24 June 2005 :
LATEST DEVELOPMENTSLiberia abolished the death penalty for all crimes on September 16, 2005 when it acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. This treaty was one of a record 103 treaties that Liberia endorsed on the same day, 83 of which became law in the country with immediate effect, including the Second Optional Protocol.
This development strengthens the abolitionist camp internationally and in Africa, where executions were carried out by just four countries in 2004 and so far in 2005. Liberia’s change of status from a death penalty retentionist to an abolitionist country took place after the cut-off date of HOC’s 2005 report and changes the world situation concerning country status on abolition with respect to the data carried in the printed report. This development also strengthens the chances of success of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a stop to executions worldwide.
There are now 88 countries worldwide that are completely abolitionist, 86 of which are UN member states. Retentionist countries worldwide are to date 57, of which 55 are UN member states.
The following summary of HOC’s 2005 report, which covers death penalty news and developments in all of 2004 through to September 15, 2005, has been updated to accurately reflect the current situation.
SYNTHESIS OF THE 2005 REPORT
THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTS IN BRIEF
(2004 and up to September 15, 2005)
The worldwide situation to date
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for at least a decade, was again confirmed in 2004 and the first half of 2005.
There are currently 138 countries that to different extents have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 86 are totally abolitionist; 11 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 35 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. no executions have taken place in those countries for at least ten years). Since the beginning of 2004, 3 countries have passed from retention to an extent of abolition, whereas 5 countries have advanced within the categories of the abolitionist group.
The countries that retain the death penalty total 58, down from 61 in 2003 and 64 in 2002.
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 2004, only 26 countries carried out executions. There were 30 countries in 2003 and 34 in 2002 where people were put to death.
As a result, the number of executions has also decreased: 5,530 in 2004 down from 5,611 in 2003.
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 2004 corresponds to a minimum 5,450 executions. This is nevertheless a decrease compared to 2003, when 5,482 executions were registered.
America would be practically death-penalty free were it not for the 59 people put to death in the United States, the only country on the continent to execute anyone in 2004. Even in the US, executions are on the wane: 65 people were executed in 2003 and 71 in 2002.
In Africa, the death penalty appears to be falling into disuse. In 2004 only four countries put people to death – Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Uganda – where at least 16 executions are known to have taken place. The known total on the continent was 60 in 2003 and 63 in 2002.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone is Belarus, where 5 people were put to death in 2004.
Top executioners for 2004: China, Iran and Vietnam
Of the 58 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 44 are dictatorial, authoritarian or illiberal states. These countries were responsible for 5,465 executions, equal to 98.8% of the world total in 2004.
China alone carried out at least 5,000, or 90.4%, of the world total of executions. Iran put at least 197 people to death and Vietnam at least 82. These were followed by North Korea, where an unclear number - thought to amount to scores - of executions were carried out. Uzbekistan carried out around 50 executions; Saudi Arabia at least 38; Pakistan at least 29, Bangladesh at least 13; Kuwait at least 9; Uganda at least 7, Egypt, Singapore and Yemen at least 6 and other countries carried out less than 6 executions (for a complete list see Executions in 2004 table below).
Many of these countries do not issue official statistics on the practice of the death penalty therefore the number of executions may be in fact 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 2004: China, Iran and Vietnam.
China: officially the world’s record executioner
China continues to class information concerning the death penalty as a state secret, but in 2004, for the first time, a realistic estimate of the judicial massacre was given by insiders of the ruling Communist regime itself, and was published by a state-controlled newspaper.
According to Chen Zhonglin, a member of the National People’s Congress from the from Chongqing municipality, “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, published on the state-controlled China Youth Daily in March 2004, confirms China as the world’s top executioner, a distinction it will likely keep in the modern history of capital punishment.
The first indications by insiders of the sheer volume of executions appeared already in 2002, when in Disidai, or The Fourth Generation, a Communist Party member writing under the pseudonym Zong Hairen said 15,000 people had been sent to their death in China between 1998 and 2001. The book was published in 2002. In 2003, the total was put at 5,000 executions by a judicial source who remained anonymous. All of these figures surpass the estimates made by western sources and human rights groups by a large margin.
Hands Off Cain holds the most realistic estimate for 2004 to be again between 5,000 and 10,000 executions.
On March 9, 2005, the head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Jia Chunwang, in his annual report to the National People's Congress (NPC), said that China arrested a total of 811,102 people in 2004 for endangering state security or for being involved in activities regarded as separatist, terrorist or extremist. This figure represented an increase of 8.3% over 2003.
