24 January 2017 :Developments on the Death Penalty Worldwide
The worldwide trend towards abolition, underway for more than fifteen years, was again confirmed in 2015 and the first six months of 2016.
There are currently 160 countries and territories that, to different extents, have decided to renounce the death penalty. Of these: 104 are totally abolitionist; 6 are abolitionist for ordinary crimes; 6 have a moratorium on executions in place and 44 are de facto abolitionist (i.e. Countries that have not carried out any executions for at least 10 years or countries which have binding obligations not to use the death penalty).
Countries retaining the death penalty worldwide have gradually declined over the last ten years: in 2016, as of 30 June, there were 38 retentionist countries, compared to 54 in 2005.
Executions in 2015 and the first six months of 2016
In 2015, executions were carried out in 25 countries, compared to 22 in 2014 and 26 in 2008.
In 2015, there were at least 4.040 executions, compared to at least 3.576 in 2014 and at least 5,735 in 2008. The increase in executions as compared to 2014 is explained by increases recorded in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In the first six months of 2016, at least 1.685 executions were carried out in 17 Countries and territories.
In 2015, there were no recorded executions in 3 countries where executions were carried out in 2014: Belarus, Equatorial Guinea and Palestine (Gaza Strip). In the first six months of 2016, there were no recorded executions in 7 countries – Chad, Egypt, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Oman and United Arab Emirates –where executions were carried out in 2015. On the other hand, 5 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2014, resumed them in 2015: Indonesia (14), Chad (10), Bangladesh (4), Oman (2) and India (1). Another 3 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2015, resumed them in the first six months of 2016: Botswana (1), Belarus (1) and Palestine (Gaza Strip) (3).
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Syria in 2015, as well as in North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen in the first six months of 2016.
Once again, Asia tops the standings as the region where the vast majority of executions are carried out. Taking the estimated number of executions in China to be at least 2,400 (more or less as in 2014), the total for 2015 corresponds to a minimum of 3,946 executions (97,6%), up from 2014 when there were at least 3,471 executions. In the first six months of 2016, in Asia, at least 1,642 executions were carried out (98%) in 12 countries.
In the Americas, the United States of America was the only country to carry out executions in 2015 (28) and 2016 (14). In several Caribbean countries, no new death sentences were imposed, and death rows were once again empty at the end of the year.
In Africa, in 2015, the death penalty was carried out in 5 countries (1 more than in 2014), and there were at least 66 executions (1 less than in 2014): Somalia (at least 25), Egypt (at least 22), Chad (10), South Sudan (at least 5) and Sudan (at least 4) . In the first six months of 2016, there were at least 16 executions in 3 countries of the continent: Somalia (at least 13), South Sudan (at least 2) and Botswana (1) . In 2015, there were no executions in Equatorial Guinea that carried out executions in 2014, and in the first six months of 2016, in Chad and Egypt that carried out executions in 2015, while it could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Sudan in 2016. On 24 April 2015, the Working Group on the Death Penalty of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted the draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Abolition of the death Penalty in Africa. The draft protocol is now before the African Union.
In Europe, the only blemish on an otherwise completely death penalty-free zone continues to be Belarus, a country that has continued to execute its citizens regularly. In 2015 there were no reports of judicial executions carried out but in the first six months of 2016, at least 1 execution has been recorded. While in Russia a moratorium on executions is still in effect since a 1996, all other European countries have abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.
Abolition, De Facto Abolition and Moratoriums
In 2015 and the first six months of 2016, another 6 States joined the list of total or de facto abolitionist countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Mongolia, Nauru and Suriname completely abolished the death penalty; Zimbabwe can be considered de facto abolitionist country, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions.
In the United States, in May 2015 Nebraska became the nineteenth State of the federation to abolish the death penalty, and the seventh to do so in eight years. In three other States – Washington, Colorado, Pennsylvania e Oregon – the Governors granted a stay of executions and essentially put executions on hold because of concerns about the death penalty system.
In 2015 and in the first six months of 2016, significant political and legislative steps towards abolition or a de facto moratorium on capital punishment have been seen in 43 countries. In 5 countries – Burkina Faso, Guinea, Kenya, South Korea and Uganda – have announced or proposed laws for the abolition of the death penalty in the Constitution or criminal codes and Vietnam reduced the number of capital crimes.
