16 March 2017 :
SYNTHESIS OF THE 2006 REPORT
The worldwide situation to date
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for at least a decade, was again confirmed in 2005 and the first half of 2006.
There are currently 142 countries that to different extents have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 90 are totally abolitionist; 10 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 1 (Russia) is committed to abolishing the death penalty as a member of the Council of Europe and currently observing a moratorium on executions; 5 have a moratorium on executions in place and 37 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. no executions have taken place in those countries for at least ten years).
The countries that retain the death penalty total 54, down from 60 in 2004 and 61 in 2003.
The trend towards abolition is confirmed also by the number of countries among those that retain the death penalty that actively practise capital punishment. In 2005, only 24 countries carried out executions. There were 26 countries in 2004 and 30 in 2003 where people were put to death.
As a result, the number of executions has also decreased: 5,494 in 2005 down from 5,530 in 2004.
Asia tops the standings again as the region where the sheer majority of executions are carried out. Taking the number of executions in China to be at least 5,000, the total for 2005 corresponds to a minimum 5,413 executions. This is nevertheless a decrease compared to 2004, when 5,450 executions were registered.
America would be practically death-penalty free were it not for the 60 people put to death in the United States, the only country on the continent to execute anyone in 2005 (59 people were executed in 2004 and 65 in 2003).
In Africa, the death penalty appears to be falling into disuse. In 2005 only four countries put people to death – Uganda (8), Libya (6), Sudan (4) and Somalia (1) – where at least 19 executions are known to have taken place. The known total on the continent was 16 in 2004 and 60 in 2003.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone is Belarus, where at least 2 people were put to death in 2005.
Top executioners for 2005: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia
Of the 54 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 43 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal states. These countries were responsible for 5,420 executions, equal to 98.7% of the world total in 2005.
China alone carried out at least 5,000, or 91%, of the world total of executions. Iran put at least 113 people to death and Saudi Arabia at least 90. These were followed by: North Korea with at least 75; Pakistan at least 42; Vietnam at least 27; Jordan 15; Mongolia, Uganda and Singapore 8; Kuwait and Yemen at least 7; Uzbekistan 2.
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.
A closer look at these statistics points to the fact that the fight against the death penalty entails, beyond the stopping of executions, a battle for democracy, for the respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
The terrible podium of the world’s top executioners is again taken by three authoritarian states in 2005: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China: officially the world’s record executioner
China continues to class information concerning the death penalty as a state secret, but in 2005, Liu Renwen, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he agreed with estimates in academic circles, based on information obtained from local judges and functionaries and deemed to be the most accurate so far, that about 8,000 people are put to death in the country every year.
Liu Renwen’s estimate represents the second public denouncement of the judicial massacre in China. In 2004, Chen Zhonglin, a member of the National People’s Congress from Chongqing municipality, said that, “Every year China has nearly 10,000 cases of the death penalty that result in immediate execution... about five times more than all the other death penalty cases from other nations combined.” His declaration was published on the state-controlled China Youth Daily in March 2004.
Hands Off Cain holds the most realistic estimate for 2005 to be again between 5,000 and 10,000 executions.
All the estimates confirm China as the world’s top executioner, a record unlikely to be beaten in modern death penalty history and one that is beginning to attract criticism from China’s legal experts and media on top of that already voiced by international human rights groups.
On March 14, 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao said that, although there is no intention of abolishing the death penalty in China, reforms are being put into place to ensure a more prudent use of the ultimate punishment. To this purpose a law came into effect on January 1, 2006, making it mandatory for all capital sentences to be confirmed by the People’s Supreme Court, as had been the case up until 1983. Previously, the majority of capital sentences were approved by the country’s 300 Provincial High Courts with only the most important ones making it to the Supreme Court. The restitution to the Supreme Court of this exclusive function should result in a drastic reduction of executions carried out in the country.
On January 7, 2006, the People’s Supreme Court said it had commuted 11.2% of all death sentences brought before it in 2005, however, without stating the total number of cases brought into examination.
Notwithstanding these first steps, both those convicted of violent and non violent crimes end up in China’s judicial mincer: bombers and seperatist militants, assassins and robbers, kidnappers and rapists, drug traffickers and drug dealers, arms and cigarette smugglers, counterfitters and bribers have all undergone trials, been put on public display and forced to wear a sign around their neck detailing their name and the nature of their crime before being put to death.
