jurisdiction over many other cases, an approximate but realistic estimate would put the number of death sentences in 2012 – between definitive sentences and those suspended for two years – at around 8,300, a sharp decrease from about 9,400 estimated in 2011.
Considering further that, since February 2010, the Supreme People’s Court has recommended to use a policy of “justice tempered with mercy,” suggesting to the courts to “suspend the death sentence for two years for all cases that don’t require immediate execution,” it is realistic to conclude that the executions in 2012, as estimated by Professor William Schabas and the Dui Hua Foundation, were about 3,000, a significant decrease compared to the 4,000 of 2011.
On 14 March 2012, China amended again the 1979 Criminal Procedure Law, highlighting the human rights protection. A phrase calling for “respecting and protecting human rights” was added to the revised law’s first chapter on aim and basic principles. The amendment further specifies the procedures for the Supreme People’s Court to review death penalty cases in order that such cases will be handled “with sufficient care”, and “legal oversight” will be strengthened.
Iran: Second Place as Numbers, but at First Place as User of the Death Penalty per Inhabitant
According to the fifth annual report of Iran Human Rights (IHR) on the death penalty in Iran, in 2012 the Islamic Republic carried out at least 580 executions, a number among the highest in more than 15 years. According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, at least 587 people were executed in 2012.
Iran Human Rights emphasizes that the actual number of executions is probably much higher than the figures included in its annual report. At least 240 additional executions were not included in the report, due to difficulties in confirming some of the details. In fact, only 85 out of the 325 estimated secret executions in Vakilabad Prison were included in the 2012 report. In 2011, on the basis of these same sources, Iran Human Rights had estimated at least 676 executions.
Since the 2009 post-election protests in Iran, the number of executions, particularly public executions, has risen dramatically. According to Iran Human Rights, in 2012 there were at least 60 public executions, a number six times higher than numbers from 2009, when at least 12 people were hanged in public places. In 2010, at least 19 people were hanged publicly. In 2011, public executions have more than tripled, with at least 65 people being executed in public. The trend has continued in 2013. Just in January and February 2013 alone, at least 20 people were hanged in public. As of 30 June, at least 37 public executions were held.
The execution of child offenders continued into 2012 and 2013, in open violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it is a co-signatory. A juvenile offender was executed in public in March 2012, according to Amnesty International. Another two possible minor offenders were executed 2013 (in January and February).
The use of the death penalty for purely political motives continued in 2012 and 2013. 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. The punishment for Moharebeh is death or amputation of the right hand and left foot, according to the Iranian penal code. According to Iran Human Rights, at least 23 (3%) of 294 people who were executed in 2012 according to the official Iranian sources were convicted of Moharebeh (war against God).
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.
Iraq: executions doubled
In 2012, Iraq executed at least 129 people, the highest number since 2005. They were a significant and worrying increase compared to the previous year when at least 68 people were executed.
Iraq has already executed at least 50 people in 2013 (as of 16 April).
Executions began in August 2005. Since then, as of 16 April 2013, at least 497 executions were carried out, most of them related to acts of terrorism.
In April 2013, there were about 1,400 people held on death row, according to Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari.
Democracy and the Death Penalty
Of the 40 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 5 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2012, and they accounted for 58 executions between them, 1.5% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (43), Japan (7), Taiwan (6), Botswana (at least 1) and India (1). In 2011 there were 2 (United States and Taiwan), and they carried out 48 executions.
Indonesia resumed executions in 2013 after a de facto five-year suspension.
The United States of America: Two Other States Abolished Capital Punishment, while Executioner States and Death Row Inmates Continue to Decrease
In 2012, there were 43 executions, the same as in 2011, but fewer States carried them out.
Executions in 2012 took place in only 9 of the 32 States with the death penalty: Texas (15); Arizona (6); Oklahoma (6); Mississippi (6); Ohio (3); Florida (3); South Dakota (2); Delaware (1); Idaho (1).
In 2012, no executions took place in 5 States – Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia – that carried out executions in 2011. On the other hand, South Dakota resumed executions in 2012 after a de facto moratorium dating back to 2007.