During the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, 8 countries – Guyana, Laos, Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Thailand accepted recommendations and/or announced steps towards abolition of the death penalty. Twelve other countries have confirmed their policy of de facto moratorium on the death penalty or executions in place for many years: Bahrein, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo; Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Morocco, Papua Nuova Guinea, Qatar, Tunisia and Zambia.
In the Caribbean Region, in 6 countries – Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Jamaica and Saint Lucia – no new death sentences were imposed and death rows were still empty at the end of 2015. In 5 other countries of the region – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – no new death sentences were issued and death row inmates were a few units.
Furthermore, collective commutations of death sentences or suspension of executions indefinitely were granted in 7 countries: Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Swaziland.
Reintroduction of the Death Penalty and Resumption of Executions
On the other hand, 5 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2014, resumed them in 2015: Indonesia (14), Chad (10), Bangladesh (4), Oman (2) and India (1) . Another 3 countries, which had not carried out executions in 2015, resumed them in the first six months of 2016: Belarus (1), Botswana (1) and Palestine (Gaza Strip) (3) .
Chad and Oman resumed executions after, respectively, 12 and 6 years of de facto moratorium.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ILLIBERAL COUNTRIES
Top Executioners of 2015 – China, Iran and Pakistan – and First Six Months of 2016 – China, Iran and Saudi Arabia
Of the 38 countries worldwide that retain the death penalty, 32 are dictatorial, authoritarian or partly free States. Twenty-one of these countries were responsible for approximately 4.002 executions, 99% of the world total in 2015.
China alone carried out at least 2,400, about 59%, of the world total of executions; Iran put at least 970 people to death; Pakistan, 326; Saudi Arabia, at least 159; Iraq, at least 30; Somalia, at least 25; Egypt, at least 22; Indonesia, 14; North Korea, at least 13; Chad 13; Yemen, at least 8; South Sudan, at least 5; Bangladesh, 4; Singapore, 2; Sudan, 4; Jordan, 2; Oman, 2; Malaysia, at least 1; Vietnam, at least 1; Afghanistan, 1; United Arab Emirates, 1.
In the first six months of 2016, at least 1.655 executions (99%) were carried out in 13 illiberal regimes: China (at least 1,200); Iran (at least 209); Saudi Arabia (at least 95); Pakistan (at least 75); Iraq (at least 55); Somalia (at least 13); Afghanistan (6); Bangladesh (4); Malaysia (at least 3); Palestine (Gaza Strip), 3; South Sudan (at least 2); Belarus (1) and Singapore (1) .
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Syria in 2015, as well as in North Korea, South Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen the first six months of 2016. Many of these countries do not issue official statistics on the practice of the death penalty, therefore the number of executions may, in fact, be much higher.
The terrible podium of the world’s top executioners is taken by three authoritarian States in 2015: China, Iran and Pakistan; while the top executioners of 2016 (as of 30 June) were China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China: Officially the World’s Record-holder for Executions (Despite a Continued Reduction)
Although the death penalty remains a State secret in China, some news in recent years, including declarations from official sources, suggest that the use of the death penalty may have diminished compared to preceding years.
A major turnabout came after the introduction of a legal reform on 1 January 2007, which required that every capital sentence handed down in China by an inferior court is reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).
The US-based Dui Hua Foundation estimated that China executed approximately 2,400 people in 2015, roughly the same number in 2014 and 2013. This number of executions was a fall of 20 percent from 2012, when Dui Hua estimated that China executed 3,000 people, and a precipitous drop from 6,500 executions in 2007 and 12,000 in 2002.
In August 2015, China amended the Criminal Law, eliminating the death penalty for nine minor crimes. The removal of the death penalty from these nine offenses would not put much of a dent in China’s world-leading use of capital punishment, which largely focuses on homicide, rape, robbery, and drug offenses. It would, however, show the government continuing to make good on its pledge to work towards gradual abolition of the death penalty.
Iran: Number of Executions in 2015, the Highest in Over 25 Years
China carries out the most executions each year, but Iran puts to death more people per capita than any other country.
In 2015 the Islamic Republic carried out at least 970 executions, a 21.2% increase compared to 800 in 2014 and a 41.2% increase compared to 687 in 2013. In 2015, 365 execution cases (37.6%) were reported by official Iranian sources; 605 cases (62.4%) included in the annual numbers were reported by unofficial sources. The actual number of executions is probably much higher than the figures included in the Annual Report of Hands Off Cain.