2005 also saw an increase in the persecution of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, outlawed as an “evil cult” in 1999 and accused of threatening Communist Party authority.
Iran, again on the podium of inhumanity
In 2005 Iran once more made the grade as the second most prolific executioner in the world with at least 113 executions, compared with 197 in 2004. In proportion to its population, Iran applies capital punishment just as much as, if not more than, China. The 87 executions up to June 30, 2006, mark a rise in the use of capital punishment.
The real execution figures in Iran are probably higher than those recorded. Iranian authorities do not issue official statistics on the death penalty, and Hands Off Cain’s total is based on news reports by Iranian media, that appear not to carry news of every single execution.
Two women were executed in 2005 and 13 were sentenced to death. Amongst then were two girls who were minors at the time of the crime: Fakhteh and Delara Darabi. Moreover, at least three women were sentenced to be stoned for adultery and on June 5, 2006, Iranian websites reported that a man and woman had been stoned to death three weeks before.
At least eight juveniles were put to death in Iran in 2005; two of them were also under 18 at the time of execution. The first execution of a minor in 2006 is know to have taken place on May 13.
Capital punishment is not the only issue of great concern: Iran’s version of Sharia law prescribes torture, amputation of limbs, whippings and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, carried out in open defiance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified.
Saudi Arabia is third on the death penalty podium with at least 90 executions, one of the highest figures both in terms of people killed and per capita. In 2004, 38 people were put to death in the country, one of the lowest figures in recent history. The record was established in 1995 with 191 executions. A huge drop in the number of executions has been registered for 2006 with only three people being put to death so far in the year (up to June 26).
Many reported executions were for murder, rape and crimes involving both hard and soft drugs. But in recent years people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia for acts such as apostasy, witchcraft and homosexuality which are not considered crimes in most other countries.
About two thirds of those executed in Saudi Arabia are foreigners. Saudi justice is especially harsh in its treatment of foreign workers, particularly those from poorer countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Foreigners condemned to death in Saudi Arabia are typically unaware of their sentences and have no advance notice of their date of execution. In most cases, the condemned people do not even know that their trials have been concluded. The executed do not know what is about to happen to them until the very last moment. A large number of police come into the cell and ask for the person by name. Sometimes people are forcibly dragged out.
Democracy and the death penalty
Of the 54 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 11 are classed as liberal democracies. This definition takes into account the country’s political system, and also evaluates the respect of human rights, civil and political liberties, free market practices and the rule of law. The liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2005 were 5, and they accounted for 74 executions between them, equal to 1.3% of the world tally. These were: United States (60), Mongolia (at least 8), Taiwan (3), Indonesia (2) and Japan (1).
On April 1, 2006, Botswana carried out its first execution in two years with the secret hanging of Modisane Ping.
No executions were carried out in 2005 in India, the other democracy to carry out an execution in 2004.
2005 confirmed the trend in the United States which has seen a decrease in the use of the death penalty in the last six years.
Although 2005 witnessed an extra execution to 2004 (60 against 59), the figure is a remarkable 39% less than the 1999 total, which was the record year for executions since the re-introduction of the death penalty in 1976, with 98 people put to death.
In 2005, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, the number of people sentenced to death remained the same as in 2004: 125, a 54% decrease from 1999 and the lowest since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976. In Harris county, Texas, often considered to be the “capital of capital punishment”, only two people were sentenced to death in 2005.
Contributing to the reduction, in recent years, of the number of people on death row in the country, are then Governor of Illinois George Ryan’s decision to commute all death sentences (167) and the March 1, 2005, Supreme Court decision to abolish the death penalty for those who were minors at the time of the crime. The decision exonerated 75 people from death row. Two ground-breaking 2002 US Supreme Court decisions continued to have an effect on the number of death sentences and executions. In Ring v. Arizona the court declared unconstitutional death sentences passed by judges without a jury having determined the existence of aggravating factors in a crime that makes the imposition of the death penalty legally justifiable. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court found the execution of mentally retarded people to be “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the eighth amendment to the constitution, and banned it.
