Support for Death Penalty wanes

Across the world, people from diverse walks of life have been raising their voices to condemn the death penalty. In 2011, they were again joined by politicians, lawyers and academics, calling for an end to this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

In March Governor Pat Quinn announced his intention to seek an end to the death penalty in Illinois, USA: “The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.” Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty in the USA.

On the other side of the world, Malaysia Law Minister Nazri Aziz addressed a public forum marking the World Day against the Death Penalty in October. He stated that in his opinion the demands of the abolition movement in Malaysia were in line with the government's ongoing efforts to revise laws so that they complied with the principles of human rights. Although Malaysia still retains the death penalty, Nazri’s words suggested a possible wider shift in attitude.

An unshakable trend

In China, too – where thousands are believed to have been executed – dissenting voices were heard. Peking University Law Professor Zhang Qianfan argues for China to publish its figures on executions. Only then, he says, “can China’s rational debate on abolition of the death penalty begin.”

There were signs of progress in Japan where, for the first time in 19 years, there were no known executions. In December, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations decided to support abolition, stating that "abolition of the death penalty has become an unshakable international trend, and now is the time to launch a social debate about its termination." Similar debates on the death penalty and its potential abolition took hold in South Korea and Taiwan.

An “end to executions”

In the Middle East and North Africa, decreases in the use of the death penalty were recorded in Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Tunisia. The new Moroccan Constitution adopted in 2011 enshrines the right to life in Article 20. In June, Abdelatif Mennouni, who presided over the Constitution’s revision, was quoted in the French daily Le Figaro as saying: “This article is meant to put an end to executions”.
These small but significant steps forward were echoed in other regions, too. In sub-Saharan Africa, Sierra Leone declared, and Nigeria confirmed, the official suspension of all executions. And in Europe, Latvia became the 97th country worldwide to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes as of 1 January 2012.

Such developments reflect the gathering momentum towards abolition – in 2011, 70 per cent of all countries had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Twenty countries were known to have carried out executions in 2011, the second-lowest number on record, and a third less than a decade ago. All of this suggests that while there is still some way to go, the journey towards an execution-free world is perhaps not as long as some might think.

See also:

The death penalty in 2011
Top 5 executioners in 2011
Victims and survivors of crime
Why are they hiding?
‘Don’t let those who kill turn us into murderers’
Japan: 40 years on death row