At least 209 people were executed in the first six months of 2016, as of 30 June: 94 executions were announced by official Iranian sources while 115 additional executions were reported by human rights groups and confirmed by several independent sources.
At least 2,214 prisoners have been executed in Iran since the beginning of Rouhani’s presidency (between 1 July 2013 and 31 December 2015).
Pakistan: Record for Executions after the Lifting of the Moratorium
On 17 December 2014, Pakistan lifted the six-year moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism-related cases, a day after the Taliban-perpetrated massacre at a military-run school in Peshawar in which 150 people, including 134 children, were killed. On 3 March 2015, the federal government formally lifted the moratorium on death penalty of all the condemned prisoners.
In 2015, at least 326 people, including 30 convicted terrorists, were executed across the country.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan people were sentenced to death in 2015, 216 of them for murder and 17 for terrorism-related offences.
At least 75 people, including 6 convicted terrorists, have been executed in 2016, as of 30 June.
Saudi Arabia: Wave of Executions after King Abdullah’s Death
The beheading tally in 2015 reached its highest level in the past eight years. As in previous years, about half of the executions involved foreigners [see Chapter “Top Secret Death”].
Saudi Arabia beheaded at least 159 people, including 72 foreigners (among them 3 women), according to a Hands Off Cain tally based on media reports. A majority of those who were executed were convicted of murder (87), followed by drug-related offences (64), rape (5), terrorism (2), and incest (1).
In the first six months of 2016, the kingdom executed at least 95 people (75 Saudi and 20 foreigners, including a woman): 48 by beheading for murder (36), drug (11), kidnapping (1) and 47 by firing squad for terrorism.
In 2014, the kingdom had beheaded at least 90 people. At least 9 people were sentenced to death in 2015.
The new surge in executions began towards the end of the reign of King Abdullah, who died on 23 January 2015, accelerating this year under his successor King Salman, who has adopted a more assertive foreign policy. In April, the King promoted his powerful Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef to be crown prince and heir to the throne.
DEMOCRACY AND THE DEATH PENALTY
Of the 38 retentionist, only 6 countries are considered liberal democracies. This definition, as used here, takes into account the country’s political system and its respect towards human rights, civil and political liberties, free market practices and the rule of law.
There were only 4 liberal democracies that carried out executions in 2015, and they accounted for 38 executions between them, 1% of the world tally. These were: United States of America (28), Taiwan (6), Japan (3) and India (1) . In 2014 there were 3 (United States, Japan, Taiwan), and they carried out 43 executions.
In 2016, as of 30 June, 18 executions were carried out in only 4 of the democratic countries: United States, with 14 executions; Japan, 2; Botswana, 1 and Taiwan, with 1 execution.
In many of these countries considered “democratic”, the system of capital punishment is, in several aspects, veiled in secrecy.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES
Of the 47 Muslim-majority States or territories worldwide, 24 can be considered abolitionist in various forms, while 23 retain the death penalty, of which 18 look explicitly to Sharia law as the basis of their legal system.
However, the problem is not the Koran itself as illustrated by the fact that not all countries that observe its teachings predominantly practice the death penalty, or make the text the basis of their penal or civil codes, or their fundamental law. It lies rather in the literal translation of a centuries-old text into penal norms, punishments and rules applied to our times, a transposition performed by fundamentalist, dictatorial or authoritarian regimes and used by them to impede any democratic progress.
In 2015 at least 1,579 executions, compared to 1.066 in 2014, were carried out in 16 Muslim-majority countries (they were 13 in 2014), many of which were ordered by religious tribunals applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 463 executions were carried out in 9 Muslim-majority countries.
Hanging, firing squad and beheading are the methods which were used to enforce the death penalty in 2015 and the first six months of 2016, while there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning, which is the most terrible of all Islamic punishments.
Hanging – But Not Only...
Of the methods employed to carry out death sentences in the Muslim-majority countries, the most common is hanging, preferred for men but used for women as well.
In 2015, at least 1.360 hangings were carried out in 9 Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan (1), Bangladesh (2), Egypt (at least 22), Jordan (2), Iran (at least 970), Iraq (at least 30), Malaysia (at least 1), Pakistan (at least 326), and Sudan (at least 4) .
