Til Death Us Do Part

This week we were firmly ensconced on traditional Amnesty territory, with the launch of our annual report on the use of the death penalty around the world.

This event often throws up some of the more ghastly cases that Amnesty deals with. The man executed for "sorcery" in Saudi Arabia. Or the Iranian executed for an offence allegedly committed when he was 13, against whom there was no evidence but who was convicted on the basis of the judge’s "knowledge" of the case.

But even the great big raincloud of our death penalty report has a silver lining. Overall trends are down again (from 1,591 confirmed cases in 2006, to 1,252 last year) although secrecy in China, Iran, Pakistan, S/Arabia and elsewhere means we only have minimum figures.

Furthermore last year the United Nations passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty and Albania, Rwanda and the Cook Islands took the total of non-executing countries to 135 (that’s a two thirds majority). The tide is flowing in our direction, however slowly.

And of course Kenny Richey was finally released after nearly 21 years on death row. Cause for celebration, yes, but highlighting all the fundamental reasons why we oppose the death penalty. An unfair trial, followed by years of mental torment and finally a human being who has lost half his life and has been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Walking back from my 6.30am radio slot discussing the report (I do apologise to anyone whose first waking moment was thereby spoilt) I passed through Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, where the old town gallows stood. Now there is a plaque commemorating those who met their end there, and the list makes for interesting reading. Go back a few hundred years and the names are quite grand, with the odd Marquis paying the price for backing the wrong side in dynastic disputes. Later on the names are more ordinary – stealers of sheep and other valuables. As it happens political opponents (in some executing countries) and the poor (in pretty much all of them) are still the most likely candidates for the ultimate punishment.

And finally, for the pub quiz fans in the audience, here’s an interesting death penalty fact – Belarus is the only European country to still use the death penalty. Executions are carried out in secret and are not officially recorded, and relatives are not advised of the date of execution or where the body is buried. If they ever get to host the Eurovision Song Content, we may have to call for a boycott.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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