12 January 2017 :
SUMMARY OF THE 2015 REPORT
THE SITUATION TODAY
Developments on the Death Penalty Worldwide
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than fifteen years, was again confirmed in 2014 and the first six months of 2015.
There are currently 161 countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 103 are totally abolitionist; 6 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 6 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 37 (as of 30 June 2015), compared to 39 in 2013. Retentionist countries have gradually declined over the last few years: there were 40 in 2012, 43 in 2011, 42 in 2010, 45 in 2009, 48 in 2008, 49 in 2007, 51 in 2006 and 54 in 2005.
Executions and the first six months of 2015
In 2014, executions were carried out in 22 countries, as in 2013 and 2012, and compared to 20 in 2011, 22 in 2010, 19 in 2009 and 26 in 2008.
In 2014, there were at least 3,576 executions, compared to at least 3,511 in 2013, at least 3,967 in 2012, 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 slight increase in executions as compared to 2013 is explained by increases recorded in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In the first six months of 2015, at least 2,229 executions were carried out in 17 Countries and territories.
In 2014 and in the first six months of 2015, there were no recorded executions in 5 countries where executions were carried out in 2013: Botswana, India, Kuwait, Nigeria and South Sudan.
On the other hand, 7 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2013, resumed them in 2014: Belarus (at least 3), Egypt (at least 15), Equatorial Guinea (9), Jordan (11), Pakistan (7), Singapore (2) and United Arab Emirates (1). Another 2 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2014, resumed them in the first four months of 2015: Bangladesh (2) and Indonesia (14).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in South Sudan and Syria in 2014 and the first six months of 2015, as well as in Vietnam and Yemen in the first six months of 2015.
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 at least 2,400 (more or less as in 2013 and about 600 fewer than in 2012), the total for 2014 corresponds to a minimum of 3,471 executions (97%), up from 2013 when there were at least 3,415 executions. In the first six months of 2015, in Asia, at least 2,182 executions were carried out (98%) in 13 countries.
In the Americas, the United States of America was the only country to carry out executions in 2014 (35) and 2015 (17). In several Caribbean countries, no new death sentences were imposed, and death rows were once again empty at the end of the year.
In Africa, in 2014, the death penalty was carried out in 4 countries (1 less than in 2013), and there were at least 67 executions: Sudan (at least 23), Somalia (at least 20), Egypt (at least 15), and Equatorial Guinea (9). In the first six months of 2015, there were at least 30 executions in 3 countries of the continent: Somalia (at least 14), Egypt (at least 12) and Sudan (at least 4). In 2013 there were at least 57 executions across the continent. In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, there were no executions in Nigeria, Botswana and Gambia where they occurred in 2013, and in Equatorial Guinea that carried out executions in 2014, while it could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in South Sudan in 2014 and 2015. On 24 April 2015, the Working Group on the Death Penalty of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted the draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Abolition of the death Penalty in Africa. The draft protocol is now before the African Union.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, a country that has continued to execute its citizens regularly. At least 3 executions were carried out in 2014, but there were no reports of judicial executions carried out in the first six months of 2015. In 2013, for the first time in many years, Belarus had not practiced the death penalty. While in Russia a moratorium on executions is still in effect since a 1996, all other European countries have abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.
The fifth UN Resolution for a universal moratorium on executions
On 18 December 2014, the General Assembly of the United Nations advanced again its call to end the use of the death penalty with the passage of a new Resolution calling on States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. It was the fifth time such text was adopted since 2007.
By its terms, the General Assembly reiterated its call on UN member-States to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and not to impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age, on pregnant women and – it has added this year – on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities. For the first time, Member States were urged to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, in particular the right of foreign nationals to receive information on consular assistance within the context of a legal procedure.
The new Resolution was adopted by a record number of 117 votes in favour (+ 6 compared to 2012) and the lowest of the votes against, 38 (- 3 compared to 2012), with 34 abstentions (like in 2012) and 4 absent during the vote (- 3 compared to 2012).