Public opinion polls also show a decrease in support for capital punishment, particularly when the option of life without parole is available. The highest support for the death penalty was registered in 1994 with 80%. The latest Gallup survey, taken in October 2005, revealed that only 64% of Americans back the death penalty, the lowest percentage in 27 years. Another survey by CBS News revealed that, asked to choose between death and life without the possibility of parole, 39% backed the death penalty, 39% chose life without parole and 6% chose life with the possibilty of parole.
The death penalty’s modes of implementation, class and race prejudice (in 2005, as in 2004 and in 2003, no white person was put to death for a murder in which the victim was only a black person and 73% of people put to death throughout the year were sentenced to death for the murder of white people although less than 50% of all murder victims are white) but mostly the continuous discovery of judicial errors, have all helped to rekindle debate on the punishment. The number of people exonerated since 1973 due to innocence climbed to 123. Two people were exonerated in 2005.
Other avenues were opened with the June 12, 2006, Supreme Court decision to recognise the right of making appeals against the legittimacy of lethal injection.
The real battle against the death penalty is being carried out at state level with continuing discussions on abolition of the death penalty and implentation of moratoria on executions.
Illinois observed a moratorium on the death penalty for the sixth consecutive year.
On January 31, 2005, the State Affairs Commission in South Dakota voted 10 to 3 against a proposed law for the abolishment of the death penalty in the state.
On February 28, 2005, New Mexico’s Chamber of Representatives approved a draft law abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The measure is due to be put before the Senate.
On April 12, 2005, the Justice Comission of the New York state assembly rejected the project on the new death penalty law by 11 votes to seven thus leaving in place the freeze in executions established in June 2004 by the Appeal Court of Albany.
On November 15, 2005, the Massachussetts Chamber of Representatives rejected by 100 votes to 53 Governmor Mit Romney’s efforts to reintroduce the death penalty in a state which carried out its last execution in 1947.
On January 12, 2006, New Jersey became the first state to introduce a moratorium through law when Governor Richard Codey signed a law introducing a moratorium up until January 15, 2007, and instituting a study comission to present its findings on the death penalty by November 2006.
On March 8, 2006, the Senate Justice Comission in Alabama approved, for the second consecutive year, a draft law for the introduction of a three year moratorium and improvement of criminal procedures with the purpose of eliminating racial discrimination.
Going against the trend present in the United States, in 2005 Connecticut carried out its first execution in 45 years.
On June 29, 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled as illegitimate the military courts put into place by the country’s administration to try prisoners held in Guantanamo. The Court ruled, with 5 votes to 3, that the tribunals created by President George Bush following the September 11 attacks were in violation of the Geneva convention.
On January 7, 2005, the Parliament of Taiwan promulgated reforms to the country’s criminal code foreseeing the gradual abolition of the death penalty and the simultaneous tightening of parole conditions in an attempt to create a socially accepted alternative should capital punishment be abolished.
On September 7, 2005, President Chen Shui-bian declared his objective to abolish the death penalty and put an end to executions as soon as possible.
In fact, the country went from executing 32 people in 1998 to 24 in 1999, 17 in 2000, 10 in 2001, 9 in 2002, 7 in 2003 and three each in 2004 and 2005.
Japan keeps the utmost reserve on executions. Inmates themselves are often not informed of their execution dates until the day of the hanging preventing them from meeting their families for the last time. The authorities limit themselves to communicating the number of people hanged after the execution has taken place, refusing even to identify them.
Only one person was put to death in 2005 (two in 2004). The execution took place on September 15, 2005, and was the first under the Justice Minister at the time, Chieko Noono, appointed on September 27, 2004. As is usual, the Justice Ministry did not name the person put to death but limited itself to announcing the execution. Local news agencies named the man as Susumu Kitagawa, 58.
On February 19, 2005, a government survey of 2,049 people revealed that 81.4% were in favour of capital punishment, 2.8% more than 1999 and 7.6% more than 1994. Local media put the result down to increased worries over violent crime.
India, one of four democracies to carry out an execution in 2004, putting an end to a moratorium which had lasted nine years, showed positive developments in 2005 and the first six months of 2006.
On october 16, 2005, in a move without any precedent, President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam advised the government to consider a pardon for a majority of an estimated 50 individuals on death row whose mercy petitions were pending before him.
