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TREND TO ABOLISH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT CONTINUES

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ROME, Jul 1 2006 (IPS) - The annual report on capital punishment issued on July 21 by the abolitionist organisation Hands Off Cain shows that the movement towards the abolition of the death penalty, underway for at least ten years, is continuing, writes Elisabetta Zamparutti, a lawyer and the coordinator of the annual report on the death penalty worldwide by Hands Off Cain. It is essential that we act immediately to make sure that a moratorium on the death penalty is presented and approved by the UN General Assembly in September. In this way we can fulfil the initiative begun 13 years ago by Hands Off Cain and by the Transnational Radical Party, which enjoys the support of an extraordinary convergence of the majority and the opposition in the Italian Parliament. With the help of the UN moratorium –and in anticipation of a complete worldwide abolition — the thousands of those condemned to death could be saved: not only those already known to all, in American prisons, but also the unnamed and the forgotten who await their sentences in the prisons of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba, and all other authoritarian regimes who go to their deaths in silence with total indifference on the part of the world.

The annual report on capital punishment issued on July 21 by the abolitionist organisation Hands Off Cain shows that the movement towards the abolition of the death penalty, underway for at least ten years, is continuing.

According to the report, the number of countries or territories that have decided to abolish the death penalty, whether in practice or through legislation, is now 142. Of these, 89 have abolished the sanction entirely; 10 have barred the death penalty for ordinary crimes; Russia is required to eliminate the death penalty as a condition of its membership in the Council of Europe and at present has imposed a moratorium on executions; five other countries have imposed moratoria; and 37 have not imposed the sentence in the past ten years and can be considered de facto abolitionist.

And one other country will be added to the number of complete abolitionists: Montenegro, which opted to sever its federation with Serbia through an independence referendum held on May 21, 2006, which won 55 percent approval.

The number of countries with active death penalties has dropped to 54 from 60 in 2004, 61 in 2003, and 64 in 2002. This gradual abandonment of capital punishment is shown not only in the decrease in the number of countries that keep the penalty on the books but also those who have carried out executions.

As a consequence, the number of executions worldwide has also fallen, to 5494 in 2005 from 5530 in 2004. Once again, Asia was the continent responsible for the vast majority of the executions worldwide. The total for China alone was at least 5413, down from 5450 in 2004.

In the Americas only the United States carried out any executions in 2005: 60, slightly up from 59 in 2004. There were 65 in 2003.

In Africa the death penalty has fallen into disuse. In 2005 it was carried out only in four countries: Uganda (8), Libya (6), Sudan (4), and Somalia (1). The total number of executions for the continent was 19 in 2004, 60 in 2003, and 63 in 2002.

Europe would be completely free of the stain of the death penalty but for Bielorus, which carried out two executions in 2005.

Since the beginning of 2005, six countries have dropped from the roster of death penalty states: Tajikistan, Liberia, and the Philippines abolished the sanction. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Santa Lucia, and Lesotho have not imposed the death penalty in 10 years and can thus be considered de facto abolitionists.

On the other hand, from the beginning of 2005 to 13 June 2006, five countries have reinstated the death penalty after years of suspension: the Palestinian Authority, Libya, Iraq, Equatorial Guinea, and Botswana. And in contrast to the general tendency in the United States, the state of Connecticut carried out its first execution in 45 years, ending an extended de facto moratorium.

Of the 54 death penalty states, 42 are dictatorships or authoritarian regimes. In 2005 they were responsible for 98.7 percent of all executions carried out worldwide. Many of these countries do not provide statistics on their implementation of capital punishment, which means the actual number of executions could be far higher.

Of the 11 countries with the death penalty that could be called liberal democracies with regard not only to their political system but also their human rights record, respect for civil and political rights, economic freedoms, and adherence to the rule of law, only five imposed the death penalty in 2005, carrying out a total of 74 executions, or 1.3 percent of the global total: the US (60), Mongolia (at least 8), Taiwan (3), Indonesia (2), and Japan (1).

On May 23, 2006, the Italian prime minister Romano Prodi stated: ”I think it is opportune to resume the Italian initiative to end the death penalty, which is a fixed point of our culture and our civilisation.”

It is essential that we act immediately to make sure that a moratorium on the death penalty is presented and approved by the UN General Assembly in September. In this way we can fulfil the initiative begun 13 years ago by Hands Off Cain and by the Transnational Radical Party, which enjoys the support of an extraordinary convergence of the majority and the opposition in the Italian Parliament.

With the help of the UN moratorium –and in anticipation of a complete worldwide abolition — the thousands of those condemned to death could be saved: not only those already known to all, in American prisons, but also the unnamed and the forgotten who await their sentences in the prisons of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba, and all other authoritarian regimes who go to their deaths in silence with total indifference on the part of the world. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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