10 years, 132 members, 45 countries
The head of PRI’s Amman regional office, Taghreed Jaber, opened the World Coalition’s annual general and hailed King Abdallah II of Jordan’s refusal to sign execution decrees since 2006. “We hope that Jordan will continue on the path towards abolishing the death penalty,” she said.
During the opening ceremony, the justice ministry’s secretary general, Mustapha Al Assaf, said officially that the kingdom was doing everything to prevent death sentences and executions.
Jordan not only applies all relevant international safeguards, its judges also avoid handing down death sentences as much as they can and the Court of Cassation hears appeals in all capital cases.
Mr Al Assaf also said that the philosophical context of penalties had changed. “The death penalty is no longer regarded as a deterrent because the reasons behind a murder depend more on the social context and on the circumstances of an individual’s life,” he explained.
10 years of progress
All participants to the AGM testified that from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and from California to Tanzania, the death penalty is being chipped at, reduced and challenged, including for the most serious crimes.
Patrick Galahue, a researcher at Harm Reduction International, discussed the striking reversal of policy at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Ten years ago, this international body on drug control refused to condemn the use on the death penalty against drug traffickers. In 2010, UNODC acknowledged officially that such a penalty would violate international law. And since May 2012, a member state that does not respect international guidelines on the death penalty can see UNOCD-supported projects suspended.
Mr Galahue added that in Singapore, the number of executions for drug trafficking dropped from 25 annually ten years ago to two or three nowadays. “Even places like Singapore are experiencing subtle progress, which is different from the sweeping changes we’re used to seeing. Abolition may be in sight in Singapore, and that would have been unthinkable ten years ago,” said Mr Galahue.
Importance of international support
The Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s coordinator, Habib Marsit, discussed the situation in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution. After winning parliamentary elections, the Islamist party Ennahda backtracked on the transitional government’s promise to ratify the UN Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty. Yet the transition’s justice minister maintained his predecessor’s position that no executions should take place.
Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty Director Hsinyi Lin highlighted the importance of international support. After a visit by FIDH in 2006, Taiwan stopped the practice of shackling death row inmates and in 2008, President Ma took position against the death penalty after a visit by the World Coalition. However, executions there resumed in 2010 and in 2011.
Ms Lin also showed that a moratorium was a key element in the struggle against the death penalty. “If TAEDP had not supported the moratorium since 2003, Cheng could not have had his sentenced overturned and been freed in May 2012 as he was on the execution list for 2006 and would have been killed,” she said.
For Carmelo Campos Cruz, of the Puerto Rican Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the main problem in the Caribbean is the high crime rate. The region’s retentionist countries use it as their main argument.
Yet a comparison within the region shows that crime rates are in fact lower in those countries that have abolished capital punishment. In the Caribbean, 12 countries are abolitionist and 13 still use the death penalty.
Mr Campos Cruz also welcomed the creation of a new regional abolitionist network, “The Greater Caribbean for Life”, in October 2011.
Elizabeth Zitrin of Death Penalty Focus updated the AGM on the campaign to abolish the death penalty in California. Watch her interview below:
The death penalty to enforce terror in Irak and Iran
All obstacles have not been brought down: some judges still deny defendants the right to argue their innocence, or sentence them on the basis of confessions obtained under torture.
Some governments utilise public opinion or religion, notably Islam, for political ends and stage public hangings for stronger effect; they drag their feet to ratify international conventions.
The participants to the AGM did not minimise those challenges and tackled issues such as international cooperation against drug trafficking and the debate on the need to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment.
There were also discussions on the theological arguments that can restrict the scope of the death penalty, the role of regional organisations in promoting abolition and the post-conflict situations or divided societies where the central government is weak and the judiciary has little credibility.
Listen to the plenary session on the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa and to the workshop on islamic arguments for abolition below:
World Coalition members also expressed their solidarity with the peoples of Iran and Irak, where governments use the death penalty on a daily basis to enforce a policy of terror.
The conference ended with a call Jordan to take concrete steps from moratorium to abolition, first by giving its de facto moratorium an official form, and then by voting in favour of the United Nations resolution for a universal moratorium this autumn.