In the first six months of 2013 (as of 26 June), eighteen executions were carried out in six States.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death in 2012, the second lowest number of sentences since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In 2011, 76 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 2013, there were 3,125 inmates under a sentence of death, a decrease of 64 from 3,189 reported on 1 January 2012.
In April 2012, Connecticut abolished the death penalty, and in May 2013 Maryland became the sixth State in six years to abolish it. The other four States that ended capital punishment recently are New Jersey (2007), New York (2007), New Mexico (2009), and Illinois (2011). In Oregon, the Governor declared a three-year moratorium on all executions in November 2011.
Of the 34 jurisdictions where the death penalty is still in effect, 9 have not carried out an execution in more than ten years: Colorado (last execution in 1997), Kansas (1965), Nebraska (1997), New Hampshire (1939), Oregon (1997), Pennsylvania (1999), Wyoming (1992), U.S. Federal Government (2003), and U.S. Military (1961).
Since capital punishment was reintroduced in 1976, three States have executed only “volunteers”, i.e. death row inmates who voluntarily asked to hasten the execution process: Pennsylvania executed 3 people, Oregon 2, and Connecticut 1.
One of the most important facts of 2012 was certainly the referendum in California on the abolition of the death penalty. On 6 November 2012, California’s Proposition 34, an initiative to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole and to require inmates to work in prison to help pay restitution to the families of victims, was narrowly defeated by a vote of 52.7% to 47.3%.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), since 1973 up to 31 December 2012, there have been 142 inmates condemned to death that have subsequently been exonerated. During 2012, according to the DPIC, there were three exonerations of death row inmates.
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
After 2011, when, for the first time in nearly 20 years, no prisoner was put to death in Japan, 7 people were executed in 2012, during the mandate of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Another 5 people were hanged in the first six months of 2013 under Shinzo Abe, who was elected as Prime Minister, following the Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory in the 2012 general elections.
On 29 March 2012, three death-row inmates were hanged in three different prisons in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. On 3 August 2012, two other death-row inmates were hanged in Tokyo and Osaka, in the second round of executions of the year. On 27 September 2012, two other death row inmates were hanged in Sendai and Fukuoka, bringing to seven the number of death row inmates executed during the regime of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
On 21 February 2013, three death-row inmates were hanged in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, the first executions carried out under the new Liberal Democratic Party-led government. On 26 April 2013, two more death-row inmates convicted of murder were hanged in Tokyo.
India: Resumption of Executions in 2012
India resumed executions in 2012 after a de facto moratorium dating back to 2004. Another execution was carried out in February 2013.
On 21 November 2012, India executed a Pakistan national, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of a militant squad that killed 166 people in a rampage through the financial capital Mumbai in November 2008.
On 9 February 2013, India hanged Muhammad Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, a militant with the group Jaish-e-Muhammad, who had been convicted of involvement in the 13 December 2001 suicide attack on India’s Parliament, in which nine people were shot dead.
Botswana: Resumption of Executions in 2012
The number of executions, often carried out in secret, has always been low, one or, at most, two a year.
In 2011, there were no executions. However, in 2012, there was at least one execution. Another execution was carried out in May 2013.
On 31 January 2012, Zibani Thamo was hanged in the morning. He was convicted of the 2007 murder of his girlfriend.
On 27 May 2013, Botswana executed another man, Orelesitse Modise Thokamolemo, who was handed six death sentences for murdering his family after a misunderstanding over food.
The death penalty has been on the books in Botswana since its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Since then, there have been at least 47 people put to death.
Indonesia: Resumption of Executions in 2013
Indonesia resumed executions in 2013 after a de facto moratorium dating back to 2008.
On 15 March 2013, a Malawian drug trafficker, Adami Wilson, was put to death by a firing squad in Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands), an island chain off the northern coast of the capital Jakarta.