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 353 executions by hanging were carried out in 7 Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan (6), Bangladesh (4), Iran (at least 209), Iraq (at least 55), Malaysia (at least 3), Palestine (1, Gaza Strip) and Pakistan (at least 75) .
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Sudan, in the first six months of 2016.
Extra-judiciary executions by hanging were carried out in Afghanistan in the zones controlled by the Taliban, and in Syria by the jihadist group called Islamic State (IS).
In 2015, another 13 executions by hanging were carried out in 4 non-Muslim countries –Japan (3), India (1), Singapore (4) and South Sudan (at least 5) .
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 6 executions by hanging were carried out in 4 non-Muslim countries – Botswana (1), Japan (2), Singapore (1) and South Sudan (at least 2) .
Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution. In Iran , hanging is often carried out by crane or low platforms to draw out the pain of death. The noose is made from heavy rope or steel wire and is placed around the neck in such a fashion as to crush the larynx causing extreme pain and prolonging the death of the condemned. Hanging is often carried out in public and combined with supplementary punishments such as flogging and the amputation of limbs before the actual execution. At least 57 people were hanged in public in 2015, and the trend has continued in 2016 with at least 12 executions (as of 6 June).
Firing Squad Not considered an Islamic punishment, the firing squad has been used in 2015 and the first six months of 2016.
In 2015, at least 60 executions by firing squad were carried out in 6 Muslim-majority countries: Chad (10), Oman (2), Indonesia (14), Somalia (at least 25), United Arab Emirates (1) and Yemen (at least 8) .
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 62 executions by firing squad were carried out in 3 Muslim-majority countries: Palestine (2), Saudi Arabia (at least 47) and Somalia (at least 13) .
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions by firing squad took place in Syria in 2015 and the first months of 2016, as well as in Yemen in the first months of 2016, due to the internal armed conflicts that have intensified over the past two years and the lack of official information provided by authorities.
However, extra-judiciary executions by shooting were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab and in Yemen by Al-Qaeda linked Islamists. Executions by shooting decided by self-proclaimed Sharia courts were carried out by the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
In 2015, at least 19 more executions by firing squad were carried out in 3 non-Muslim countries: China (number unknown); North Korea (at least 13); Taiwan (6) .
In the first six months of 2016, there were at least 2 other executions by firing squad in 3 non-Muslim countries: Belarus (1); China (number unknown); Taiwan (1) .
It could not be confirmed if executions by firing squad took place in North Korea in the first six months of 2016.
Beheading as a “legal” means of carrying out executions provided by Sharia law is exclusive to Saudi Arabia, which beheaded at least 159 people in 2015 and at least 48 in the first six months of 2016 (another 47 people were executed by firing squad).
However, in 2015 and the first six months of 2016, extra-judiciary executions by beheading were carried out in Somalia by the Islamic rebels Al-Shabaab, in Egypt by Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and in Syria and Iraq by the predominantly Sunni jihadist group called Islamic State (IS).
Of all Islamic punishments, stoning is the most terrible. It is meant to cause a slow torturous death. The condemned person is wrapped head to foot in white shrouds and buried in a pit. A woman is buried up to her armpits, while a man is buried up to his waist. A truckload of rocks is brought to the site and court-appointed officials, or in some cases ordinary citizens approved by the authorities, carry out the stoning. The stones used must be neither too large, or they may cause instant death, nor too small to be fatal. If the condemned person somehow manages to survive the stoning, he or she will be imprisoned for as long as 15 years but will not be executed.
Stoning still happens today. There are 17 countries in which stoning is either practiced de facto or authorised by law.
Stoning is a legal punishment for adultery in 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (in one-third of the country’s 36 States), Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In some countries, such as Brunei Darussalam, Mauritania and Qatar, stoning has never been used although it remains legal.
In four of the remaining countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, and Syria – stoning is not legal but tribal leaders, militants and others carry it out extra-judicially.
In the Aceh region of Indonesia and Malaysia, stoning is sanctioned regionally but banned nationally.
In 2015 and the first six months of 2016, there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning.
In 2015, in Saudi Arabia and Iran, death sentences by stoning were issued but not carried out.
However, extra-judiciary sentences by stoning were carried out in Afghanistan in the zones controlled by the Taliban, in Syria and Iraq by the predominantly Sunni jihadist group called Islamic State (IS), and in Yemen by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists. Blood Money
According to Islamic law, the relatives of the victim of a crime have three options: to allow the execution to take place, to spare the murderer’s life to receive blessings from God, or to grant clemency in exchange for Diya, or blood money.
