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Towards a Death Penalty-Free World?

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 12 2013 (IPS) - Despite setbacks, the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty is continuing, the London-based human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said in its 2012 report on the death penalty.

“Global awareness to abolish the death penalty is making progress but we must continue this fight,” said Ambassador Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, at a press conference Tuesday.

“The idea that we can kill for justice is against humanity itself. The abolition of the death penalty is a full part of the French identity as it is included in the French constitution,” he stated.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.

The 2012 report puts highlight that Amnesty International recorded executions in 21 countries.

“The number of countries which executed people is not growing up,” said Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s (AI) senior director of international law, policy and campaigns. “Of the 21 states, five states are responsible for the most executions: China, Iraq, South Arabia, Iran, and USA”, she added.

The report underlines that three quarters of confirmed executions were recorded in only three countries: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The number of confirmed executions was 682, excluding the thousands in China, which accounts for more executions that the rest of the world combined. Moreover, it is unclear if executions were carried out in countries in turmoil such as Syria, in 2012.

Progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world even though the USA was the only country in Americas to carry out executions in 2012.

“It has been for thirty years that France is involved to abolish the death penalty. Year after year, this combat makes progress. The death penalty has been abolished by 140 states,” Araud said. “The work done by Amnesty International is essential,” he concluded.

Presenting the report,  AI’s Brown said the support of governments was “absolutely crucial” to winning the campaign for total abolition of the death penalty. She said  it was never good news to see retrogression on such an issue.

However, there was also some “very positive” news:  in terms of absolute numbers that Amnesty had been able to confirm, virtually the same number of people had been executed around the world, excluding China, compared to the previous year.

Secondly, the number of countries that had actually executed people in 2013 and 2012 had not risen, she said, noting that although the actors had changed, it remained at 21.

Many governments continued to defend the death penalty after at least two decades of a strong shift away from acceptance of the death penalty as a legitimate form of punishment, she said. But capital punishment  was “the ultimate violation of the right to life and a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.

However, the whole point of government was to ensure that rationality and observance of international standards trumped emotions.  Because humans tended to err, it was particularly critical that governments had the maturity and ability to lead, even when the governed may not fall in behind them, she added.

Sponsored by the Permanent Mission of France, the press conference also heard from Ambassadors Jean-Francis Régis Zinsou and Eduardo Ulibarri, from Benin and Costa Rica, respectively.  All three countries have abolished the death penalty.

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