New votes in favour came from Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Niger and Suriname, which had abstained or were absent during the vote in 2012. Noteworthy is especially the co-sponsorship, for the first time, of Sierra Leone and the vote of Niger, which was targeted by a mission of Hands Off Cain and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, aimed at getting its vote in favour of the Resolution. Also Kiribati and São Tomé and Principe – absent in 2012 – voted in favour. In a further positive sign, Bahrain, Myanmar, Tonga and Uganda moved from opposition to abstention.
On the contrary Papua New Guinea went from abstention to a vote against the Resolution. Finally, Nauru, which in 2012 had voted in favour, this time was absent during the vote, as well as three other countries that are abolitionist de jure or de facto – Mauritius, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Abolition, De Facto Abolition and Moratoriums
In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, another 9 States joined the list of total or de facto abolitionist countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname completely abolished the death penalty; Gabon and El Salvador acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty; Lebanon can be considered de facto abolitionist country, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions; Equatorial Guinea established a legal moratorium on the death penalty.
In the United States, in May 2015 Nebraska became the nineteenth State of the federation to abolish the death penalty, and the seventh to do so in eight years. In four other States – Washington, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Oregon – the Governors granted a stay of executions and essentially put executions on hold because of concerns about the death penalty system.
In 2014 and in the first six months of 2015, significant political and legislative steps towards abolition or a de facto moratorium on capital punishment have been seen in 41 countries.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Ghana, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone have announced or proposed laws for the abolition of the death penalty in the Constitution or criminal codes.
During the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Guyana accepted recommendations regarding the abolition of the death penalty. In a further positive sign, noteworthy were the vote in favour of the 2014 UN Resolution pro Moratorium which came, among others, from Eritrea, and the abstention of Bahrain and Tonga, which had voted against in 2012.
Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Laos, Morocco, Qatar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have confirmed their policy of de facto moratorium on the death penalty or executions in place for many years.
In the Caribbean Region, in 5 countries – Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala and Saint Lucia – no new death sentences were imposed and death rows were still empty at the end of 2014. In 6 other countries of the region – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – no new death sentences were issued and death row inmates were a few units.
Furthermore, collective commutations of death sentences or suspension of executions indefinitely were granted in Cameroon, Malawi, Myanmar, and Nigeria.
Reintroduction of the Death Penalty and Resumption of Executions
Regarding steps backwards, as we have seen, 7 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2013, resumed them in 2014. Another 2 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2014, resumed them in the first four months of 2015.
Furthermore, in 2014 and the first six months of 2015, some political or legislative steps back towards the reintroduction of the death penalty and the resumption of executions have been made in the following countries: Maldives, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ILLIBERAL COUNTRIES
Top Executioners of 2014 – China, Iran and Saudi Arabia – and First Six Months of 2015 – China, Iran and Pakistan
Of the 37 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 31 are dictatorial, authoritarian or partly free States. Nineteen of these countries were responsible for approximately 3,533 executions, 98.8% of the world total in 2014.
China alone carried out at least 2,400, about 67%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 800 people to death; Saudi Arabia, at least 88; Iraq, at least 67; North Korea, at least 50; Sudan, at least 23; Yemen, at least 23; Somalia, at least 20; Egypt, at least 15; Jordan, 11; Equatorial Guinea, 9; Pakistan, 7; Afghanistan, 6; Belarus, at least 3; Malaysia, at least 3; Vietnam, at least 3; Palestine (Gaza Strip), at least 2; Singapore, 2; United Arab Emirates, 1.
In the first six months of 2015, at least 2,205 executions (99%) were carried out in 14 illiberal regimes: China (at least 1,200); Iran (at least 657); Pakistan (at least 174); Saudi Arabia (at least 102); North Korea (at least 16); Somalia (at least 14); Indonesia (14); Egypt (at least 12); Iraq (at least 6); Sudan (at least 4); Bangladesh (2); Jordan (2); Afghanistan (1); and Singapore (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 taken by three authoritarian States in 2014: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, while the top executioners of 2015 (as of 30 June) were China, Iran and Pakistan.
