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Death Penalty: Another Step Towards Abolition

ROME, Dec 4 2012 (IPS) - On Dec. 18, 2007, the approval of a resolution for a moratorium on executions by the United Nations General Assembly was hailed as a milestone in the struggle to abolish the death penalty worldwide. It is true that the United Nations may not impose the abolition of the death penalty, but the moral and political value of the resolution is undeniable.

Since the founding of the abolitionist organisation Hands Off Cain in 1993, 56 of the 97 retentionist States that were members of the U.N. at that time have abandoned the practice of the death penalty. Fifteen of them have done so since 2006, the year following the re-launching of the initiative at the U.N. General Assembly. Three more countries (Palau, East-Timor and Tuvalu) that became members of the U.N. after 1993 are also abolitionist.

On the eve of the fourth U.N. General Assembly vote on the death penalty resolution, expected later this year, it is important to review the current situation.

There are 154 countries and territories that, to varying degrees, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 100 are totally abolitionist, seven are abolitionist for ordinary crimes, five have a moratorium on executions in place and 42 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. countries that have not carried out any executions for at least 10 years or countries that have binding obligations not to use the death penalty). On the other hand, there are 44 retentionist countries.

There were 19 countries that carried out executions in 2011, compared to 27 countries in 2006.

In 2011 there were at least 5,000 executions, compared to at least 5,946 in 2010, at least 5,741 in 2009, at least 5,735 in 2008 and at least 5,851 in 2007. A major turnabout came after the introduction in China of a legal reform on Jan. 1, 2007, which requires every capital sentence handed down to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. According to the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation’s estimates, executions in China have dropped 50 percent since 2007 (to around 4,000 per year).

However, the most significant facts concerning abolition came from Africa, home to the largest number of de facto abolitionist countries and where abolition had the same rhythm as the U.S. Since 2007, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey abolished the death penalty, while the governor of Oregon declared a moratorium on all executions last year.

In Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Gabon, Togo and Benin completely eliminated the death penalty. In the first two countries in particular – being lands where the endless cycle of vengeance and the eternal drama of Cain and Abel has been played out most truly and tragically – abolition took on an extraordinary symbolic, as well as legal and political, value.

Africa remains the primary target-continent of the lobbying for additional support to the new Resolution on a moratorium on executions at the U.N. General Assembly 2012 because we continue to register the most significant political and legislative steps towards abolition.

During the last mission carried out by Hands Off Cain in the Central African Republic from Oct. 24-27, our arrival was greeted with news of the approval, by the Council of Ministers, of a bill for the abolition of the death penalty from the penal code. When minister of Justice Jacques M’Bosso met the delegation, he expressed the will of his country to become one of the protagonists of the abolitionist process.

Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadera himself assured us that the Central African Republic would vote in favor of the resolution on the Universal Moratorium that will be presented next month at the U.N. He expressed the political will to implement all legal means available to remove the death penalty, which has not been applied in the country for over 30 years, thus confirming the commitments undertaken by his government before the U.N. Human Rights Council for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These openings must, however, correspond to a commitment by the international community to improve prison conditions. While in the capital Bangui, the delegation visited the female prison of Bangui-Bimbo and the male prison of Ngaragba.

The former was a small institution that housed 31 women and three girls in three separate dormitories. Two-thirds of these women are awaiting trial and many have been accused of witchcraft.

The male prison houses 328 men, two-thirds of whom are awaiting trial. The structure is divided into blocks depending on the prisoner’s security risk and type of crime. Each block has a different name: the White Room, reserved for political prisoners today, is a maximum security facility; Couloir is reserved for those caught practicing sorcery; Iraq for violent crimes; Golo-Waka for theft and consumption of cannabis, and DDP’for crimes against the public administration.

The institute is in very poor condition: the vast majority of detainees sleep directly on the floor in conditions that barely meet the minimum hygiene standards and where the food is prepared and distributed in unsanitary conditions. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

Elisabetta Zamparutti is deputy in Italian parliament and treasurer of Hands Off Cain.

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  • ACADP (Australia)

    Reported legal executions carried out in 2011
    (+ not all legal executions are reported)

    China … 4,000+
    Iran … 676+
    Saudi Arabia … 82+
    Iraq … 68+
    United States of America … 43
    Yemen … 41+
    North Korea … 30 +
    Vietnam … 17+
    Somalia … 11+
    Sudan … 7+
    Bangladesh … 5+
    South Sudan … 5+
    Taiwan … 5+
    Palestinian National Authority (Gaza Strip) … 3+
    Afghanistan … 2+
    Belarus … 2+
    Egypt … 1+
    Syria … 1+
    United Arab Emirates … 1+

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