Governments still executing on wrong side of history
March 27th, 2014
12:22 PM ET

Governments still executing on wrong side of history

By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.

Two years ago, Abdullah al-Qahtani appeared on Iraqi TV and “confessed” to robbing a Baghdad goldsmith’s shop and killing the owner to raise money for al Qaeda. He later retracted his statement, which he claimed were made under torture, but was still found guilty and sentenced to death after a trial that lacked all semblance of process. Today, he is incarcerated, in poor health, in a prison outside Baghdad and waiting for the gallows. Four of his supposed accomplices have already been put to death.

Abdullah’s case is indicative of a disturbing trend in Iraq, where authorities continue to turn to the death penalty in an attempt to tackle rising levels of violence across the country. Hundreds have been convicted under vague anti-terror laws, often following reports of torture and manifestly unfair trials. Like Abdullah al-Qahtani, suspects have been paraded on TV and forced to “confess” before any appearance in court, making a mockery of the right to a fair trial.

On Thursday, Amnesty International released its annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide. Iraq, and its neighbor Iran, stand out for all the wrong reasons. Those two countries went on an official killing spree last year – executions in Iraq jumped by almost one-third to at least 169. In Iran, at least 369 executions were officially acknowledged by the authorities, but if you include the hundreds more credibly reported, some taking place in secret, the total number may be more than 700 executions – in just one year.

Amnesty International recorded almost 100 more executions around the world in 2013 compared with the year before, mainly because of Iran and Iraq. These figures do not include China, where it is believed thousands are executed every year, more than the rest of the world put together. But authorities treat the death penalty as a state secret and credible figures are impossible to determine.

We have been campaigning for an end to the death penalty for four decades – it is the ultimate cruel and inhuman form of punishment, and a violation of the fundamental human right to life. More and more states around the world have come around to this fact over in recent decades, and today only about one in ten countries uses the death penalty.

Sadly in 2013, four countries – Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Vietnam – resumed executions. However, three countries that had executed in 2012 did not do so in 2013. In total 22 countries executed in 2013, one more than 2012.

Does this mean that the trend towards reducing the use of the death penalty is now broken? In short, no.

In 1945, when the United Nations was created, only eight countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes – today 140 nations are abolitionist in law or practice. Twenty years ago, 37 countries actively implemented the death penalty. This number has since almost halved. The trend is clear – the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past.

It is striking just how isolated are the countries that still cling to the death penalty.

Excluding China, almost four-fifths of all executions worldwide took place in just three countries – Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan were behind more than 90 per cent of all reported executions in that region. In the Americas, the United States still finds itself in the shameful position of being the only country to use the judicial system to kill people. In 2013, the state of Texas alone accounted for 41 percent of all U.S. executions.

Over the past five years, only nine countries have executed each of those years.

There are reasons why so many countries are turning away from what amounts to state sanctioned murder – some have come to accept that the death penalty is a human rights violation, pure and simple; others see that the arguments for the death penalty simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Iraq is not alone in trying to use the death penalty as a quick fix solution to violent crimes; last year this was an argument put forth by countries from the Caribbean to South Asia. But there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has any unique deterrent effect on crime, as multiple studies across different regions and countries have confirmed.

Other governments use the death penalty as a populist tool to prove that they are “tough on crime.” In short: politicians play with people’s lives to gain votes, knowing full well that they are appealing not to rationality, but to raw emotions – especially in the aftermath of horrendous crimes.

Nor is it true that people executed are only those guilty of the most heinous crimes. Last year, executions included everything from adultery to membership of political opposition groups.

To those governments that still execute, our message is clear – you are on the wrong side of history, Whatever the argument is, the death penalty is never the answer. We urge authorities in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, the United States and the rest of the world to take this message to heart, and give us better news to report next year.

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Topics: Human Rights

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. john2397

    What about our own drones killings around the globe?

    March 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      That's the one thing that the right-wing news media would much rather not talk about, john. They would much rather focus on Ukraine and Obama's feigned outrage over that! We're butchering people with these monsters and the American people seem to be having a hissy over Crimea these days. How ludicrous!

      March 27, 2014 at 11:34 pm |
      • Velaug

        Since when is CNN right-wing?

        April 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
      • jhonny Ausemkock

        Right-wing media? Only one major outlet in America can be construed as even right-leaning (FOX, of course). The rest are all FIRMLY in the pockets of the left. What planet are you from? CNN, NBC, and CBS "news" sites all post campaign ads (for Dems only, of course) on their front pages, for crying out loud! Right-wing media, he says, ROFLMAO.

        April 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
  2. THORN

    and we care why?

    March 27, 2014 at 2:31 pm |
  3. paul804

    The death penalty is about punishment pure and simple. Why should the criminal have more rights than the victim he killed? This makes ANY argument against the dealth penalty for murder laughable

    March 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
  4. Diogo

    At least, these countries are executing legally. Some countries, like my native Brazil, executes a lot more people extra-judicially. An easy way to fool organizations like Amnesty International.