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 1 January 2007, which required that every capital sentence handed down in China by an inferior court is reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). Since then, the number of executions nationwide may have dropped by more than a third with declines of nearly 50 percent in some regions, Southern Weekly reported in 2014 citing an expert familiar with the court system.
The US-based Dui Hua Foundation estimated that China executed approximately 2,400 people in 2013 and would execute roughly the same number in 2014. The number of executions in 2013 was a fall of 20 percent from 2012, when Dui Hua estimated that China executed 3,000 people, while the 2013 figure dropped by around 80 percent compared to the 12,000 in 2002.
Iran: 2,000 Prisoners Executed under Rouhani’s Presidency
China carries out the most executions each year, but Iran puts to death more people per capita than any other country.
In 2014 Iran carried out at least 800 executions, a 16.5% increase compared to 687 in 2013: 290 execution cases were reported by official Iranian sources; 510 were reported by unofficial sources. The actual number of executions is probably much higher than the figures included in the Annual Report of Hands Off Cain.
At least 657 people were already executed in the first six months of 2015 (216 executions announced by official sources while 441 additional executions were reported by several independent sources). If the Islamic Republic maintains this unprecedented rate of executions, the country is on course to kill 1,000 citizens by the year’s end.
In the two-year presidency of Hassan Rouhani (from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2015), Iran has executed almost 2,000 prisoners.
Saudi Arabia: Wave of Executions after King Abdullah’s Death
In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, the beheading tally reached its highest level in the past five years. In 2014, Saudi Arabia executed at least 88 people, while in 2015 (as of 30 June) the kingdom executed at least 102 people, surpassing the total for all of 2014. In 2013, Saudi Arabia had beheaded at least 78 people.
A surge in executions began towards the end of the reign of King Abdullah, who died on 23 January, accelerating this year under his successor King Salman, who has adopted a more assertive foreign policy. In April, the King promoted his powerful Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef to be crown prince and heir to the throne.
Pakistan: Record for Executions after the Lifting of the Moratorium
On 17 December 2014, Pakistan lifted the six-year moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism-related cases, a day after the Taliban-perpetrated massacre at a military-run school in Peshawar in which 150 people, including 134 children, were killed. On 3 March 2015, the federal government formally lifted the moratorium on death penalty of all the condemned prisoners.
Since the de facto ban on capital punishment ended on 17 December 2014 until 30 June 2015, 181 people, including 25 convicted terrorists, have been executed across the country.
DEMOCRACY AND THE DEATH PENALTY
Of the 37 retentionist, only 6 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 only 3 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2014, and they accounted for 43 executions between them, 1.2% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (35), Taiwan (5) and Japan (3). In 2013 there were 5 (United States, Japan, Taiwan, Botswana and India), and they carried out 55 executions.
In 2015, as of 30 June, the death penalty was carried out in only 3 of the democratic countries: Japan, with 1 execution, the United States, with 17 executions, and Taiwan, with 6 executions.
In many of these countries considered “democratic”, the system of capital punishment is, in several aspects, veiled in secrecy.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES
Of the 47 Muslim-majority States or territories worldwide, 25 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 22 retain the death penalty, of which 18 look explicitly to Sharia law as the basis of their legal 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.
In 2014 at least 1,066 executions, compared to 1,027 in 2013, were carried out in 13 Muslim-majority countries (as in 2013), many of which were ordered by religious tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
In 2015 as of 30 June, at least 988 executions were carried out in 11 Muslim-majority countries.
Hanging, firing squad and beheading are the methods which were used to enforce the death penalty in 2014 and the first six months of 2015, while there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning, which is the most terrible of all Islamic punishments.
Hanging – But Not Only...
Of the methods employed to carry out death sentences in the Muslim-majority countries, the most common is hanging, preferred for men but used for women as well.