Article 72 of the constitution says: "The president shall have the power to grant pardons''.
The president is understood to have advocated a radical move for reform and retribution, in which he asked that the convicts be treated with compassion and be provided with counselling and spiritual guidance instead of being put to death.
Abolition, de facto abolition and moratoriums
2005 and the first half of 2006 provided further decisive confirmation of the worldwide trend towards abolition underway for over 10 years.
Six countries moved from retention to a form of abolition. Tajikistan, Liberia and the Philippines abolished the death penalty completely, whereas Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Santa Lucia and Lesotho surpassed the ten-year execution-free period that enables countries to be considered de facto abolitionist.
Two other countries took positive steps in the abolitionist direction: Greece and Mexico, already abolitionist for ordinary crimes, abolished the death penalty under all circumstances.
Moldova is in the process of abolishing the death penalty from the constitution.
In Kyrgyzstan, the moratorium first established in 1998 was renewed to be implemented until abolition of the death penalty in the country.
The following countries and states also registered positive developments: South Korea, Uzbekistan, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Rulings were pronounced in the Bahamas and in Uganda declaring mandatory death sentences unconstitutional.
Reintroduction of the death penalty and resumption of executions
Conversely, since the start of 2005 and the first six months of 2006, five countries resumed executions after a long period of suspension.
On June 12, 2005, with the execution of four people, the Palestinian Authority interrupted a de facto moratorium in place for three years. The last legal executions had taken place in 2002 when three people were put to death for murder.
In July 2005 news concerning executions in Libya emerged for the first time in eight years when eight foreign nationals were put to death.
On September 1, 2005, Iraq carried out the first executions since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein. The use of capital punishment had been suspended by the Coalition Provisional Authority on April 9, 2003, the day Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. The death penalty was reinstated on August 8, 2004, by the ad interim government led by Iyad Allawi.
On April 28, 2006, Equitorial Guinea implemented the death penalty for the first time since 1997.
On April 1, 2006, Botswana carried out its first execution in two years by secretly hanging a man.
On May 13, 2005, Connecticut carried out its first execution after 45 years of de facto abolition.
Sharia law and the death penalty
In 2005, at least 302 executions, against the 362 of the previous year, were carried out in 14 Muslim-majority countries, many of the executions were ordered by tribunals applying strict interpretation of Sharia law.
However, the root cause of this judicial destruction does not lie in the Koran itself as illustrated by the fact that not all countries that observe its teachings 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 valid for present times - a transposition done by fundamentalist, dictatorial or authoritarian regimes and used by them as an improper means to impede the democratic process.
Of the 48 Muslim-majority states worldwide, 23 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, whereas the retentionists are 25, of which 14 applied capital punishment in 2005. Hanging, beheading and the firing squad were the methods used to execute Sharia punishments in 2005.
Death-by-stoning sentences in 2005 were issued only in Nigeria and in Iran, where on June 5, 2006, Iranian websites reported that a man and a woman had been stoned to death three weeks before.
In 2005, a woman was stoned in Afghanistan in an extra-judicial execution at the instigation of her own husband and following a decision by a local mullah.
The alternative to stoning in Sharia is often hanging, mainly for men though women are not exempt. People dangled from the noose in fulfilment of Sharia-based punishments in Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and Sudan in 2005. Hangings are often carried out in public and are sometimes preceded by amputation or flogging. A good number of these spectacles took place in Iran, prompting on occasion the protests of the crowds called out to assist.
Decapitation as a method of execution was exclusive to Saudi Arabia, the country that applies the strictest interpretation of Sharia law and has one of the world’s highest annual totals of executions, both in absolute terms and per capita. The peak was reached in 1995 with the execution of 191 people. Executions in 2005 totalled 90, much higher than the 38 executions registered in 2004, placing the country in third place on the global podium for executions. The first months of 2006 recorded only three executions up to June 26, 2006.
The firing squad, though not a traditional Islamic means of execution, was deployed to carry out Sharia punishments in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in 2005.
According to Islamic law, the family of the victim can ask for monetary compensation, referred to as “blood money”, can pardon the victim or can request the execution to take place. Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates all registered cases in 2005 and in 2006 whereby the family of the victim pardoned the offender following the payment of blood money.