On 17 May 2013, three convicted murderers, all Indonesians, were put to death by firing squad in Nusakambangan prison, on an island off the coast of the main island of Java. Two of them, Jurit bin Abdullah and Ibrahim bin Ujang, had been found guilty of beheading and mutilating a man in 1998. The third inmate, Suryadi Swabuana, was convicted of killing an entire family in 1991.
Attorney General Office spokesman Untung Arimuladi said six other convicts were to be executed in 2013.
Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has executed 63 people.
On 20 December 2012, Indonesia changed its vote on the UN Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty from opposition to abstention. Indonesia’s delegate stated that public debate on capital punishment in Indonesia was “ongoing, including concerning a possible moratorium.”
On 21 December 2012, Taiwan executed six death row inmates, the largest number to be put to death in one day in recent years. The executions were carried out in four separate prisons in different parts of the country: Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung.
On 19 April 2013, six other convicts on death row were executed in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Hualien.
This is the fourth time that a series of executions has been carried out since Tseng Yung-fu became Justice Minister in 2010. A total of 21 criminals on death row have been executed during his tenure. Taiwan had executed five other prisoners in March 2011 and four in April 2010 – the 2010 executions were the first after a hiatus that had lasted since 2005. Since 1981, 558 people have been executed, according to information from Taiwan’s Justice Ministry.
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.
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 fifteen years was reaffirmed in 2012 and in the first six months of 2013.
Another 7 countries joined the list of total or de facto abolitionist countries in 2012 and the first six months of 2013.
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 January 2013, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions, the Democratic Republic of Congo became a “de facto abolitionist” country.
Since March 2013, after ten consecutive years without executions, Qatar can be considered a de facto abolitionist country.
In April 2013, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions, Cuba became a “de facto abolitionist” country.
In June 2013, Zimbabwe became a “de facto abolitionist” country.
In the United States, Connecticut abolished the death penalty in April 2012, and in May 2013 Maryland became the sixth State in six years to abolish it. In Oregon, the Governor declared a moratorium on all executions in November 2011.
In 2012 and in the first six months of 2013, significant political and legislative steps towards abolition or at least positive signs, such as de facto moratoriums or collective commutations of capital punishment, have been seen in numerous countries.
In May 2012, Morocco accepted recommendations received under the UN Universal Periodic Review to continue the implementation of a de facto moratorium on executions and make efforts to achieve the total abolishment of capital punishment.
In June 2012, the Government of Ghana accepted the recommendation of the Constitution Review Commission that the death penalty be completely abolished.
In September 2012, Madagascar signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty.
Zambia has not executed anyone since 1997, owing to a presidential moratorium on executions that has been upheld by three consecutive heads of State.
A moratorium has been in place in Mali since the 1980s and all death sentences are automatically commuted to life imprisonment.
In Lebanon there is a de facto moratorium on executions, as no further executions have been carried out since 2004.
Capital punishment has not been carried out in Jordan since 2006, apparently moving towards abolishing the death penalty.
In 2012, for the third consecutive year, no executions were carried out in Thailand.
In 2012, for the first time in recent years, no new death sentences were handed down in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Uganda.
In 2012, for the second consecutive year, no death sentences were reported in Ethiopia.
In 2012, Myanmar’s President has continued its policy of commutation of death sentences to life imprisonment.
In January 2013, in Guyana, six inmates who had been on death row for too long had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
On 20 December 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a new Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty, the fourth since 2007. A record number of countries voted in favour of the Resolution. The result was 111 votes in favour (+3 with respect to 2010 Resolution), 41 against (as in 2010), 34 abstentions (+ 2) and 7 absent during the vote of the Resolution (as in 2010).
Member States of the United Nations are now 193, one State more than in 2010 – South Sudan, which voted in favour of the Resolution, yet still maintains the death penalty. The Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Chad, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, which had abstained or were absent in 2010, for the first time voted in favour.
Resumption of Executions
Regarding steps backwards, in 2012 and the first six months of 2013, eight countries resumed executions, in some cases after many years of suspension.
In addition to Botswana, Japan, India and Indonesia [see chapter “Democracy and the death penalty”], resumed executions Gambia (9) and Pakistan (1) in 2012, and Kuwait (5) and Nigeria (4) in 2013.