In 2015 and the first six months of 2016, in Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, hundreds of murder convicts were spared after they were pardoned by the victims’ family members who accepted the blood money.
In Iran, the “blood money” for a woman is half that of a man. Furthermore, if a man kills a woman, a man cannot be executed, even if condemned to death, without the family of the woman first paying to the family of the murderer half the price of his blood money.
In September 2011, Saudi Arabia decided to triple the money paid to the victim’s relatives, but kept the sum for female victims at half that for male victims.
Death Penalty for Blasphemy and Apostasy
In some of the 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, conversion from Islam or renouncing Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital crime. The death penalty has also been expanded on the basis of Sharia law to cases of blasphemy. That is, the death penalty can be imposed in cases of those who offend the prophet Mohamed, other prophets or the Holy Scriptures.
According to the report Freedom of Thought 2015, published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the “crime” of apostasy was found to be punishable by death in 12 of the most fundamentalist Muslim countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia (despite contradicting federal law, the State governments of Kelantan and Terengganu passed laws in 1993 and 2002, respectively, making apostasy a capital offense), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria (only in twelve predominantly Muslim northern States), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Out of 47 Muslim-majority countries in the world, at most 6 permit capital punishment for blasphemy. They are Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Afghanistan (the new Afghan Constitution incorporates human rights norms that could affect statutes treating blasphemy as a capital crime). In June 2012, Kuwait’s Emir refused to sign a bill passed by Parliament stipulating the death penalty for blasphemy.
In another five States, militant Islamists acting as religious authorities in some areas are also dealing out Sharia punishment including death for “offences” to religion: namely Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram and other Islamists in Nigeria; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now known as Islamic State (IS), in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
In 2015 and the first six months of 2016, death sentences for apostasy, blasphemy and witchcraft were imposed in Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Sudan increased penalties for blasphemy and continued to prosecute those accused of apostasy. In Malaysia, the Kelantan State passed a hudud bill that would extend Sharia punishments, including execution for apostasy.
DEATH PENALTY FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS
The execution of people for crimes committed before 18 years of age is a breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In 2015, at least 9 juvenile offenders were executed in 2 countries: 3 in Iran and 6 in Pakistan.
At least 7 possible minor offenders were executed in the first six months of 2016 in Saudi Arabia (3) and Iran (4) .
In 2014, there were at least 17 executions of people under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, and they were carried out in only one country, Iran. In 2013, at least 13 juvenile offenders had been executed in 3 countries: at least 9 in Iran; at least 3 in Saudi Arabia; and 1 in Yemen.
In addition, in 2015, juvenile offenders were sentenced to death in the Maldives and Somalia or were still on death row at the end of the year in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
THE “WAR ON DRUGS”
Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) grants an exception to the right to life guaranteed in Article 6(1) to countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty, but only in relation to ‘the most serious crimes’. The jurisprudence has developed to the point where UN human rights bodies have declared that drug offences are not among the ‘most serious crimes’.
In 2011, through an internal human rights guidance note, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has required the organisation to stop funding for a country if it is feared that such support may lead to people being executed. Despite this guideline, the leadership of UNODC has continued to allocate funds to governments, particularly that of Iran, who use them to capture, sentence to death, and often execute alleged drug traffickers.
On 23 June 2016, UNODC unveiled its 2016 World Drug Report and warned that the number of drug users has risen worldwide. However, the 174-page document included no reference to the increased number of death sentences and executions in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where the UN agency funds counter-narcotics police.
A number of European states, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, have already withdrawn funding from similar UNODC programmes in Iran, with the Danish Government accepting they are “leading to executions”. But France and Germany have declined to make similar commitments, and have not ruled out contributing to the new UN funding settlement for Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Police (ANP). A Reprieve’s research shows that France has provided more than EUR 1 million to Iran’s ANP in recent years; while Germany contributed to a EUR 5 million UNODC project which provided the ANP with training and equipment. The UK decided to halt its financing to anti-drug fund destined to Iran, but not to that for Pakistan. While the UK government’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty lists Pakistan as a ‘priority country’, the UK has given more than £12 million to support anti-drug operations in Pakistan.