In the name of state security and public order, Chinese authorities targeted perpetrators of murder and bomb attacks, arsonists and peaceful dissenters alike. Endangering state security is a term China's communist leaders use to detain people who oppose its rule. 2004 saw thousands of dissidents jailed on such grounds, particularly in Tibet and the north-western province of Xinjiang, formerly part of Turkestan and inhabited by Muslims of Turkmen origin. Numerous Uighurs charged with separatist activities were condemned to death or executed in 2004. During the year, the repression of the practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in 1999 as an “evil cult” and accused of threatening the power of the Communist Party, intensified.
In an apparent bid to counter international censure of its excessive use of the death penalty, Chinese judicial authorities were thinking of removing the right of lower courts to have the final say on death penalty cases. China’s Supreme Court had had the sole right to approve death sentences up to 1983, when the power to impose death sentences was extended to the country’s more than 300 Intermediate People’s Courts. The move may lead to a substantial decrease in executions.
Iran, again on the podium of inhumanity
In 2004 Iran once more made the grade as the second most prolific executioner in the world, with an even ‘better’ performance than 2003. The number of people put to death in 2004 rose to 197 from the 154 recorded in the previous year. In proportion to its population, Iran applies capital punishment just as much, if not more, as China.
The real execution figures in Iran are probably higher than those recorded. Iranian authorities do not issue official statistics on the death penalty, and HOC’s total is based on news reports by Iranian media, that appear not to carry news of every single execution.
In 2004, 5 public executions of women were reported, including that of 16-year-old Atefeh (Sahaleh) Rajabi in Neka on August 15. By December 31, 2004, there were 14 women on death row in Iran, awaiting execution either by hanging or by stoning.
At least three juveniles were put to death in Iran in 2004, and at least 7 more were sentenced to death, according to HOC news monitoring. As of January 16, 2005 in the juvenile prisons in Tehran and Rajai-Shahr, there were at least 30 people sentenced to death for crimes committed before they were 18 years-old.
Iranian authorities say that most executions in the country concern people convicted of drug-related crimes, but human rights observers believe that many of those put to death for ordinary crimes, particularly drug crimes, are in truth political dissidents.
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.
Vietnam rose in the ranks in 2004, to make itself the world’s third worst executioner. In January the Vietnamese government made it an offence to report information on the death penalty, classifying it as a state secret. Notwithstanding, reports of 115 death sentences and at least 82 executions throughout the year were obtained through state media or judicial sources. At least 11 of the people put to death were women. In 2003, a minimum of 69 executions had been recorded. But the total of executions is probably much higher than the number estimated through news that makes its way into the public domain.
In some cases, particularly in the rural areas of Vietnam, people have been brought to trial in front of itinerant tribunals presided by local judiciary officials and held out in the open. In such proceedings, defendants are not guaranteed due process, rarely get to choose a lawyer and in cases where counsel is available, lawyers get minimum access to their clients.
Democracy and the death penalty
Of the 58 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 14 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 2004 were 4, and they accounted for 65 executions between them, equal to 1.2% of the world tally. These were: United States (59), Taiwan (3), Japan (2) and India (1).
India carried out its first officially recorded execution since 1995 with tragic consequences as a number of children died across the country in the days following the execution whilst re-enacting the hanging shown on television news.
There were no executions in Mongolia, Thailand and Botswana, the other three of the six liberal democracies that had carried out executions in 2003. This fact supports a trend discernible for at least the past five years: liberal democratic states are abandoning the practice of capital punishment. In such countries executions decreased consistently from 108 executions in 2000, 97 in 2001, 91 in 2002, 81 in 2003 to 65 in 2004.
The 2004 data relative to the United States alone also confirms the trend towards a diminished use of the death penalty. There were fewer executions, less death sentences and less people on death row. Executions were down from 65 in 2003 to 59. The 2004 total is a remarkable 40% 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 2004, 125 death sentences were passed, down from 144 in 2003, and less 54% compared to 1999. The death row population went down to 3,471 from 3,504 in 2003 and was 4% less than 1999.
Public opinion polls also show a decrease in support for capital punishment, particularly when the option of life without parole is available. A May 2004 Gallup survey found that 46% of respondents favour life imprisonment over the death penalty, up from 44% in May 2003. During that same time frame, support for capital punishment fell from 53% to 50%. In 1997 the disparity between the two options was 32% in favour of capital punishment.
