Published: Thu, April 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Death penalty: Sub-Saharan Africa a 'beacon of hope'

Death penalty: Sub-Saharan Africa a 'beacon of hope'

The Asia-Pacific region has the most countries using the death penalty for drug-related offences, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

Last year Amnesty International recorded 993 executions worldwide.

The number of executions fell from 87 in 2016 to 60 in 2017.

"The four executions figure reflects only the cases that we were aware of, since no official figures were made public previous year".

Chiara Sangiorgio, also of Amnesty International, says that across the globe there has been an important decrease in the number of people employed in the capital punishment process.

Iran has the highest known figure despite an 11% drop on 2016, executing at least 507 people, with at least 31 death sentences carried out in public.

The reasons behind the declines in those countries are varied. Iran decreased the number of people it has killed for drug crimes by 40 percent. The only thing that is clear is that "executions [in 2017] have decreased after recent peaks".

Amnesty said that authorities in Saudi Arabia also "routinely failed to inform families of their relatives' imminent execution".

Still, the organization warns those numbers do not tell the whole story: They are based on the minimum number, that is, those that could be confirmed beyond doubt. Amnesty International recorded several cases of people facing the death penalty after "confessing" to crimes as a result of torture or other ill-treatment in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Mongolia abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and Guatemala introduced legal reforms which made it the 142nd country to have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The findings also highlight a massive blind spot.

"Over the past 40 years, we've seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing", said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

Officially, the Philippines does not allow the death penalty for any crime.

The numbers don't incorporate the 1000s of executions and death sentences which Amnesty International considers have occurred in China, where they are considered a state secret.

Excluding China, 84% of the reported executions past year were carried out in just four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

"This shows that there is still much work to do in ending the death penalty in Malaysia", she said.

Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told MEE: "The extra-judicial execution of three men past year was a heinous crime, a disproportionate punishment, which relied on torture".

For instance, while only Somalia and South Sudan are known to have carried out executions in 2017, Botswana and Sudan have already resumed executions this year.

According to the report, Guinea became the 20th state in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, while Kenya abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder. Gambia called a moratorium, promising that the next step would be abolition.

Globally, countries are carrying out fewer executions. However, Amnesty did register nearly 22,000 cases of prisoners on death row around the world.

"I would argue that you have to keep bringing up the death penalty because every time you bring it up typically it picks up a little momentum", said Senator Morrell.

We even saw welcome moves in some of the world's most staunch executing countries.

Walter Sanchez, a member of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that in the last 15 years, only 16 of Louisiana's 64 parishes have sent someone to death row.

First, it removed the use of death sentences as a punishment in its criminal code.

Governments also breached several other prohibitions under worldwide law in 2017. The leadership of countries in this region gives fresh hope that the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach.

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