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CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS ON THE WAY OUT

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ROME, Jul 22 2008 (IPS) - The 2008 world report on the death penalty from Hands Off Cain confirms that there has been positive movement in the fight to end capital punishment for more than a decade, and highlights the most striking advance yet: the universal moratorium against capital punishment approved by the UN last December, writes Elisabetta Zamparutti, a leader in the Radical Party who prepared the annual report on the Death Penalty in the World for Hands Off Cain. She was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 2008 In this analysis, the author writes that there is one manner in which the resolution could be significantly strengthened: the elimination of the secrecy surrounding the death penalty. Many countries, mostly authoritarian, do not provide official figures on executions, and the general public\’s lack of information is a direct cause of their escalation. Accordingly, a provision should be immediately introduced into the resolution requesting that death-penalty states release to the UN and the general public all information regarding the implementation of capital punishment and executions. On closer examination, it becomes clear that in death penalty countries, the problem goes beyond the specific practice of capital punishment; it is a matter of democracy, the rule of law, the promotion of and respect for political rights and civil liberties.

With this resolution, which was introduced by Italy together with 86 other countries from around the world, the UN established for the first time the fundamental principle that the death penalty implies a violation of the respect for human rights and that its elimination will represent an important step forward in human progress.

The resolution crowns a campaign waged for more than 15 years by the abolitionist movement Hands Off Cain and the Non-violent Radical Party, which in 2007 decided to ramp up their efforts, involving parliaments, governments, and public opinion from around the world, through various non-violent actions.

The number of countries that have decided to abolish the death penalty in practice or through legislation has now topped 148. Of these, 95 are completely abolitionist; 8 bar the death penalty for ordinary crimes; one, Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe is required to abolish it and for now has put in place a moratorium on executions; 3 have imposed moratoria; and 41 are considered ”de facto abolitionists” insofar as they have not carried out a capital sentence in over ten years.

Meanwhile, the number of death penalty countries has dropped to 49 from 51 in 2006 and 54 in 2005. In 2007, the number of countries that carried out executions was 26, down from 28 in 2006. That notwithstanding, the number of executions worldwide has increased. In 2007 there were at least 5851, up from at least 5635 in 2006 and 5494 in 2005. This recent jump is due to the sharp increase in executions carried out by Iran -up by a third- and by Saudi Arabia, where they quadrupled.

Once again Asia was the continent responsible for the vast majority of executions -5782- of which China carried out at least 5000, slightly fewer than the previous year. There were at least 5492 in Asia in 2006, and at least 5413 in 2005.

The Americas would be completely free of the death penalty were it not for the United States, which executed 42 people in 2007, down from 53 in 2006 and 60 in 2005.

In Africa in 2007, capital punishment was imposed in seven countries: Botswana (at least one); Egypt (the number is unclear); Ethiopia (one), Equatorial Guinea (three); Libya (at least nine); Somalia (at least five); and Sudan (at least seven). The total for the continent of at least 26 was down significantly from 87 in 2006.

In Europe, Byelorus remained the only exception to an otherwise abolitionist continent, with at least one execution in 2007 and three more in the first months of 2008.

Of the 49 pro-death penalty countries, 39 are dictatorial, authoritarian, or repressive regimes. Twenty-one of these were responsible for 99 percent of all executions worldwide in 2007, or at least 5798.

The December 18 vote in the UN amounts to a sort of contract, and as with contracts, difficulties begin with the question of compliance. Thus it is time to redouble our efforts to prevent this success from being undermined and work towards the definitive abolition of capital punishment.

As clearly set out in the resolution, the next General Assembly will have to revisit the issue. This will involve making the resolution known around the world, country-by-country monitoring of the situation, and organising political, parliamentary, and public events in countries that still have the death penalty such that the decision of the UN is made known and complied with.

There is one way in which the resolution could be significantly strengthened: the elimination of the secrecy surrounding executions. Many countries, mostly authoritarian, do not provide official figures, and the general public’s lack of information is a direct cause of the escalation of the number of executions.

Accordingly, a provision should be introduced into the resolution requesting that death-penalty states release to the UN and the general public all information regarding the implementation of capital punishment and executions.

To this end, it should be positive that the new resolution provides for a Special Envoy from the Secretary General who will not only monitor the situation but also encourage and accelerate those domestic processes underway to comply with the requirement to impose a moratorium as well as bring about greater transparency in the implementation of capital punishment.

On closer examination, it becomes clear that for the most part of death penalty countries, the problem goes beyond the specific practice of capital punishment; it is a matter of democracy, the rule of law, the promotion of and respect for political rights and civil liberties. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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