Growing calls for end to executions at UN

Over one hundred countries voted overwhelmingly in favour of a second resolution on “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty” at the United Nations (UN) on Thursday. The resolution reaffirms last year’s UN General Assembly call for a moratorium on executions.

106 states supported the resolution, 46 voted against and 34 states abstained.  In 2007, the vote was 104 in favour, 54 against and 29 abstained.

“This increased support solidifies the solid and long-standing trend towards global abolition of the death penalty.” said Martin Macpherson from Amnesty International.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, eight countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Sixty years later, as of December 2008, the number stands at 137.

More than two thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty and the numbers continue to grow.

“The trend towards abolition is unmistakable,” said Martin Macpherson. “This trend can be seen in all regions in the world.”

In Central Asia, there is a clear move towards abolition. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan retained the death penalty when they gained independence in 1991. However, by December 2008, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had abolished the death penalty. The Russian Federation and Tajikistan have a moratorium on executions and death sentences.

Europe is a virtually death penalty-free area, the only exception being Belarus.

The continent of Africa is largely free of executions, with only seven of the 53 African Union member states known to have carried out executions in 2007: Botswana, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
In November 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) adopted a resolution calling on African States to observe a moratorium on the death penalty. It is an important step towards making the African Union (AU) a totally death penalty-free zone.

In the Arab League, several states, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates, abstained rather than voting no. At national level, draft abolitionist laws have been tabled in Algeria, Lebanon and Tunisia.

In Asia, the total number of countries that have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice in the Asia Pacific region has reached 27. On 21 May 2008, the Chinese Ministry of Justice and the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) jointly issued a regulation to outline the defence lawyers’ role in capital cases.

According to a senior official of the Supreme People’s Court, the SPC re-turned for retrial about 15 percent of the death sentences handed down by higher people’s courts in the first half of 2008. However, this was impossible to confirm as data concerning the use of the death penalty in China is considered a state secret and not publicly available.

In South Korea, there have been no executions since 1998 and a Death Penalty Abolition Bill is under consideration. Viet Nam is reviewing the number of offences punishable by death.

The Americas are almost free of executions. Since 2003, only the United States of America continues to execute on a regular basis. The only other countries to have carried out executions this century are Cuba in 2003, Guatemala in 2001 and the Bahamas in 2000.

Although the 10 countries of the English-speaking Caribbean retain the death penalty in law, there remains a hiatus on executions. Central and South America are virtually death penalty free, with only Guatemala, Belize and Guyana retaining the death penalty.

On 29 April 2008, Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in a speech concluding the Sixth Meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba that virtually all death sentences in Cuba will be commuted to life imprisonment or to 30 years imprisonment.

The United States of America is turning against the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Centre reported that the annual number of death sentences has dropped by 60% since the 1990s. 37 executions took place in 2008, marking a 14-year low and continuing a downward trend that began in 2000.

This week, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment this week released its final report, calling for an end to capital punishment and making Maryland the latest state in the nation to move toward abolishing the death penalty. Fourteen states in USA do not have the death penalty.