Death penalty for minors
The execution of people for crimes committed before they reach 18 years of age is a blatant breach of the international covenant on civil and political rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 2005 at least 11 juvenile offenders were put to death: in Iran (8), in Sudan (2) and in Pakistan (1). Another minor was hanged in Iran in 2006.
In November 2005, at least 126 people were on death row in Saudi Arabia for crimes committed before their 18th birthday.
On March 1, 2005, after 22 people had been executed for crimes committed under the age of 18 since 1976, the United States Supreme Court declared juvenile executions unconstitutional.
On July 8, 2005, Sudan approved a new ad interim constitution allowing for the death penalty to be applied to those under 18 years of age and reportedly applied the punishment to two minors on August 31.
Minors are also reported to be held on death rows in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh and Yemen.
The “war on drugs”
The prohibition on drugs contributed substantially to the death penalty machine again in 2005 and in the first months of 2006. In the name of a ‘war on drugs’ and on the basis of ever-more stringent laws, drug-related executions took place in China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Singapore and Vietnam.
Of Saudi Arabia’s 90 executions, 18 were in retribution for drug crimes.
In keeping with its tradition of escalating executions to mark national holidays and internationally significant dates, China sent scores of drug-traffickers to death rows and the execution grounds to mark International Day Against Drug Abuse on June 26, both in 2005 and in 2006.
Of the seven people put to death in Kuwait in 2005, two were condemned for drug-trafficking.
On the authorities’ own estimation, the majority of executions in Iran are drug-related. However, human rights monitors have said that a good number of the people put to death for ordinary crimes, particularly drug crimes, may in reality be political dissidents.
In Singapore the death penalty is mandatory for the trafficking of 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine and 500 grams of cannabis. At least two of the eight executions registered in 2005 were drug related.
Of the 27 executions reported in Vietnam in 2005, at least 9 concerned people convicted of drug-trafficking. At least 10 people convicted of drug trafficking have been put to death in the first months of 2006. In July 2001, the People’s Supreme Court issued guidelines envisaging capital punishment for defendants found guilty of trafficking 600g of heroin or more.
The “war on terrorism”
Iraq was the only country to approve an anti terrorism law in 2005. Bahrain’s government proposed a draft law making ‘terrorist’ acts punishable by death in April 2005, whilst Bangladesh is currently examining the implementation of laws for the application of the death penalty and the restriction of civil and public freedoms.
In 2006, George Bush signed the new version of the patriot act, the anti terror law enacted in the wake of the September 11 attacks and scheduled to expire on December 31, 2005. The law also reduces the guarantee of appeal for those sentenced to death.
In the name of war on terrorism and legitimized by their adherence to the grand coalition born after the September 11 attacks on the US, authoritarian and illiberal regimes continued to violate the rights of sections of their own population. In some cases, people accused of terrorism, but in reality engaged in peaceful opposition or other activities displeasing to the ruling regimes were executed or persecuted. China in particular, brought its might to bear on the leaders of the Muslim Uighur people struggling to establish an independent state in the Xingjian region, which the Uighurs call East Turkistan.
Persecution of adherents to religious and spiritual movements
2005 and the first six months of 2006 brought no respite for members of religious or spiritual movements unauthorised by the state in some countries. Persecution, interrogation, incarceration and physical abuse continued.
On March 1, 2005, new norms came into effect in China, presented by the government as forming significant steps towards the protection of freedom of religion. However, the freedom to exercise religion remains subject to arbitrary restrictions. Places of worship - clandestine mosques, Tibetan temples, seminaries, Catholic churches, and indigenous Protestant churches - were shut down by the police and, in some cases, demolished and their leaders persecuted.
On March 1, 2006, Human Rights Watch said that over 400 Falun Gong practitioners are subject to imprisonment and forced labour. Falun Gong documented more than 2,862 executions, often as a result of physical and mental torture, between July 1999 and April 2006.
In March 2006, the existence of a concentration camp where Falun Gong practitioners had been cremated following the extraction of organs was revealed in Sujiatun. On March 31, 2006, a retired military doctor from the military region of Shenyang revealed the existence of at least 36 other similar camps.