The judicial errors coming to light with increasing frequency were a key element in making the death penalty issue central to public debate. In 2004, six people were exonerated and up to mid-September 2005, one more person – Derrick Jamison - had been released, taking the total of people released from death row since 1973 up to 121.
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 make 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. March 1, 2005 saw another landmark decision by the Supreme Court. In Roper v. Simmons it declared unconstitutional the execution of people convicted of crimes committed before 18 years of age. The Court held that the practice also violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. This historic decision brings the US into line with international law and frees the US of the strong international criticism its execution of juveniles provoked. The practice is now exclusive to a handful of illiberal or totalitarian countries that put to death people convicted of crimes committed when still under 18 in the face of the express prohibitions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In the US, the real fight over the death penalty is at the level of state legislatures. In 2004, many of the 38 retentionist states in the federation were discussing moratoriums or abolition. The congressional debates were mainly procedural, focused on doubts with regard to the application of capital punishment.
At state level, the most significant action took place in New York State. On April 12, 2005 a powerful committee of the State Assembly, the Committee of Codes, voted not to send legislation aimed at reinstating New York's death penalty to the full house. The vote kept in place the block on the death penalty imposed by the State’s Supreme Court, which declared New York State’s death penalty statute unconstitutional on June 24, 2004.
Counter to the nationwide trend, Maryland interrupted a six-year de facto moratorium with an execution on June 17, 2004 and Connecticut carried out its first execution since 1960.
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 executed after the execution has taken place, refusing even to identify them.
In 2004 Japan hanged two men, whereas only one had been put to death in 2003. The media identified the two as Mamoru Takuma and Sueo Shimazaki, whereas the justice ministry only said two prisoners on death row had been executed.
The ministry afterwards declared it would continue to maintain its policy of withholding the names of executed inmates since there was “the issue of family (privacy and other matters)'' to be taken into account according to then Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa Nozawa.
The same reserve was observed under a new justice minister in 2005’s first hanging, on September 15, 2005, when Susumu Kitagawa was executed at a prison in Osaka.
In 2004 a record 42 defendants were sentenced to death by courts in Japan according to a Kyodo News survey based on court data. This total - an increase of 12 over the 30 passed in 2003 - was the highest since 1980 when courts started keeping statistics.
India carried out its first officially recorded execution since 1994 on August 4, 2004.
Former security guard Dhananjoy Chatterjee, 39, was hanged at dawn at the Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata, West Bengal. The authorities had to recall then 83-year old hangman Nata Mullick out of retirement to do the deed. Mullick, who had declared he had no qualms about executing Chatterjee, fell ill after the execution. The last recorded executions in India took place in 1995, when 5 people were hanged.
In recent years both executions and the death row population in Taiwan have declined considerably. This was due to the government’s declared intention to achieve abolition and to a generally greater awareness of human rights. The amendment or abrogation of death penalty laws, particularly the notorious Bandit Law in 2002, meant the compulsory death penalty for a number of offences was either scrapped or replaced by discretionary death penalty, life imprisonment or jail terms. In October 2002, Taiwan scrapped the sentence completely for crimes committed by minors under 18. In January 2005 the Parliament ratified an overhaul of the Criminal Code that will gradually phase out the death penalty. This positive evolution in law has been reflected in a steady decline in the number of people executed and sentenced to death. The annual tally fell from 32 executions in 1998, to 24 in 1999, 17 in 2000, 10 in 2001, 9 in 2002, 7 in 2003 and 3 in 2004. The latest execution in Taiwan took place in Taichung prison on January 12, 2005.
Abolition, de facto abolition and moratoriums
2004 and the first half of 2005 provided further decisive confirmation of the worldwide trend towards abolition underway for over 10 years.
In 2004 three countries moved from retention to a form of abolition. Tajikistan abolished the death penalty completely, whereas Tanzania and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines surpassed the ten-year execution-free period that enables countries to be considered de facto abolitionist. 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 aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty. This treaty was one of a record 83 treaties that Liberia endorsed on the same day which became law in the country with immediate effect.
Six countries progressed within the abolitionist ranks: Samoa, Bhutan and Senegal, already de facto abolitionists, abolished the death penalty completely, whereas Greece, Turkey and Mexico, previously abolitionists for ordinary crimes, also abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.