    March 27, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
  5. moneypipeliner

    It is not shameful for my U.S. government to use due process in coming to the conclusion of a death penalty. In many of these cases, especially in Texas, there is only one reasonable outcome for a civilized society to reach. Some of these crimes are so heinous, that it would be wrong to allow that person to live out their natural life.

    March 27, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
  6. shawn riddick

    Please pray for God to destroy all governments who torture people off the face of the Earth. For those of you who doubt the existence of God. When I was a child God spoke to me and said He introduced evil into His Universe from a sister Universe and it spread like a cancer. In order to survive He created Holiness and Heaven and separated Himself from His own creation. He wants people to know he is deeply sorry. I wrote a letter at warningfromgod dot and in 1997 our government asked me to sign a secrecy agreement with a writ of order attached for my immediate execution if I violated the terms. Please read warningfromgod and treat people as Jesus taught us. Thank you. It is not a crime to kill aliens, but is it a most grave sin to torture them. The punishment for torture of aliens must be death.

    March 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ shawn riddick, I am afraid that you are in error. When I was a child, aliens spoke to me (at night) and instructed me regarding Nietzsche's correct assertion regarding God's health.
      One of the aliens had officiated at His execution.

      March 30, 2014 at 9:29 am |
  7. alek

    I support the death penalty in cases where the killer can be clearly tied to the crime (DNA, video). BTK killer tortured and killed 10 people including 5 kids. His DNA was found on the victims. He received a life sentence. The victims' families and taxpayers will financially support him for the rest of his life. You call that justice? In case like this, death penalty is appropriate.

    March 28, 2014 at 1:02 am |
  8. deniz boro

    Whenever I get a healthy view of the global World I willl comment. Let's say Turkish "WEB IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION NOW" 😉

    March 28, 2014 at 10:45 am |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I fully support the death penalty.

    March 28, 2014 at 5:10 pm |
  10. george argiriou

    i come from greece but i am a citizen of ther world.i have a dillima.few days ago an albanian convect slatterded a greek police gurd of the prison becouse they would not give him some days to go to his mother in italy.the police gurd had three children.after the district auterny the tooke him to some other prison were they killed him bruttaly.the corener doctor said that he was torchured a lot in all of his body with primitive globes with spikes helectrosocs.they had brok almost everybone in his body.he was full of brooses with running blood.the police men that do it they are not to be tuched.sould the greek people tollerate that or demant some kind of punishment so it will be harder to be repeated.please say your opinion to me.

    March 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
    • The Dude

      Speaking of the death just gave one to the English language.

      April 17, 2014 at 2:44 pm |
  11. george argiriou

    i forgat to say that the convict was "found dead" in the morning.

    March 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm |
  12. chrissy

    Lol @ shawn riddick did you NOT just violate that *ahem* secrecy agreement??? So what date did they set for your execution? And btw when we were all children we were pretty much were taught the same thing. It was called bible school. And contrary to the government trying to intervene into things they shouldnt and ignoring the things they should, in spite of all THAT, it ISNT a secret. So there ya have it, your stay of execution! Lmao

    March 29, 2014 at 9:00 pm |
  13. j. von hettlingen

    Lives are cheap in the eyes of utilitarian brutes, especially in countries with large populations. It is cheaper to get rid of undesired individuals than having them locked up.

    March 30, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  14. chrissy

    Lol @ Joey, now you know you did not have an alien intervention lololol. Thats the kind of stuff that happened to philip not you. Dont be silly!

    March 31, 2014 at 12:24 am |
  15. ckin

    The death penalty is a perfectly final and irrevocable punishment meted out by an imperfect society and justice system. There is no method of assuring absolute certainty of guilt, including DNA evidence. It's not uncommon for people to be released after years in prison after finding the evidence was inaccurate or that due process was not followed. It happened last week-25 years of a guys life gone because some prosecutor chose to ignore facts that came to light decades later. I don't care if 99 out of 100 people who were executed were guilty as charged, one innocent person put to death by the state for a crime they didn't commit invalidates the entire system. And I'm sure that has happened. The death penalty leaves no room for error in a far from errorless process and therefore needs to go.

    April 17, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
  16. Unga Ramires

    There will always be Innocent put to death. It is the "Natural Order of things" A few deaths of the Innocent will always out number the value of the convicted.... Now on a side note. When they are executed I feel thier organs and other usable parts should be harvested...

    April 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
    • Ed Tour Pliml

      You were not easy to find this time. I didn't even have "It's the 4D one with the Ms on it." this time. It's The ed formerly known as G_d. fb me before this comes down. Pliml is my last name.
      Fareed Zakaria, huh? I'm impressed. I've been a fan since way back when Newsweek was a magazine.

      June 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm |
  17. ckin

    Yes, innocents always die, particularly at the hands of despots and tyranny. They shouldn't die in a premeditated manner at the hands of so-called civilized society.

    April 30, 2014 at 11:19 am |

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