In May 2013, Papua New Guinea repealed its controversial Sorcery Act but expanded its use of the death penalty in certain cases.
In the United States, no “abolitionist” State reintroduced the death penalty, but South Dakota resumed executions in 2012 after a de facto moratorium dating back to 2007.
Sharia Law and the Death Penalty
In 2012, at least 872 executions, compared to 898 in 2011, were carried out in 12 Muslim-majority countries (as in 2011), many of which were ordered by religious tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Seventeen retentionist countries look explicitly to Sharia law as the basis of their legal system. In some cases, these legal systems also stem from entrenched and overlapping sources, both historical and modern, religious and secular.
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 or territories worldwide, 23 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 24 retain the death penalty, of which 12 applied capital punishment in 2012.
Hanging, beheading and firing squad are the methods which were used to enforce the Sharia in 2012 and in the first six months of 2013.
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 2012, at least 748 executions by hanging, carried out on the basis of Sharia law, occurred in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.
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. 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 July 2011, the Japanese crane company Tadano announced that it had ended contracts with the Iranian Government, after United Against Nuclear Iran launched a Cranes Campaign, publishing 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.
However, in 2012, extra-judiciary executions by beheading were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, in Afghanistan in the zones controlled by the Taliban and in Yemen by Al-Qaeda linked Islamists.
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, while the crowd shouts “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). 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 beheaded 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 2012, Saudi Arabia beheaded at least 84 people, 43 Saudis and 41 foreigners (see chapter “Top Secret Death”), according to a Hands Off Cain tally based on media reports. In 2013 (as of 8 July), the kingdom executed at least 57 people, according to an Agence France Presse tally based on official figures.
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2012 (at least 37 executions) and 2013 in carrying out Sharia-based executions in Yemen, United Arab Emirates and Somalia.
In March 2013, Saudi Arabia has authorised executions (at least 7) by firing squad as an alternative to public beheading, the customary method of capital punishment in the kingdom.
No information was available about death sentences and judicial executions in Libya in 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 2012 and in the first six months of 2013, there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning.
However, extra-judiciary sentences by stoning were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, in Northern Mali by Al-Qaeda linked Islamists, and in Pakistan by a tribal jirga.
In April 2013, the Guardian Council of Iran reinserted the stoning provision into a previous version of the new penal code which had omitted stoning to death as the explicit penalty for adultery.
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 2012 and in the first six months of 2013, cases involving “blood money” ended in pardon or death in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
In Saudi Arabia, numerous cases involving “blood money” were resolved positively thanks to the Saudi Reconciliation Committee (SRC), a nation-wide organization that secures pardons for death row prisoners and helps settle lengthy inter-family and tribal disputes through mediation. The SRC, whose executive chairman is Nasser Bin Mesfir Al-Zahrani, is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of people sentenced to death since its inception in 2008.
Iranian law provides that the “blood money” (diya) 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.