In 2014, at least 933 hangings were carried out in 9 Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan (6), Egypt (at least 15), Jordan (11), Iran (at least 800), Iraq (at least 67), Malaysia (at least 3), Pakistan (7), Palestine (at least 1) and Sudan (at least 23).
In 2015, as of 30 June, at least 858 executions by hanging were carried out in 8 Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan (1), Bangladesh (2), Egypt (at least 12), Iran (at least 657, including 216 announced by the Government); Iraq (at least 6); Jordan (2); Pakistan (at least 174), Sudan (at least 4).
In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, no executions by hanging were reported in Kuwait that carried out executions in 2013.
Extra-judiciary executions by hanging were carried out in Afghanistan in the zones controlled by the Taliban, and in Syria by the jihadist group called Islamic State (IS).
In 2014, another 5 executions by hanging were carried out in 2 non-Muslim countries – Japan (3) and Singapore (2). In 2015, as of 30 June, only 2 executions by hanging were carried out in 2 non-Muslim countries – Japan (1) and Singapore (1).
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. At least 64 people were hanged in public in 2014, and the trend has continued in 2015 with at least 36 executions (as of 30 June).
Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2014 and the first six months of 2015.
In 2014, at least 45 executions by firing squad were carried out in 4 Muslim-majority countries: Palestine (at least 1), Somalia (at least 20), United Arab Emirates (1) and Yemen (at least 23).
In 2015, as of 30 June, at least 28 executions by firing squad were carried out in 2 Muslim-majority countries: Indonesia (14); Somalia (at least 14).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions by firing squad took place in Syria in 2014 and the first months of 2015, as well as in Yemen in the first months of 2015, due to the internal armed conflicts that have intensified over the past two years and the lack of official information provided by authorities.
However, extra-judiciary executions by shooting were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, in Yemen by Al-Qaeda linked Islamists, and in Syria by the Sunni jihadist groups Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, and in Libya by militants of the Shura Council of Islamic Youth.
In 2014, at least 67 more executions by firing squad were carried out in 5 non-Muslim countries: Belarus (at least 3); China (number unknown); Equatorial Guinea (9); North Korea (at least 50); Taiwan (5). In the first six months of 2015, there were at least 22 other executions by firing squad in 3 non-Muslim countries: China (number unknown); North Korea (at least 16); Taiwan (6).
Beheading as a “legal” means of carrying out executions provided by Sharia law is exclusive to Saudi Arabia, which beheaded at least 88 people in 2014 and at least 102 people in 2015 (as of 30 June).
However, in 2014 and the first six months of 2015, extra-judiciary executions by beheading were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, in Egypt by Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and in Syria and Iraq by the predominantly Sunni jihadist group called Islamic State (IS).
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.
Stoning still happens today. There are 16 countries in which stoning is either practiced de facto or authorised by law.
Stoning is a legal punishment for adultery in Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (in one-third of the country’s 36 States), Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In some countries, such as Mauritania and Qatar, stoning has never been used although it remains legal.
In four of the remaining six countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, and Syria – stoning is not legal but tribal leaders, militants and others carry it out extra-judicially. In the Aceh region of Indonesia and Malaysia, stoning is sanctioned regionally but banned nationally.
In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning.
In April 2013, Iran reinserted execution by stoning for those convicted of adultery into a previous version of the new Penal Code that had omitted it. However, since then, there were no reports of executions carried out by stoning.
In 2014, in Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, death sentences by stoning were issued but not carried out.
On 1 May 2014, the new Sharia Penal Code of Brunei Darussalam came into force, providing tough Islamic punishments including stoning to death for adultery.
However, extra-judiciary sentences by stoning were carried out in Pakistan by tribal courts, in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, and in Syria and Iraq by the predominantly Sunni jihadist group called Islamic State (IS).
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 2014 and in the first six months of 2015, cases involving “blood money” ended in pardon or death in Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
In Iran, 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. In September 2011, Saudi Arabia decided to triple the money paid to the victim’s relatives, but kept the sum for female victims at half that for male victims.
