China, Iran and USA Governments Deliberately Kill People
Death Penalty Slowly Vanishing from Civilization
News Release from Amnesty International, and Excerpts of Remarks by Jim LobeDespite some setbacks, the world is moving toward the eventual abolition of the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.
The London-based human rights organisation noted in its annual report that five nations abolished the death penalty in 1998 - bringing to 105 the total number of countries now abolitionist in law or practice.
One hundred years ago only Costa Rica, Venezuela and the tiny state of San Marino had abolished the death penalty and, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, the number had risen to just eight.
''An end to executions is an essential part of the struggle for human rights and it can be realized,'' declared the introduction to Amnesty's 1999 report. ''The death penalty not only violates fundamental human rights, it also carries the official message that killing is an appropriate response to killing.''
The report, which reviewed human rights conditions in 141 countries, found that some 50 nations worldwide suffered the worst abuses last year - including extra-judicial executions, deaths from torture, and ''disappearances.''
Worldwide, torture and ill-treatment were found in 125 nations; deaths from torture in 51; extrajudicial executions in 47; ''disappearances'' in 37; prisoners of conscience in 78; unfair trials in 35; and detention without charge or trial in 66 countries.
Amnesty viewed the increase in the number of countries which have abolished capital punishment as an advance for the cause of human rights but the report expressed concern over the growing failure of states to protect the rights of refugees.
This trend extended not only to western industrialised countries, but also to countries in the South where the detention or forcible repatriation of refugees is becoming increasingly common, the report said.
On the more positive side, Amnesty highlighted three major advances in 1998 in the international fight against impunity for gross violators of human rights. The arrest pending extradition to Spain of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in Britain marked a ''defining moment'' in that struggle, according to the report, which also hailed the adoption by 120 governments of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last July.
The ICC has been opposed by the pro-Pinochet United States and six other countries but is widely agreed to have jurisdiction over cases of genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity.
Advances in human rights noted by the report included:
The five countries which abolished the death penalty last year included Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, and Lithuania, according to the report, which also noted statements by the presidents of Mali and Malawi in opposition to the death penalty.
- Political prisoners were released in Nigeria, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and East Timor, Syria, Morocco, and Kuwait.
- Indonesia, China, Nepal Zambia, South Africa, and Ethiopia acceded to important international human rights conventions.
- In a ''landmark judgement,'' a Sri Lankan court convicted five members of the security forces of rape, ''disappearance,'' and murder.
Last April, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution co-sponsored by 66 states - 19 more than in 1997 - which called on all states that practice the death penalty ''to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing (it).''
The report noted that the vast majority of executions that take place worldwide are carried out in just a handful of countries.
Last year, for example, more than 80 percent of all known executions took place in China, Congo-Kinshasha, the United States, Iran and Iraq.
''If these countries heeded the UN call for a moratorium on executions,'' the report said, ''most executions in the world would immediately stop and other retentionist countries would find themselves under intense pressure to follow suit.''
Expecially objectionable, according to Amnesty, was the execution of juvenile offenders, 18 of which have been carried out in six countries - Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Yemen - since 1990.
Of that total, half were executed in the United States.
International law forbids the death penalty for those under 18 at the time of the crime.
"The premeditated killing of defenceless people should not be condoned by any society," said Amnesty International's Secretary General Pierre Sané. "Accepting executions means condemning ourselves to living in a world where murderers set the moral tone and brutality is officially sanctioned."
"Those governments which still cling to the death penalty as a justified response to high crime levels do so in the face of an increasing international momentum towards abolition. Deliberately killing someone violates the most basic of all human rights -- the right to life itself -- and has no place in today's world."
Mr Sané said that abolishing the death penalty worldwide is an ambitious goal, but pointed to the positive developments in international human rights protection as an example of concerted public pressure bringing about change.
Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom
Does government have a right to kill? If so, where does it get that right? Tell The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?