In 2005, religious and human rights groups based outside, but with close ties to North Korea, continued to report the persecution suffered by Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and members of clandestine Christian churches. Christians were reported to have been imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for reading the Bible or preaching about God, and particularly for having ties with evangelical groups operating across the border in China.
Due to international pressure, Vietnam approved a new writ on religion in 2004 and made a series of releases in 2005 of inmates locked up due to their beliefs. In February 2005, Vietnam’s Prime Minister approved a decree abolishing forced retraction of ones’ own beliefs and loosened restrictions for Christian organisations to register themselves with the government. Registration for other religious organisations remains mandatory in order for them to have legal status but religious activity is banned as viewed to be a potential cause for public disorder, damaging to national security and a source of internal divisions.
The Montagnards, a Christian Protestant ethnic minority native to the central highlands, were again singled out for particularly harsh treatment. The Montagnard Foundation, a human rights organisation based in South Carolina, reported that during the 2005 Christmas period Vietnamese paramilitary forces attacked 62 villages containing Montagnard and, in an escalation of an initiative commenced in November, arrested, beat and tortured 27 people celebrating Christmas. Over 300 Montagnard are reportedly being held in prisons across Vietnam for their religious beliefs.
The death penalty for political crimes or crimes of opinion
Human rights observes believe that many of those put to death in Iran for ordinary or drug related crimes are in actual fact political opponents.
On September 3, 2005, Ismayil Muhemedi, 38, was put to death by Iranian authorities after three years in captivity. He was found guilty of belonging to a clandestine Kurdish organisation.
On September 7, another Kurd political prisoner, Mohammad Panj-Bini, was hanged in Urmia prison. Other Kurd activists are awaiting execution.
A man only identified as Aziz was hanged on December 18. He was also a Kurd political prisoner, detained since 1996 for the alleged murder of a Security Ministry agent.
Hojjat Zamani, a member of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, who had been a political prisoner in Iran since 2001, was hanged in Gohardasht prison on February 7. Zamani, 31 at the time he was hanged, had undergone severe physical and psychological torture to break his morale and compel him to express remorse and surrender.
Palestine’s death penalty for collaboration with Israel
Since the institution of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994, 14 Palestinians have been legally executed, two of them for “collaboration” with Israel.
In 2005, five legal executions were carried out in Palestine, all for murder. However, in ten years of PNA existence, over 100 Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel have been lynched or shot on the streets, most of them at the hands of members of the Fatah group of current Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which have come to get them from their houses, the prisons where they were being held or from courts trying them.
According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, 11 Palestinians were brought to “justice” this way in 2005.
Top secret capital punishment
Several countries, mainly authoritarian ones, do not issue official statistics on capital punishment.
In China and Vietnam the death penalty is subject to laws making it a state secret, thus the reports of a few hundred executions that find their way into local media represent a drop in the ocean of executions.
The soviet tradition of considering the death penalty a state secret has been kept up in Belarus and Uzbekistan. The only data relative to these countries is provided by international human rights organisations, occasional reports on the media or by the families of executed prisoners. In these countries where the death penalty is still in place the number of people put to death is probably also much higher than that reported.
In almost all the authoritarian states – from Egypt to Iran, Yemen or Sudan - even where there is no state secret concealing the practice of the death penalty, governments do not issue statistics or official data. The only information available is provided by state media that evidently do not publish all the facts. Then there are countries were executions are completely covert, and news does not even filter through to local media. This is the case in North Korea.
In other states news of executions is made public only once these have taken place. Family members, lawyers and the death row inmates themselves are kept in the dark until the day of the execution. This is what takes place in Japan and Saudi Arabia.
The “humane” lethal injection
Countries that have recently decided to substitute the electric chair, hanging or the firing squad by lethal injection as their method of execution, have presented the move as a civilised development, and a more humane and painless way to end people’s lives.
The truth is far removed.
On April 15, 2005 the authoritative medical journal The Lancet published a study by the University of Miami which found that some executed prisoners may have suffered excruciating pain because they were not properly anaesthetized.
Researchers at the University’s Miller School of Medicine said the way inmates are given lethal injections does not even meet veterinary standards for putting down animals.