Death Penalty for Blasphemy and Apostasy
In some of the 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, conversion from Islam or renouncing Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital crime. The death penalty has also 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.
According to the report Freedom of Thought 2014, published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the “crime” of apostasy was found to be punishable by death in 12 of the most fundamentalist Muslim countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia (despite contradicting federal law, the State governments of Kelantan and Terengganu passed laws in 1993 and 2002, respectively, making apostasy a capital offence), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria (only in twelve predominantly Muslim northern States), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Out of 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, at most 6 permit capital punishment for blasphemy. They are Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, 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).
In another five States, militant Islamists acting as religious authorities in some areas are also dealing out Sharia punishment including death for “offences” to religion: namely Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram and other Islamists in Nigeria; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now known as Islamic State (IS), in Syria and Iraq.
In 2014 and the first six months of 2015, death sentences for apostasy, blasphemy and witchcraft were imposed or carried out in Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
On 5 August 2014, in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Bakr Al-Alawi was beheaded in the town of Gurayyat for practicing sorcery and witchcraft. On 24 September 2014, in Iran, a 37-year-old prisoner of conscience, Mohsen Amir Aslani, was executed in Rajaee Shahr prison of Karaj, after being convicted of “Corruption on Earth” and heresy.
Extra-judiciary executions for blasphemy or apostasy were carried out in Somalia by the Islamist group Al-Shabaab, and in Iraq by the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State (IS).
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).
In 2014, there were at least 17 executions of people under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, and they were carried out in only one country, Iran.
In 2013, at least 13 juvenile offenders had been executed in 3 countries: at least 9 in Iran; at least 3 in Saudi Arabia; and 1 in Yemen.
At least 4 possible minor offenders were executed in 2015, as of 30 June, in Iran (2) and Pakistan (2).
In addition, in 2014 and the first six months of 2015, juvenile offenders were sentenced to death in Egypt, Maldives, Somalia and Sri Lanka or were still on death row in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
THE “WAR ON DRUGS”
Article 6(2) of 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’.
In 2011, through an internal human rights guidance note, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has required the organisation to stop funding for a country if it is feared that such support may lead to people being executed. Despite this guideline, the leadership of UNODC has continued to allocate funds to governments, particularly that of Iran, Vietnam and Pakistan, who use them to capture, sentence to death, and often execute alleged drug traffickers.
A number of European states, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, have already withdrawn funding from similar UNODC programmes in Iran, with the Danish Government accepting they are “leading to executions”. But France and Germany have declined to make similar commitments, and have not ruled out contributing to a secretive new UN funding settlement for Iran’s Anti Narcotics Police (ANP). British rights group Reprieve said France has provided more than EUR 1 million to Iran’s ANP in recent years; while Germany contributed to a EUR 5 million UNODC project which provided the ANP with training and equipment. The UK decided to halt its financing to anti-drug fund destined to Iran, but not to that for Pakistan. While the UK government’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty lists Pakistan as a ‘priority country’, the UK has given more than £12 million to support anti-drug operations in Pakistan.
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 criticised by human rights authorities. According to Harm Reduction International (HRI), thirty-three jurisdictions in all still maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug-related crimes, including twelve countries that allow for mandatory capital punishment for certain drug offences: Brunei-Darussalam, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Oman, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. But in most of these countries executions are extremely rare. Fourteen, including America and Cuba, have the death penalty on the books for drug traffickers but do not apply it in practice. Only in seven countries – China, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Vietnam – are drug offenders known to be routinely executed. In Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria the data are murky.
However, the prohibitionist ideology concerning drugs once again made its contribution to the practice of the death penalty in 2014 and the first six months of 2015.
In the name of the war on drugs, in 2014, there were at least 414 executions carried out in 4 countries: China (number unknown); Iran (at least 371); and Saudi Arabia (at least 41); Singapore (2).
In 2015, as of 30 June, at least 518 people were executed for drug-related crimes in 4 countries: China (number unknown); Indonesia (14); Iran (at least 458); and Saudi Arabia (at least 46).