Another concern is the presence in many States of legislation prescribing mandatory death sentences for certain categories of drug offences. Mandatory death sentences that do not consider the individual merits of a particular case have been widely criticized by human rights authorities. According to Harm Reduction International (HRI), 33 jurisdictions in all still maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug-related crimes, including 10 countries that allow for mandatory capital punishment for certain drug offences: Brunei-Darussalam, Iran, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. But in most of these countries executions are extremely rare. Fourteen, including America and Cuba, have the death penalty on the books for drug traffickers but do not apply it in practice. Only in seven countries – China, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Vietnam – are drug offenders known to be routinely executed. In Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria the data are murky.
The prohibitionist ideology concerning drugs once again made its contribution to the practice of the death penalty in 2015 and the first six months of 2016.
In the name of the war on drugs, in 2015, there were at least 713 executions carried out in 5 countries: China (number unknown); Indonesia (14); Iran (at least 632); Saudi Arabia (at least 64); Singapore (3) .
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 116 people were executed for drug-related crimes in 3 countries: China (number unknown); Iran (at least 105); and Saudi Arabia (at least 11) .
In 2015 and the first six months of 2016, hundreds of death sentences for drug offences were handed down though not carried out in 8 more countries: India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
In October 2015, Oman approved amendments to the drug law, introducing stiffer penalties, including the death penalty.
THE “WAR ON TERROR”
In the name of the war on terrorism, authoritarian and illiberal countries continue in their violation of human rights within their own countries and, in some cases, have executed and persecuted people that, in reality, are only involved in passive opposition or activities that displease the given regime.
In 2015, at least 100 executions related to acts of terrorism or crimes of political nature were carried out in 12 countries: Bangladesh (4), Chad (10), China (at least 3), Egypt (7), India (1), Iran (at least 1), Iraq (at least 30), Jordan (2), Pakistan (30), Somalia (at least 9), Saudi Arabia (at least 2), and United Arab Emirates (1) .
In 2016, as of 30 June, at least 121 people were executed for acts of “terrorism” in 6 countries: Afghanistan (6), Bangladesh (4), Iraq (at least 55), Pakistan (6), Saudi Arabia (at least 47) and Somalia (at least 3) .
It could not be confirmed if judicial executions for terrorism took place in Syria in 2015 and the first months of 2016.
In 2015 and the first months of 2016, hundreds of death sentences for “terror acts” were handed down though not carried out in 6 more countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Tunisia. New anti-terrorism laws that provide for the death penalty were approved in Guyana, South Korea and Tunisia. Meanwhile, in Russia the State Duma rejected a proposal to introduce the death penalty for terrorism and the unicameral legislature of Israel (Knesset) voted down a bill that would have enabled military and district courts to more easily sentence a terrorist to death.
In April 2016, at the United States’ Navy base in Cuba hosting also the infamous Guantanamo detention camp, there were 80 men still in custody for terrorism, including 6 under trial.
DEATH PENALTY FOR NON-VIOLENT CRIMES, AND FOR POLITICAL MOTIVES AND DISSENT
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.” The ‘most serious crimes’ threshold for the lawful application of capital punishment is also supported by UN political bodies, which clarified that by ‘most serious crimes’ it intends only those ‘with lethal or other extremely grave consequences’.
Regardless, in 2015, death sentences and executions for non-violent crimes and essentially political motives were confirmed in China (number of executions unknown), Iran (at least 15 executions) and North Korea (at least 13 executions).
In 2016, as of 30 June, executions for non-violent crimes and essentially political motives were confirmed in China (number unknown) and Iran (at least 1).
In Vietnam, there were no reports of executions carried out for non-violent crimes in 2015 and the first six months of 2016. However, death sentences were imposed for financial crimes.
TOP SECRET DEATH
In December 2014, the General Assembly of the United Nations advanced again its call to end the use of the death penalty with the passage of a new Resolution calling on States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the practice. By its terms, the Assembly called on States to make available relevant information with regard to their use of the death penalty, inter alia, the number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row and the number of executions carried out, and the number of death sentences reversed, commuted on appeal and in which amnesty or pardon has been granted.
Several countries, mainly authoritarian ones, do not issue official statistics on capital punishment; therefore, the number of executions may in fact be much higher.
In some countries, such as China and Vietnam, the death penalty is considered a State secret and reports of executions carried by local media or independent sources – upon which the execution totals are mainly based – in fact represent only a fraction of the total of executions carried out nationwide every year.