Death Penalty for 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. Out of 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, at most 5 permit capital punishment for blasphemy. They are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Afghanistan (the new Afghan Constitution incorporates human rights norms that could affect statutes treating blasphemy as a capital crime). 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. In June 2012, Kuwait’s Emir refused to sign a bill passed by Parliament stipulating the death penalty for blasphemy. In December 2012, Egypt approved a new Constitution that largely reflects the conservative vision of the Islamists, including bans on “insulting or defaming all prophets and messengers”. Death Penalty for Juvenile Offenders 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). Nevertheless, the execution of child offenders in Iran continued into 2012 and 2013. An alleged juvenile offender was executed in public in March 2012, according to Amnesty International. Another two possible minor offenders were executed 2013 (in January and February). The regime claims that the new penal code – which was approved in its latest version by the Guardian Council in April 2013 – abolishes the execution of children under eighteen. However, under Articles 145 and 146 of the new penal code, the age of criminal responsibility is still “puberty,” meaning nine lunar years for girls and fifteen lunar years for boys. Thus, the age of criminal responsibility has not changed at all in the new penal code. In 2012, Yemen executed two young people who were reportedly under 18 at the time of the offense. In March 2013, another minor was put to death despite he was under the age of 18 when he committed an alleged murder. In January 2013, Saudi Arabia beheaded a Sri Lankan domestic worker who was 17 at the time of the alleged crime. In May 2013, for the first time in the history of the Juvenile Court, two teenagers were sentenced to death in the Maldives. 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’. The jurisprudence has developed to the point where UN human rights bodies have declared that drug offences are not among the ‘most serious crimes’. 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 2012 Report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences, produced by Harm Reduction International (HRI), thirty-three 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, Iran, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The prohibitionist ideology concerning drugs once again made its contribution to the practice of the death penalty in 2012 and the first six months of 2013. In the name of the war on drugs, in 2012, there were executions carried out in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. While death sentences were handed down but not carried out in 10 States: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Yemen. In 2012, some three-quarters of new death sentences imposed in Malaysia were for drug-related offenses. In January 2012, a special Narcotics court in India sentenced a person to death, in a first-ever case of capital punishment being awarded in a drugs trafficking case. The “War on Terror” In 2012 and the first six months of 2013, numerous executions related to acts of terrorism were carried out in Iran, Iraq, India and Somalia, while hundreds of death sentences were handed down though not carried out in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Lebanon, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen. In Pakistan, numerous death sentences, also for common crimes, were ordered by special Anti-terrorism courts. Among those condemned to death or executed for terrorism in Iran, some may very well be dissenters, in particular, members of Iran’s ethnic and religious 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 in a sentence of death. In 2012, Iraq executed at least 129 people, almost all for offenses related to terrorism. Iraq has already executed at least 50 people in 2013 (as of 16 April). In May 2013, President Barack Obama reframed the United States’ counterterrorism strategy. The President announced several initiatives. He called on Congress to lift the restrictions it placed on transferring detainees from Guantanamo to other countries or imprisoning them in the United States. Obama asked the Defense Department to designate a location in the U.S. where military commissions could be held. In China, arrests and prosecutions for crimes of “endangering State security” retreated in 2012 from the “historic levels” reached in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but remained high. Persecution of Adherents to Religious and Spiritual Movements In 2012 and the first months of 2013, repression of members of minority religious groups and religious and spiritual movements not recognized by authorities continued in China, Iran, North Korea and Vietnam. In Iran, repression of nearly all non-Shia religious groups – most notably of Bahais, as well as of Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the Government’s official religious views – increased significantly in 2012. In Vietnam, the trend in the Government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during 2012. The ethnic Christian minority known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar, has continued to suffer extreme persecution. While Protestant Montagnards have faced religious repression for many years, Catholic Montagnards have more recently become a target for persecution by the Government. Death Penalty for Non-Violent Crimes, and for Political Motives and Dissent 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 2012 and the first months of 2013, death sentences and executions for non-violent crimes and essentially political motives were confirmed in China, Iran, North Korea and Vietnam. In Cina, the restitution to the Supreme People’s Court of exclusive power in approving death sentences has caused the country’s courts to handle capital cases with greater prudence, in particular, those relative to non-violent crimes. in March 2013, in his report to the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the President of the Supreme Court, Wang Shengjun, said the courts had been cautious about delivering the death penalty and the Supreme Court strictly reviewed these sentences. “We have ensured the capital punishment to be imposed on a very small number of people convicted of extremely serious crimes,” he said. Iran continued to apply the death penalty for clearly non-violent crimes. There have been some changes made in the new Islamic Penal Code which was approved in its latest version by the Guardian Council in April 2013. The term “homosexual” is presented as a charge in the new law for men who engage in same-sex relations. Previously it was only used for women. In any case, sexual relations between two individuals of the same sex continue to be considered Hudud crimes, and subject to punishments from one hundred lashes to execution. 