In 2014 and the first months of 2015, hundreds of death sentences for drug offences were handed down though not carried out in 9 more countries: Egypt, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
THE “WAR ON TERROR”
In the name of the war on terrorism, authoritarian and illiberal countries continue in their violation of human rights within their own countries and, in some cases, have executed and persecuted people that, in reality, are only involved in passive opposition or activities that displease the given regime.
In 2014, at least 107 executions related to acts of terrorism or crimes of political nature were carried out in 5 countries: China (at least 21), Iraq (at least 64), Pakistan (7), Somalia (at least 13), and Sudan (at least 2).
In 2015, as of 30 June, at least 45 people were executed for acts of “terrorism” in 8 countries: Bangladesh (2), China (at least 3), Egypt (7), Iran (at least 1), Iraq (at least 6), Jordan (2), Pakistan (18) and Somalia (at least 6).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions for terrorism took place in Syria in 2014 and the first months of 2015.
In 2014 and the first months of 2015, hundreds of death sentences for “terror acts” were handed down though not carried out in 6 more countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Mauritania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
In the United States, the legal practice of the death penalty has declined year by year, but, instead, the use of pilot-less planes (drones) in extrajudicial war on terror, has increased in frequency under the presidency of Barack Obama.
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, the 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 2014, death sentences and executions for non-violent crimes and essentially political motives were confirmed in China (number of executions unknown), Iran (at least 32 executions) and North Korea (at least 50 executions).
In 2015, as of 30 June, executions for non-violent crimes and essentially political motives were confirmed in China (number unknown), Iran (at least 14) and North Korea (at least 16).
TOP SECRET DEATH
On 18 December 2014, the General Assembly of the United Nations advanced again its call to end the use of the death penalty with the passage of a new Resolution calling on States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. By its terms, the Assembly called on States to make available relevant information with regard to their use of the death penalty, inter alia, the number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row and the number of executions carried out, and the number of death sentences reversed, commuted on appeal and in which amnesty or pardon has been granted.
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 organisations 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.
Absolute secrecy governs executions in some countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia, North Korea and Syria, where news of executions rarely filtered through to the local media.
Secret executions are being carried out in the prisons run by Nouri al-Maliki’s Government.
Other States, like Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Sudan, 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.
This is the prevalent situation worldwide concerning the secrecy of the death penalty. It points to the fact that the fight against capital punishment entails, beyond the stopping of executions, a battle for transparency of information concerning capital punishment, for democracy, for the respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
However, there are also countries considered “democratic”, such as Japan, India and Taiwan, where the system of capital punishment is for many aspects covered by a veil of secrecy.
In the United States itself, a string of “botched” lethal injection executions carried out in 2014 has elevated concerns about the transparency of execution materials and the increased secrecy around lethal-injection drug protocols. Of the 31 states that still use lethal injection, at least 14 provide for – de jure or de facto – a State secret that prevent the public or inmates from knowing the source and efficacy of execution drugs. And in turn, news organisations and lawyers for death row inmates have filed numerous lawsuits in 2014 challenging these restrictive policies.
THE “HUMANE” LETHAL INJECTION
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.
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, as shown by many cases of prisoners executed by lethal injection in the United States.
On 29 April 2014, Oklahoma’s death row inmate Clayton Lockett died after spending 43 minutes writhing in agony on a stretcher because of a botched execution that one lawyer has described as “torture”. On 23 July 2014, Joseph Wood took almost two hours to die after his execution started at Arizona’s state prison in Florence. He gasped several times during his prolonged execution. He said his last words and was unconscious just four minutes after the sedative Midazolam and painkiller Hydromorphone were injected into his veins. He then emitted a loud snort, as if snoring, and continued to make that sound over the next hour and 40 minutes. It was “very disturbing to watch ... like a fish on shore gulping for air,” said reporter Troy Hayden who witnessed the execution.