The same is applicable for Belarus, where news of executions filters mainly through relatives or international organisations long after the fact.
In Iran, which carries out executions regularly without classifying the death penalty as a State secret, the main sources of information on executions are reports selected by the regime and carried by State media. These reports do not carry news of all executions, as evidenced by information occasionally divulged by individual citizens or by political opposition groups.
Absolute secrecy governs executions in some countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia, North Korea, and Syria, where news of executions rarely filtered through to the local media.
Other States, like Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Sudan, divulge news of executions after they have taken place with relatives, lawyers and the condemned people themselves being kept in the dark before the actual executions take place.
This is the prevalent situation worldwide concerning the secrecy of the death penalty. It points to the fact that the fight against capital punishment entails, beyond the stopping of executions, a battle for transparency of information concerning capital punishment, for democracy, for the respect of the rule of law and for political rights and civil liberties.
However, there are also countries considered “democratic”, such as Japan, India, Taiwan and the United States itself, where the system of capital punishment is for many aspects covered by a veil of secrecy.
THE “HUMANE” LETHAL INJECTION
Countries around the world are increasingly viewing capital punishment as a form of torture because it inflicts severe mental and physical pain on those sentenced to death.
Countries that decided to abandon the electric chair, hanging or the firing squad for lethal injection as the preferred method of execution, presented this “reform” as a conquest of civility and a humane and painless way to execute the condemned.
The reality is far different, as shown by many cases of prisoners executed by lethal injection in the United States in 2015. On 12 May, Derrick Dewayne Charles was executed at the Huntsville prison in Texas. He was pronounced dead 25 minutes after being given the execution drug. On 3 June, Lester Leroy Bower was executed at the Huntsville prison in Texas. He was pronounced dead 18 minutes after being given a lethal dose of Pentobarbital. After prison officials administered the drug to Bower, he closed his eyes and could be heard taking deep breaths. After several minutes, he made some grunting, snore-like sounds. His mouth opened, and he lay still.
After a string of botched executions in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures. However, on 29 June 2015, the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection and, in particular, the use of Midazolam, the drug used in recent botched lethal injections in the United States.
Today, there are five countries that use or provide for lethal injection as a method of execution: United States, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Executions by lethal injection were carried out also in Guatemala and Philippines, but they have not been used, since these two countries, respectively, established an official moratorium on executions and abolished the death penalty.
In 2015, executions by lethal injection were carried out in 3 Countries: United States (28), China (number unknown) and Vietnam (at least 1) .
In the first six months of 2016, lethal injection was used in at least 2 Countries: United States (14 executions) and China (number unknown) . It is likely that executions also took place in Vietnamin the first six months of 2016, even if it could not be confirmed.
ANALYSIS OF THE 2016 REPORT DATA AND OBJECTIVES OF HANDS OFF CAIN
Lethal Effects of the “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror”
As can be seen in the 2016 Report by Hands Off Cain, the worldwide trend towards de jure or de facto abolition, underway for more than fifteen years, was again confirmed in 2015 and the first six months of 2016.
Nevertheless, as we have seen, the countries that have made use of the death penalty increased from 22 in 2014 to 25 in 2015, as well as there were at least 4,040 executions in 2015, compared to at least 3,576 in 2014.
This is due, in particular, to escalating numbers of executions recorded in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and once again in Iran, and to the resumption of executions in Chad and Oman, respectively, after12 and 6 years of de facto moratorium.
The “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror” have contributed quite substantially to the practice of the death penalty in 20154 and the first six months of 2016.
In Iran, the rate of executions has risen sharply since Hassan Rouhani took office as President in June 2013 (at least 2,214 prisoners were executed between 1 July 2013 and 31 December 2015). About 46% of those executed in 2014 were hanged for drug-related crimes, and this figure has rocketed to 65,2% in 2015.
In Saudi Arabia, a surge in executions began towards the end of the reign of King Abdullah, who died on 23 January 2015, accelerating this year under his successor King Salman, who took a strong position on law and order, in particular against drug traffickers. About half of the beheadings in the Saudi Kingdom were carried out for drug offences. In addition, Saudi Arabia has carried out at least 47 executions for acts of “terrorism” in the first half of 2016.
After a hiatus registered in 2014, Indonesia resumed executions in 2015, when 14 people were put to death, all for drug offenses.