Head researcher Leonidas Koniaris said anaesthesia was given during a lethal injection to minimise suffering as without it the prisoner would suffocate and experience horrible pain. However data from autopsies following 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia and North and South Carolina, showed that concentrations of the drug in the blood in 43 cases were lower than that needed for surgery. Twenty-one prisoners had drug levels that were consistent with awareness.
An editorial in The Lancet said if the inmates were awake it would have been a cruel way to die because they would have been unable to move or breathe while potassium burned through their veins.
On June 12, 2006, the United States Supreme Court recognised the right of death row inmates to appeal against the legitimacy of lethal injection.
in 1997, China introduced lethal injection, applied first in Yunnan province, and has recently introduced mobile execution units. The units consist of specially-modified vans manned by execution teams and equipped with facilities to put people to death with lethal injections close to the venue of the trials. This makes away with 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 the veins. The whole procedure can be viewed on a monitor next to the driving seat and recorded.
A rare newspaper account described an execution that took place on January 19, 2005 in Liaoyang, the capital of Liaoning province. The convicted man, Li Jiao, was taken to a place close to the court after the verdict, a ten-minute drive away. He was dead within 14 minutes of sentence being pronounced.
The vans, which cost around 48,000 euros each, are fitted with closed circuit television, which permitted Li’s death to be watched by local members of the National People’s Congress gathered at the city’s funeral parlour, the UK Sunday Times reported.
Chinese authorities have defined the new death vans as “progress” providing a “clean and simple” system of execution. A lethal injection costs the state around 92 euros, but, unlike the bullet it replaced, the families of the convicts do not have to pay for it.
On August 11, 2005, Vietnam’s Justice Ministry presented a draft law proposing to replace firing squad with lethal injection as the country’s official method of execution. The Ministry said that lethal injection would alleviate from the executioner the stress of shooting.
On June 7, 2006, Tsutomu Miyazaki, 43, on death row in Japan, said he would fight to change the country’s execution method from hanging to lethal injection for the sake of human rights and the law prohibiting cruel forms of punishment.
In 2005, as in 2004, the lack of people willing to work as executioners again delayed or impeded executions.
In Bangladesh, lacking an official hangman, prison authorities resorted to “reliable” inmates. On May 6, 2005, the hanging of Kamal Hossain Hawlader, 26, was carried out by four suitably prepared inmates from another prison.
On October 28, 2005, it was reported that Singapore's chief executioner Darshan Singh, the man due to execute convicted Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van, was a 73-year-old grandfather who could not retire because no-one would take his job. Singh had hanged more than 850 prisoners in his 46 years in the role.
Singh was not permitted by law to speak publicly about his job, but a colleague said: "he tried to train two would-be hangmen to replace him, a Malaysian and a Chinese, both in the prison service, but when it came to pulling the lever for the real thing, they both froze and could not do it.
"The Chinese guy, a prison officer, became so distraught he walked out immediately and resigned from the prison service altogether."
In March 2005, Malaysia thought to introduce financial incentives for prison officers charged with hanging and flogging. Executioners will be paid the equivalent of 100 euros, up from 60 euros, for every hanging. For every swing of the cane, prison officers flogging convicts will now get the equivalent of 2 euros, up from 60 cents.
THE OUTLOOK OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR A UN MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS
A constantly diminishing number of countries worldwide applying the death penalty and an increasing willingness by states to oppose capital punishment in international fora are documented in Hands Off Cain’s annual report for 2006.
Of the 192 UN member states, 140 had given up practicing capital punishment.
On April 20, 2005, the UN commission on human rights approved for the ninth consecutive year a resolution on the death penalty. A record number of co-sponsors this year at the Commission reinforces the case for the presentation of a similar resolution at the UN General Assembly (GA) in New York. However, analysing the situation shows the EU’s limitations in developing and strengthening the international anti-death penalty initiative. In 2005, for the first time, there were no new co-sponsors. The EU has shown itself unable to keep together the 92 countries that over a span of years have supported the death penalty resolution, or gain any further support.
The EU’s position, increasingly dubious over the years, seems to be definitely set against the presentation of a pro-moratorium resolution at the General Assembly at present.
The prevailing opinion is that it is wiser to wait until there is a larger international consensus at the GA, which guarantees not only a majority, but near consensus.