After a string of botched executions in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures. However, on 29 June 2015, the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection and, in particular, the use of Midazolam, the drug used in recent botched lethal injections in the United States.
Today, there are four countries that use lethal injection as a method of execution: United States, China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Two other countries – Taiwan and Maldives – currently provide for execution by lethal injection but have not yet executed anyone by that method.
Executions by lethal injection were carried out also in Guatemala and Philippines, but they have not been used, since these two countries, respectively, established an official moratorium on executions and abolished the death penalty.
In 2014, executions by lethal injection were carried out in 3 Countries: United States (35), China (number unknown) and Vietnam (at least 3). In the first six months of 2015, lethal injection was used in at least 2 Countries: United States (17 executions, as of 30 June) and China (number unknown).
ANALYSIS OF THE 2015 REPORT DATA AND OBJECTIVES OF HANDS OFF CAIN
Towards the End of the Cain-State
As can be seen in the 2015 Report by Hands off Cain, the worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than fifteen years, was again confirmed in 2014 and the first six months of 2015.
Since the founding of Hands off Cain in 1993, at least 64 of the 97 retentionist States that were members of the UN at that time, have abandoned the practice of the death penalty and 22 of them have done so since 2006, following the re-launching of the initiative at the United Nations.
On 18 December 2014, the UN General Assembly advanced again its call to end the use of the death penalty with the passage of a new Resolution calling on States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. It was the fifth time such text was adopted since 2007. The record number of 117 votes in favour testifies to the positive developments taking place in the world towards the end of the Cain-State and the overcoming of the fake and archaic principle of “an eye for an eye.” This further step towards the abolition of the death penalty was determined by the dialogic and creative choice of Hands Off Cain and the Nonviolent Radical Party to offer – from the beginning and exclusively – the moratorium on executions as a key step towards abolition.
Once again, we welcome some positive steps taken in the United States, where in May 2015 Nebraska became the nineteenth State of the federation to abolish the death penalty, and the seventh to do so in eight years. Furthermore, another six States have not carried out an execution in more than ten years (hence, we can consider that they are implementing a “de facto moratorium”), and in four other States the Governors essentially put executions on hold because of concerns about the death penalty system.
Furthermore, President Barack Obama has maintained a de facto moratorium on federal executions (which, by the way, have been very rare in the last decades), which has lasted for 12 years. He also ordered a review of the lethal injection protocols, which he defined "deeply troubling", and raised significant questions on equitable application of the death penalty in terms of race.
Finally, on 13 July 2015, President Barack Obama reduced the prison sentences of 46 non-violent offenders, including fourteen serving life sentences, saying “their punishments didn’t fit the crime.” Obama has now issued 89 commutations during his presidency, including 76 to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes. Last commutations mark the most in a single day since the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the 89 commutations Obama has granted while in office surpassed the combined number granted by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The commutations come as the administration is working to reduce costs and overcrowding in federal prisons and to provide relief to inmates. However, it’s only a drop in the sea of the prison population, as the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet it has almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population.
Lethal Effects of the “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror”
The slight increase in executions in 2014 as compared to 2013 is explained by increases recorded in Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, if the trend of the first six months of 2015 were to be confirmed, we would have a record number of executions at the end of the year. This is due, in particular, to escalating numbers of executions recorded in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and once again in Iran and to the resumption of executions in Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror” have contributed quite substantially to the practice of the death penalty in 2014 and the first six months of 2015.
The election of Hassan Rouhani as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 14 June 2013 has led many observers, some human rights defenders and the international community to be optimistic. However, the new Government has not changed its approach regarding the application of the death penalty, and indeed, the rate of executions has risen sharply since the summer of 2013. Since Rouhani took office as President, almost 2,000 prisoners have been executed in Iran: 46% of those executed in 2014 were hanged for drug-related crimes, and this figure has rocketed to 70% in 2015, as of 30 June.
In Saudi Arabia, a surge in executions began towards the end of the reign of King Abdullah, who died on 23 January, accelerating this year under his successor King Salman, who took a strong position on law and order, in particular against drug traffickers. About half of the beheadings in the Saudi Kingdom were carried out for drug offences.