Iraq executed at least 30 people in 2015, including 27 for acts of terrorism. At least 55 other people were hanged in the first six months of 2016, all for terrorism.
In August 2015, Chad resumed executions after twelve years of suspension. Ten members of Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram were executed by firing squad. In Pakistan, of at least 326 hanged people in 2015, 30 had been convicted of terrorism or facts of political violence.
In Somalia, at least 25 executions were carried out in 2015, including 9 for acts of terrorism. Other 13 executions were carried out in 2016 (as of 30 June), including 3 for terrorism.
In Egypt, at least 22 people were executed in 2015, including 7 for terrorism or political violent acts.
Containing the Death Penalty in Times of “War on Terror”
Under international law, even countries that maintain the death penalty have to restrict its application to the most serious crimes.
A definition of terrorism that the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted in 2004 and that the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights subsequently endorsed says that terrorism is an act committed with the intent to kill, cause serious bodily injury, or take hostages with the aim of intimidating or terrorizing a population or compelling a government or international organization. However, new anti-terror laws adopted in many countries far exceed such a framework, and also run counter to a basic principle in international human rights law that requires laws to be precisely drafted and understandable as a safeguard against their arbitrary use and so that people know what actions constitute a crime.
A project aimed at “Containing the death penalty in times of ‘War on Terror’ in Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia” was submitted by Hands Off Cain in 2015 and accepted by the EU Commission.
It aims to support actions aiming at establishing a moratorium on executions, ending and/or reducing the use of the death penalty in the target countries, starting from the respect of the international minimum standards on the death penalty and the strengthening of the framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, justice and the Rule of Law.
The action will be carried out with local partners – the Somali Women Agenda (SWA) in Somalia, the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR) in Tunisia and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) in Egypt. It will consist in monitoring, through questionnaires for detainees, death row and prison conditions; data collection and public awareness campaigns; capital cases advocacy; training judiciary, legal professional and policy makers on international standards and States obligations. The Action will last three years.
“Spes contra Spem”: HOC’s Project to Put an End to the Death Penalty, but also to the Penalty until Death
The campaign of Hands Off Cain for the abolition of the death penalty in the world must also include the abolition of the penalty until death, the life sentence.
The issue of life-imprisonment was at the centre of the Hands Off Cain Congress which was held at Milan’s Opera Prison in December of 2015. “Spes Contra Spem” was the title of the Congress and it was inspired by the motto contained in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans which speaks of Abraham’s unyielding faith and how “he had faith hoping against every hope”.
Hands Off Cain’s project regarding life-imprisonment has three goals. The first is to raise awareness about those in prison – that the changes in their ways of thinking, feeling and behaving represent the key to transforming, not only their being, but also the reality in which they live a “never-ending punishment”. The tangible result of the Project could be, not only the explicit departure from outdated logic and behaviours, but also a newfound faith in State institutions.
The second, on the legal level, aims to present, with real cases, national appeals at the Constitutional Court, and supranational appeals at the European Court for Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, all designed to end life sentencing, at least in its harshest aspects: the so-called “Life Without Parole” (of 1,576 condemned to life, 1,162 are condemned to life without parole, that is, they are excluded by law from any of the benefits reserved for other inmates) and solitary confinement under the Italian prison regime known as 41-bis (about 700 inmates). Such actions shall also aim to document the psycho-physical effects on inmates in sustained periods of isolation while awaiting the end of a never-ending sentence, similar to the already well-documented cases of those awaiting the death penalty (the so-called “death-row phenomenon”).
The third goal is to sensitise public opinion. To this end, in collaboration with Hands Off Cain, director and documentary film-maker Ambrogio Crespi has created the docu-film “Spes Contra Spem – Liberi Dentro” , the result of the dialogues and reflections of both inmates and prison officials at the Casa di Reclusione di Opera in Milan. The work is made up of images and interviews with inmates serving life sentences, the prison’s Director Giacinto Siciliano, prison guards and the head of the Italian Department of the Penitentiary Administration Santi Consolo. From their testimonies, a powerful internal change on the part of the inmates emerges, as well as the fact that this change can be facilitated by penal institutions and could even evolve into facilitating inmates to authentically become, once again and for always, free individuals. The docu-film “Spes Contra Spem – Liberi Dentro” will be presented at the Venice Film Festival in September of 2016.