The EU is not taking into consideration that a decision in favour of a worldwide moratorium by the world’s most representative body, even one reached through a majority vote, would consolidate world public opinion regarding the necessity of banning executions, and thereby contribute to the development of the human rights system as a whole.
On the other hand, the Human Rights Commission underwent major reforms in 2006 with the creation of the Human Rights Council, formed with the intention of improving the UN’s human rights system by replacing the Commission, seen by many as discredited, with a more efficient and authoritative body.
Hands Off Cain estimates that a vote on a resolution for “a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty” at the UNGA would be voted thus: 97-105 votes in favour; 17-25 abstentions and 62-69 votes against. An amendment upholding ‘domestic jurisdiction’ that will certainly be presented by retentionist states such as Egypt or Singapore would probably be rejected by a vote of 96 against to 74 in favour, with 19 abstentions and 2 countries possibly voting against or abstaining.
These figures illustrate the certainty of success at the GA. To give this campaign more impetus necessitates a coalition of states from all continents, not just from Europe and the west, to promote it.
With the exception of the United States, America is practically a death-penalty free continent. There are countries in the south that abolished the death penalty more than a century ago such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela which was the first modern state to do so in 1863. The central American state of Mexico has been the most prominent internationally against the death penalty, and could be one of the countries to promote the pro moratorium resolution at the GA. Mexico’s willingness to co-ordinate central and north American states was confirmed to Hands Off Cain by authorities there during a mission to the country in November 2005.
In Africa, where the death penalty is falling into disuse, the situation has changed significantly in recent years. Out of 53 states, retentionists are down to 19, 15 less than in 1993. The trend in Africa is even more positive if one considers that in 1990 there was only one legally abolitionist state, Cape Verde. Liberia became completely abolitionist on September 16, 2005 when it acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Today states that have completely abolished the death penalty are 13, including Senegal which became abolitionist on December 10, 2004. On June 24, 2005, Senegal’s President, Abdoulaye Wade, was awarded with the Abolitionist of the Year 2005 award at Hands Off Cain headquarters in Rome. In autumn 2006 Senegal will be able to confirm its role as the continent’s leader in the international campaign for a UN moratorium during the conference organised by Hands Off Cain for the abolition of the death penalty which will see 15 west African states converge in Dakar.
Even though Asia confirmed in 2005 its standing as the continent where the vast majority of the world’s executions are carried out, there are a number of countries heading away from capital punishment. In central Asia, following abolition in Tajikistan in February 2005, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan announced on August 1, 2005, a decree abolishing the death penalty to come into effect in 2008.
In south-east Asia, the third millennium’s first new state, East Timor, was born as an abolitionist state.
Australia and New Zealand have been staunch supporters of the death penalty resolution in Geneva and could play a pivotal role in raising support from the Asia pacific region at the GA.
Europe is sending conflicting signals. Whereas the United Kingdom’s position, shared by its government and civil society, is at present of resistance to the proposal for a UN moratorium, Italy, as the first country to take the moratorium proposal to the GA - in 1994 – could take the lead again, in view of the EU’s current impasse. Italy had relinquished the initiative in UN fora to the EU in 1999 in the hope of strengthening it.
On may 23, 2006, newly elected Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi gave his support in favour of a universal moratorium on executions.
“I believe it is time to resume Italian efforts for a moratorium on the death penalty which is at the heart of our culture,” stated Prodi in the chamber of deputies in reference to a request made by Sergio D’elia, Secretary of Hands Off Cain and MP for the Rose in the Fist party.
On June 14, 2006, Italy’s Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema reaffirmed the county’s commitments for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide whilst expounding the guidelines for Italy’s foreign policy.
It is now necessary to act immediately in order to have a pro-moratorium resolution presented and approved by the next UN General Assembly.
This would bring to an end the campaign started 13 years ago by Hands Off Cain together with the Transnational Radical Party which has garnered cross party parliamentary support in recent years.
A UN moratorium – on the way to total worldwide abolition – could spare the lives of thousands of people. Not only the ones in whose favour public opinion is frequently mobilized, mainly those on US death rows, but also the thousands of unnamed and forgotten victims of the death penalty: the inmates of death rows in China, Iran and Vietnam, and all the other authoritarian regimes where people die everyday, amidst a deafening silence.