Kyrgyzstan renewed the moratorium first established in 1998 for another year, confirming its intention to abolish capital punishment.
The following countries and states also registered positive developments: Algeria, Guatemala, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, New Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Taiwan, Uzbekistan and Zambia.
Reintroduction of the death penalty and resumption of executions
Conversely, since the start of 2004, four countries resumed executions after a long period of suspension. Lebanon resumed executions after 5 years of de facto moratorium in January 2004, and in April 2004, Afghanistan carried out the first execution since the fall of the Taliban. In August 2004 India interrupted a nine-year (according to official records) de facto moratorium, and Indonesia its three-year one.
Counter to the nationwide trend in the United States, Maryland interrupted a six-year de facto moratorium with an execution on June 17, 2004 and Connecticut carried out its first execution in 45 years.
On June 12, 2005, with the execution of four people, the Palestinian Authority interrupted a de facto moratorium in place for three years. In July 2005 news concerning executions in Libya emerged for the first time in eight years. On September 1, 2005, Iraq carried out the first executions since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Sri Lanka, which also announced its return to the gallows in November 2004, had not hanged anyone up to September 15, 2005.
Sharia law and the death penalty
In 2004, at least 362 executions were carried out in 15 Muslim-majority countries, many of which were ordered by tribunals applying a 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 15 applied capital punishment in 2004. Hanging, crucifixion, beheading and the firing squad were the methods used to execute Sharia punishments in 2004.
Death-by-stoning sentences in 2004 were issued only in Nigeria and Iran, but none were carried out. 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, Syria and Sudan in 2004. 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.
In 2004, 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 2004 totalled 38, the lowest tally in recent years. However, the first months of 2005 have already surpassed this figure, with 44 executions recorded up to June 7, 2005.
The firing squad, though not a traditional Islamic means of execution, was deployed to carry out Sharia punishments in Pakistan, Yemen and possibly in Somalia in 2004.
Death penalty for minors
The execution of people for crimes committed before 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 2004 at least five juvenile offenders were put to death: in China (1), Iran (3) and Pakistan (1). Another five minors were hanged in Iran up to September 12, 2005.
Though China amended its penal code to prohibit the execution of people who were less than 18 years of age when the crime they are convicted for was committed in October 1997, it continues to put juvenile offenders to death as courts neglect to ascertain the real age of defendants.
Under Iranian law, girls above nine years of age and boys over 15 are considered adults, and therefore can be condemned to death. Iranian authorities generally wait for young convicts to reach their eighteenth birthday before ordering their execution. Fahimeh Hajmohammad-Ali, a lawyer working in Iran's judiciary system, was reported on January 16, 2005 as saying that at least 30 juveniles were on death row in Tehran and Rajai-Shahr for offences they had allegedly committed under the age of 18.
In December 2004, the Lahore High Court in Pakistan’s Punjab province overturned a federal law which had abolished the death penalty for minors under 18, paving the way for the execution of children as young as seven. This court found the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) to be "unreasonable, unconstitutional and impracticable”. Its decision was challenged by the federal government and a child rights NGO and stayed by the Supreme Court on February 11, 2005 pending its own decision on the issue. Before this development, and in violation of the JJSO, on November 30, 2004, Rehmat Ali alias Raja, a nine-year-old boy convicted of murder, was executed in Punjab’s Bahawalpur jail.
In the Philippines, seven prisoners younger than 18 still on death row grabbed media attention in July 2004 and the authorities began to look into their cases.
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. In a close 5-4 decision on Roper v. Simmons, concerning Christopher Simmons, a Missouri death row inmate convicted of a murder committed at 17, the Court ruled the execution of minors to be in breach of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Of the 38, out of 50, states that retain the death penalty in the US, 19 still allowed the execution of minors. The Supreme Court ruling spared around 72 death row inmates from the lethal injection, with the largest chunk of these, 29, in Texas. The last juvenile offender executed was Scott Allen Hain, in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003. Of the total 22 minors executed since 1976, 13 were put to death in Texas.
The “war on drugs”
The prohibition on drugs contributed substantially to the death penalty machine again in 2004 and in the first months of 2005. 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, Indonesia, Iran, Singapore and Vietnam. In Thailand, judicial executions were abundantly replaced by a wave of summary and extrajudicial executions in 2004.
Of Saudi Arabia’s 38 executions, 14 were in retribution for drug crimes. Most of those who fell under the sword were foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis and some Iraqis.
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 on occasion of International Day Against Drug Abuse on June 26, 2004.