In 2014, Egypt carried out at least 15 executions after a de facto moratorium dating back to 2011. Another 12 people were hanged in 2015 (as of 30 June), including seven people hanged over violence that followed the 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. Since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, Egypt’s military-backed government has waged a relentless crackdown on political dissent – largely targeting Morsi supporters. In 2014, in six different trials for violence-related charges, Egyptian courts meted out preliminary death sentences to at least 1,434 supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group. This was the largest number of defendants handed down death penalties in Egypt’s modern history.
Among the setbacks recorded in the last year and a half, the resumption of executions in Jordan is, perhaps, the most negative, because capital punishment had not been carried out since 2006 thanks only to His Majesty King Abdullah’s will and not as an official stance. In December 2014, eleven death-row inmates were executed for murder. Furthermore, in February 2015, Jordan executed two Al-Qaeda prisoners in retaliation for the killing of a Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State (IS) group.
After a hiatus registered in 2014, Indonesia resumed executions in 2015 and, as of 30 June, had already executed 14 drug convicts, in the first executions to take place under new President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who took office in October 2014 and, in early December 2014, he ordered the relevant authorities to carry out the court verdicts for drug traffickers who have exhausted all avenues for appeals.
In December 2014, Pakistan lifted the six-year moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases and, in March 2015, the federal government formally lifted the de facto ban on capital punishment of all the condemned prisoners. Since 17 December 2014 until 30 June 2015, at least 181 people, including 25 convicted terrorists, have been executed across the country.
In the United States, the legal practice of the death penalty has declined year by year, but, instead, the use of pilot-less planes (drones) in extrajudicial war on terror, has increased in frequency under the presidency of Barack Obama. The attacks with drones are often veiled in secrecy and they have extended to American citizens abroad suspected of un-American activities, citizens that at home who would have had a guarantee to a fair trial, even under the jurisdiction of a system antiquated enough to still include the death penalty among its laws.
Not only Put an End to the Death Penalty, but also to the Penalty until Death
The campaign of Hands Off Cain for the abolition of the death penalty in the world must also include the abolition of the penalty until death, the life sentence.
The fight against the life sentence is part of the fabric of the Radical Party’s struggle and it received a vote of support on 23 October 2014, when – in his address to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law – Pope Francis described the life sentence as “a death penalty in disguise,” which should be abolished just like the death penalty.
The issue of the life sentence will be the focus of the debate of Hands Off Cain’s next Congress, which will be held within one year at an Italian penitentiary with a high number of “lifers”, bringing together the highest concentration of inmates serving a life sentence with members of the Association.
Hands Off Cain’s project regarding the life sentence will be carried out on two levels.
The first, on the scientific level, is geared towards documenting the psycho-physical effects on inmates in sustained periods of isolation while awaiting the end of a never-ending sentence, similar to the already well-documented cases of those awaiting the death penalty (the so-called “death-row phenomenon”). As Pope Francis writes, “The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.”
The second, on the legal level, aims to present, with real cases, national appeals - at the Constitutional Court - and supranational - The European Court for Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations - all designed to end life sentencing, at least in its harshest aspects: the so-called “Life Without Parole” (of 1,576 condemned to life, 1,162 are condemned to life without parole, that is, they are excluded by law from any of the benefits reserved for other inmates) and solitary confinement under the Italian prison regime known as 41-bis (about 700 inmates). In July 2013, in the case of Vinter and Others vs. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that “whole life” sentences with no possibility of review and no prospect of release were inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2014, the ECHR delivered three more judgments in which it held to be a violation of Article 3 of the Convention the Life Without Parole provided in Turkey (Ocalan vs. Turkey 2) and Bulgaria (Harakchiev and Tolumov vs. Bulgaria) as well as the extradition to the United States where the defendant runs a real risk of being sentenced to Life Without Parole (Trabelsi vs. Belgium).