A couple of weeks ago, on 13 February, we woke up to the good news that Fiji had joined the ranks of countries to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. There are now 99 countries who have completely scrapped the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment from their laws – exactly half of all states in the world.
The historic milestone of 100 death penalty free countries is within close reach. The parliaments in both Suriname and Madagascar have recently approved bills abolishing executions – all that is left is for the countries’ presidents to sign them into law, although it remains to be seen who gets there first.
The news from Fiji means that the goal of total abolition of the death penalty is closer than ever. It gives new momentum to a trend that has been evident for decades – the world is consigning capital punishment to the history books. We hope that either Madagascar or Suriname seize the opportunity to become the 100th death penalty free country as soon as possible – the race to make history is well and truly on.
Fiji last executed in 1964, Madagascar in 1958 and Suriname in 1982.
Fiji’s repeal of the death penalty will hopefully trigger similar positive moves in the Pacific region. Nauru and Tonga retain the death penalty in law, although both are abolitionist in practice, not having executed anyone in more than a decade and having an established policy not to do so. Papua New Guinea, also abolitionist in practice, is the only country in the Pacific region that is presently contemplating implementing executions. The last execution in the country was carried out in 1950.
In the Americas, Suriname and Guyana are the only countries in South America that retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Suriname’s abolition would bring to 16 the number of countries in the Americas to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and leave Guyana as the only retentionist country in South America.
Sixteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty and progress in the region has been rapid. Madagascar’s National Assembly voted in favour of a law abolishing the death penalty on 10 December 2014. Amnesty International understands that the law now requires only the signature of the president. Several other countries in sub-Saharan Africa are also moving closer to abolition. In 2014 Chad’s government adopted a penal code aimed at abolishing the death penalty, and the law is now awaiting a parliamentary process. Also in 2014, Sierra Leone announced its intention to abolish the death penalty.
Asia has seen some progress towards abolition in recent years, but is also a region where the death penalty continues to be used in ways that are completely contrary to international human rights law. The recent resumption in executions by Indonesia and Pakistan (who have executed six and 18 people respectively already in 2015), have drawn worldwide criticism.
Both countries are threatening to carry out even more executions this year –in Indonesia, all signs are that a further 10 men will be executed by firing squad shortly. This would be a shameful move, and we are working hard to prevent further executions in both countries.
Indonesia and Pakistan should pay heed to developments elsewhere – those countries that retain and use the death penalty are increasingly isolated in a world when the majority support abolition.