Of the nine people put to death in Kuwait in 2004, two were condemned for drug-trafficking.
All of Indonesia’s three executions in 2004 were in punishment for international heroin 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 be in reality 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. The city-state’s government, usually reluctant to impart information on capital punishment, on January 30, 2004 disclosed that between 1998 and 2003, 138 people had been executed, a 110 of whom had been hanged for drug-crimes.
Vietnam registered an escalation of executions in 2004. Of the 82 reported by the media, at least 44 concerned people convicted of drug-trafficking. One woman was executed for trafficking 337 grams of heroin.
The most recent executions in Thailand were carried out in December 2003, with two drug-traffickers being the first to die by lethal injection, the chemicals having just replaced shooting as the method of execution in the country. No judicial executions took place in Thailand in 2004, but thousands of people lost their lives to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s declared “war on drugs”. Drugs were deemed a threat to national and social security.
The “war on terrorism”
In 2004, anti-terrorism legislation that entails the application of capital punishment and a restriction of civil liberties and rights was approved in Qatar, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates. India and Indonesia on the other hand reviewed their anti-terror laws to better safeguard rights. Bahrain’s government proposed a draft law that makes ‘terrorist’ acts punishable by death in April 2005.
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 2004. 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 Xinjiang region, which the Uighurs call East Turkestan. Data published by the Chinese authorities themselves shows that 50 death sentences for separatist activities were passed between January and August 2004.
Persecution of adherents to religious and spiritual movements
2004 brought no respite for members of religious or spiritual movements unauthorised by the State in some countries. Persecution, interrogation, incarceration and physical abuse continued.
In China, hundreds of places of worship - clandestine mosques, Tibetan temples, seminaries, Catholic churches, indigenous Protestant churches - were shut down by the police and in some cases, demolished.
Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were slammed in jail or interned in re-education camps or mental asylums and subjected to brain-washing and needless or dangerous pharmacological treatments. Since the start of the persecution against the movement in July 1999 to September 1, 2005, more than 2,800 deaths from torture or abuse had been confirmed according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
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.
The crackdown on Christians initiated in Laos in 1998 was unalleviated in 2004. The authorities threatened them with forced exile from their communities or death if they did not give up their faith. Some were forced to underwrite declarations reneging their faith, and others were forced to participate in ritual drinking and smoking and even made to drink blood.
Vietnam’s campaign against “illegal” Christian churches “contaminated by American Protestants and therefore opposed to national interests” according to government propaganda, also continued unabated in 2004. The Montagnards, a Christian Protestant ethnic minority native to the Central Highlands, were again singled out for particularly harsh treatment. On April 10, 2004, at Easter-time, Christian Montagnards demonstrated in the Central Highlands for an end to the religious persecution, the seizure of ancestral lands, and the negation of political autonomy forced on them. In response, Vietnamese paramilitary forces attacked the demonstrators. Human Rights Watch, on April 22, 2004 reported scores of people wounded during the demonstrations, including some beaten “to death.”
Palestine’s death penalty for collaboration with Israel
Three of the eight death sentences passed by PA courts in 2004 were on charges of collaboration with Israel. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, two men were executed by the state, in 2001, on charges of collaboration with Israel. However, since 2000 over a hundred more suspected collaborators have been lynched or shot in the streets, mostly by militants of the Fatah faction of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, or the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Armed and masked activists broke into private homes, police stations, jails and even courts to get at the alleged or convicted collaborators. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), 19 Palestinians were summarily executed in this way in 2004. Another 7 Palestinians suffered similar fates up to September 15, 2005. The last to die of these was Muhammad Mahmoud Samwalha on July 18, 2005. He was kidnapped and then burned to death.
A Jerusalem Post report dated February 16, 2005 disclosed that President Abu Mazen had authorized the execution of three Palestinians convicted of collaboration with Israel. The report was not denied, but the executions had not taken place to September 15, 2005. Should they be carried out, these would the first since the two executions on similar charges authorized by Yasser Arafat in 2001. Following those executions, the PA had given assurances to the European Union that no more such executions would be authorized. On May 4, 2005, in response to a parliamentary question tabled by MEPs Marco Pannella and Emma Bonino (both ALDE), the European Commission declared it had “transmitted a message of serious concern at the prospect of a resumption of executions” to the PA and called on it “not to ratify or carry out any death sentences”.
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, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan 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 those of 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 and Syria.
