Some Way Yet to Killing Off the Death Penalty
Printer Friendly Version
E-Mail This Article
Some Way Yet to Killing Off the Death Penalty
by Julio Godoy
If it were not for a handful of countries persisting
in carrying out executions, activists for the
abolition of the death penalty around the world would have departed for
home after their
Third World Congress which took place in Paris from Feb 1 to 3, saying:
The handful of countries still resisting all arguments and evidence -- the
the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and North Korea --
account for more
than 97 percent of all executions carried out annually, some 5,000 or
more, according to
the 2006 'Death Penalty Worldwide' report by the Italian group ‘Hands off
Another 50 countries are still applying the death penalty, but
sporadically. These executed
some 156 of their citizens in 2005.
The trend towards abolition is undeniable, the international congress
heard. In 1981,
France became the 35th country in the world to abolish capital punishment.
years later, 142 countries do not carry out executions any longer; either
abolished capital punishment entirely or are observing a moratorium.
The mixed feelings such figures stir up, and the sense of urgency there is
to convince the
United Nations General Assembly to approve a worldwide moratorium on
punishment, dominated the three-day congress in Paris, attended by
personalities and activists from around the world.
Representatives of all 27 European Union member states participated at the
well as the former French minister of justice Robert Badinter, and
delegates from national
bar associations and groups such as Amnesty International and the
Federation of Human Rights.
Representatives of abolitionist groups from North Africa and the Middle
East, where capital
punishment continues is still applied, were also present.
Badinter, who in the late 1970s successfully led the French abolitionist
up the mood of the congress. "I am absolutely sure that our cause is just
universal abolition of the death penalty is upon us," he said at the
"There is an awareness throughout the world that there cannot be a justice
Badinter's optimism was tempered by the realism that the "salt of the
earth" activists still
had much work to do. This sentiment reverberated in the final congress
"We welcome the fact that the death penalty is receding in the world and
that since the
Montreal Congress (in 2004) Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mexico, the
Senegal have abolished capital punishment, while no country has
re-introduced it," the
But, it added: "We regret that, during the same period, some countries
executions after prolonged moratoria, such as Bahrain in 2006, and that
the death penalty
is still applied...in a number of countries including China, Iran, Saudi
Arabia, the United
States and Vietnam."
The declaration urged the United Nations General Assembly to approve a
moratorium on the death penalty. If this came into effect today, some
waiting on the world's death rows would be saved, according to ‘Hands off
Most of these are in China. The Paris congress addressed a specific plea
to the Chinese
government to introduce a moratorium "in the prospect of the Beijing
Olympic Games in
2008 and the Shanghai Universal Exposition in 2010."
The congress also called for abolition of the death penalty in China for
offences, including economic and drug offences."
Numerous factors have contributed during the past decades to the growing
countries joining the ranks of the abolitionists, Eric Bernard, general
secretary of the
French human rights group Ensemble contre la peine de mort ('Together
against the death
penalty'), the organiser of the congress, told IPS. Activists had taken
their campaign to the
world stage. The capital punishment issue was no longer a national penal
issue, but a
"central international human rights one," he said.
"Executions are no longer seen as an effective deterrent to crime, but as
all society. Numerous judicial mistakes in countries applying capital
punishment have also
contributed to raising this awareness."
Horrific events surrounding executions have also helped to turn the tide
of public opinion
and governments against the death penalty.
One of the most recent was the 34-minute lingering death of Angel Nievez
in Florida last December. The first lethal injection failed and another
was needed to finally
kill the convict.
According to the local county medical examiner, the injections caused 30
chemical burns on Diaz's arms. Witnesses, including Diaz's lawyer Neal
under oath that Diaz grimaced in pain as the execution dragged on.
The botched execution forced Florida governor Jeb Bush to suspend all
and to set up an investigative commission on the application of the death
penalty in his
state. The suspension gives respite to 398 people condemned to death in
"The death penalty is being questioned all over the country," Richard
Dieter, director of the
Death Penalty Information Centre based in Washington told IPS in a
The Diaz execution was the 53rd of 2006, the lowest figure in the United
States for 10
But the death penalty continues to be applied in 38 of the 50 states in
the United States.
Ten states have suspended executions, and one, New Jersey, announced in
January it will
be abolishing the death sentence.
"Capital punishment is risky, expensive, and could result in irreversible
people are now willing to put their faith in such a flawed policy," Dieter
A symbol of the strengthening of resolve to see an end to the death
penalty for all time
was offered by France.
Twenty-five years after Robert Badinter won his campaign against death
penalty there, the
French parliament agreed in February that this decision should be
enshrined in its
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service