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, which 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. According to Iran Human Rights, in 2012 the Islamic Republic carried out at least 580 executions, a number among the highest in more than 15 years. At least 240 additional executions were not included in the report, due to difficulties in confirming some of the details. Absolute secrecy governs executions in some countries, such as Egypt, 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. Countries around the world are increasingly viewing capital punishment as a form of torture because it inflicts severe mental and physical pain on those sentenced to death, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez told the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee on 23 October 2012. “Following a number of executions in the United States, it has recently become apparent that the (lethal injection) regimen, as currently administered, does not work as efficiently as intended,” Mendez’s report said. “Some prisoners take many minutes to die and others become very distressed,” he said. “New studies conclude that even if lethal injection is administered without technical error, those executed may experience suffocation, and therefore the conventional view of lethal injection as a peaceful and painless death is questionable.” United States: from Pentothal to Pentobarbital An unforeseen event impacted dramatically on the practice of the death penalty in the United States: first, the shortage and then, the absolute end of the production of Sodium Thiopental, also known as Pentothal. 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. All executions in 2012 were carried out by lethal injection, and all used Pentobarbital, either alone or in combination with other drugs. On 26 June 2013, the State of Texas executed its 500th inmate since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. Kimberly McCarthy was pronounced dead 20 minutes after prison officials began administering a single lethal dose of Pentobarbital. As the drug started to take effect, McCarthy said, “God is great,” before closing her eyes. She took hard, raspy, loud breaths for several seconds before becoming quiet. Then, her chest moved up and down for another minute before she stopped breathing. 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. An amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure Law in 1996 allowed for executions by lethal injection, using the same three-drug cocktail pioneered by the United States. “Lethal injection is considered more humane, because it reduces the fear and suffering,” Chinese authorities said. Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, was the Country’s first city to adopt lethal injection on 28 March 1997. It is impossible to know how many people have died by this method so far, as execution figures are a State secret in China. However, 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, foreign citizens convicted of drug trafficking or Chinese nationals convicted of causing deaths by poisoning or adulterating foods and beverages. On 1 March 2013, Myanmar drug lord Naw Kham and three of his accomplices were executed by lethal injection in the city of Kunming, after being found guilty of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking. On 2 July 2013, a woman received a lethal injection for lacing milk with nitrite, which killed three children and sickened more than 30 others in northwest China. On 3 July 2013, a Filipina sentenced to death for drug trafficking in China was executed by lethal injection. 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. It is easy to imagine that the transition from firing squads to lethal injections 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. On 6 December 2012, a Beijing lawyer, Han Bing, revealed that a Chinese hospital turned into the execution ground for a prisoner on death row. The prisoner was reportedly rushed to a hospital, where he was forced to sign an organ donation form. He was killed in the hospital where the “quality” of his organs would be ensured. Vietnam: Execution of Hundreds of Prisoners Halted Because of a Shortage of Drugs for Lethal Injection On 17 June 2010, the National Assembly approved the Law on Execution of Criminal Sentences, switching the death sentence method from firing squad to lethal injection. The Assembly approved the change after lawmakers sought to find a “more humane” method of execution. “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.” Executions with the new method were to begin as of 1 July 2011, when the Law on Execution of Criminal Sentences came into force, but they were delayed several times, initially due to a lack of necessary facilities and trained personnel, then because of a shortage of the drug used in lethal injections. In May 2012, Vietnamese State media said the shortage of the drug used in lethal injections had halted the execution of hundreds of prisoners on death-row. In November, the Laborer Newspaper quoted Vietnam’s Health Minister, Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, as saying Vietnamese authorities could not execute its hundreds of death row criminals because the European Union was refusing to export the lethal drugs used in the executions. The Vice Chairman of the National Assembly Huynh Ngoc Son was also quoted as saying the EU was trying to pressure Vietnam to give up capital punishment. In May 2013, the Government issued a new law allowing domestically produced chemicals to be used to execute prisoners. The new law that took effect on 27 June 2013 doesn’t mention the chemicals by name. However, the poison will be provided by the Ministry of Health, and includes the sensory paralyzing drug, the drug that paralyzes the musculoskeletal system and the drug to stop the heart’s activity.