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.
China introduced lethal injection in 1997, starting in Yunnan province. By 2004, a number of provinces had been furnished with mobile execution units in specially-modified vans to take the lethal injection to the condemned. The death vehicles are ordinary blue-and-white police vans. Inside there is a couch that can be raised and lowered like an operating table. 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. In 2004, China used lethal injections as a sort of ‘eye for an eye’ retribution on big drug-traffickers and small time peddlers alike.
In 2004, as in 2003, the lack of 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. Executions in 2004 were at least 13 and a jailed prisoner was responsible for one of these. The first execution of 2005, on May 6, was carried out by four suitably prepared inmates from another prison.
In India, a retired octogenarian hangman had to be called back into service to carry out the first officially-recorded execution in nine years, with the help of his son and grandson. After carrying out his 25th execution, Nata Mullick stepped down from the podium and started to cry.
Prison warders in Papua New Guinea and Uganda objected to hangman duties as contravening their oath to guarantee the security and promote the rehabilitation of prisoners.
In February 2003, warders and their bosses at Bomana prison in PNG said they did not want to hang a man convicted of murder, and that the judge who had passed the death sentence should “do it himself”.
On November 24, 2004 prison officers in Uganda’s Kawolo sub-county, recommended that the government hire a private firm to hang convicts on death row instead of using the prison staff to carry out executions.
"When these inmates stay in prison for a long time, they become like our relatives. So telling us to hang them seems as if we are killing our relatives,” John Ssenjobe, the officer in charge of Kawolo Prison, said.
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 (490 Malaysian Ringgits), 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 HOC’s annual report for 2005.
Of the 191 UN member states, 136 had given up practicing capital punishment as of October 14, 2005.
On April 20, 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights approved for the ninth consecutive year a resolution on the death penalty tabled by the European Union (EU).
A new record of 81 co-sponsors was reached, reinforcing the case for the presentation of a similar resolution at the UN General Assembly (GA) in New York.
However the EU’s failure to gain any new co-sponsors may be indicative of its limitations in developing and strengthening the international anti-death penalty initiative.
The EU has shown itself unable to keep together the 92 countries that over a span of years have supported the death penalty resolution at the CHR or GA, 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.
HOC 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: 95-103 votes in favour; 19-27 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 94 against to 75 in favour, with 20 abstentions and 2 countries possibly voting against or abstaining.
These figures illustrate the certainty of success at the GA, but faced with the EU’s foot-dragging and excessive caution, it is perhaps time to take stock of the EU’s inadequacy to bring the moratorium initiative to the desired conclusion. Giving this campaign new impetus necessitates a coalition of states from all continents, not just from Europe and the west, to promote it.
The abolitionist movement is far from being exclusive to Europe. A wider network of state support will go much further in the quest for this new human right.
America is practically a death-penalty free continent. There are countries in the South that abolished the death penalty more than a century ago. Venezuela 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, winning a favourable ruling from the International Court of Justice ICJ which ordered the US to "review and reconsider" the cases of the Mexican nationals on death row in 10 different US states. Its Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in 2001, deemed it unconstitutional for citizens to be extradited if potential punishment included not only the death penalty but also life in prison.
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. Today states that have completely abolished the death penalty are 13, including Senegal, which chose the most symbolic date on which to accomplish abolition: World Human Rights Day and Liberia who became completely abolitionist on September 16, 2005 when it acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Algeria and Mali have proclaimed moratoriums, whereas 19 African countries are de facto abolitionists, not having put anyone to death for over 10 years. In 2004 only three countries on the continent carried out executions, amounting to a known total of 10. Hardly a continent devoted to the death penalty. It was in fact South Africa’s particular path towards abolition that provided a strategic model later successfully applied in other parts of the world. Following five years of moratorium, in 1995 the state’s Constitutional Court found the death penalty inconsistent with the new Constitution, and abolition followed as a result. The South African experience showed that a moratorium can be a pragmatic and effective step towards doing away with capital punishment.
Even though Asia confirmed in 2004 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, after abolition in Tajikistan in February 2005, only Uzbekistan, of the five former Soviet Republics, still retains the death penalty. In South-East Asia, the third millennium’s first new state, Timor Leste, 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, Spain’s Parliament, on October 24, 2004, unanimously approved a motion that commits the government to take this initiative to the forthcoming GA. Italy, as the first country to take the moratorium proposal to the GA - in 1994 - is entitled to 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.
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.