Death penalty-free world?

We’re winning! That’s not a claim you may hear too often from human rights activists, but in the case of the global struggle against the death penalty, it’s true.

The momentum around the world is towards ending executions. The vast majority of countries have now abandoned the death penalty. On the eve of World Day against the Death Penalty, that’s worth noting.

Yet a small, and increasingly isolated, group of governments continue to put their own people to death.

The past decade has seen significant progress in the march towards a world in which the death penalty is no longer deemed a legitimate form of punishment – surprising given so many other post-September 11th attacks on human rights.

Surprising but true. Since 2002, 21 countries have officially abolished the death penalty. This means that 140 states – from every region, associated with every major religion and from diverse legal systems are abolitionist in law or practice. Belarus remains the last country in Europe with the death penalty. Despite efforts from some local MPs, it is not on any serious political agenda in this country.

But, this battle is a long one and challenges remain.

Executions continue to be carried out by some particularly powerful states, most notably China and the US. And a handful of countries are peculiarly enthusiastic when it comes to doling out the death penalty.

China accounts for the vast majority of executions followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and Iraq.

However, even within those states, we have witnessed some progress. In the United States, a number of individual states have declared a moratorium on executions. China abolished the death penalty for 13 non-violent offences and banned executions for people over the age of 75 – though, tragically, the death penalty was also extended to include some other crimes.

And elsewhere, it’s not all progress either.

Such as in rarely mentioned Japan, where 131 people are now on death row. After nearly two years of no executions in the country, earlier this year Japan again started to hang prisoners, including last month, Sachiko Eto, the first woman to be killed in fifteen years. Campaigners from Amnesty International and other groups are asking their new Justice Minister, Keishu Tanaka, to stop all executions and end the death penalty in Japan.

Within the country there is now live debate about the issue. A previous (2005-6) Minister of Justice publicly stated that he would not sign death warrants, saying: “From the standpoint of the theory of civilisations, I believe that the general trend from a long-term perspective will be to move toward abolition.”

Within the last year the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has established a committee to pursue abolition, stating “the abolition of the death penalty has become an unshakable international trend, and now is the time to launch a social debate about its termination.”

It seems a matter of when, not if, Japan will join the global trend and leave the death penalty in its history books. That’s the proper place for it.

, , , , ,

  • Drumlins Rock

    “surprising given so many other post-September 11th attacks on human rights.”

    Pity a throw away remark had to be included to spoil a thread I have no problem agreeing with otherwise.

  • Pete Baker

    Ermm… Who’s this ‘we’ Kemo Sabe?

    And I notice that you concentrate on numbers of states, rather than number of state executions.

    Executions continue to be carried out by some particularly powerful states, most notably China and the US. And a handful of countries are peculiarly enthusiastic when it comes to doling out the death penalty.

    China accounts for the vast majority of executions followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and Iraq.

    So, “We’re winning!”, are we?

  • Pete, sorry post wasn’t clear enough for you. “We” is defined by “human rights activists” campaigning against the use of the death penalty worldwide. Readers are free to define themselves as part or not part of that collective “we”.

    “We’re winning”? Clearly “we” are, as I set out in the subsequent paragraphs, notwithstanding the distance still to be travelled, to which I also point.

    Sorry, DR. Will try hard to remember: “don’t mention the war (on terror)!”

  • sonofstrongbow

    Interesting how some take on the ‘human rights’ title. We have ‘human rights lawyers’ and ‘human rights activists’, both seemingly focusing their concerns on (alleged) victim-makers rather than victims.

    Are there such things as ‘human rights police officers’ or ‘human rights soldiers’?

    It could be argued that those judicial systems that support capital punishment are staffed with human rights activists who concern themselves more with ensuring that the human rights balance is tipped in favour of victims rather than perpetrators.

  • Greenflag

    The death penalty should be retained for war criminals , serial killers , those convicted of genocide and for those who commit major financial fraud in the public and private sector .

    If our elected politicians and our banksters knew that they would face the noose or guillotine instead of a 20 year stint in a comfortable jail while their offshore looted billions would continue to be retained for their heirs -it might induce a higher standard of ethics among the financial sector class .As things stand they the banksters are perceived as being less ethical than prostitutes or common burglars !

    Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done -for if not then faith in the justice system will decline even more so than it has over the past several decades .

  • Alias

    “If our elected politicians and our banksters knew that they would face the noose or guillotine instead of a 20 year stint in a comfortable jail…”

    How about the death penalty for europhiles? If our eurogombeen political class knew they could get the death penalty for forcing Irish taxpayers to bail-out the eurosystem in an attempt to save French and German banks from the consequences of their reckless lending and protect the EU political project from ignominious collapse….

  • Greenflag

    Best to keep it restricted to known convicted financial terrorists /fraudsters /con men etc and those actually convicted of genocide .

    For the political class the same has to apply .Executing the ‘bastards ‘ for ignorance of how the world banking and monetary system is based on fraud and lies would probably result in not a single politician in the Europe or the USA avoiding the guillotine .

    You’ve been predicting the end of the Euro now for 4 years or longer -You are beginning to sound like the sandwich board man predicting the end is nigh .

    Keep voting for warmongers and thieves and you may yet get to smell Armageddon 🙁

  • Alias

    “You’ve been predicting the end of the Euro now for 4 years or longer -You are beginning to sound like the sandwich board man predicting the end is nigh .”

    It already died, GF. It is being artifically kept alive on a life support system that pumps massive amounts of taxpayers’ money into it via retrospective underwriting of its losses. Stop the flow of taxpayers’ money and its corpse will rot where it lies. That’s the date that is uncertain.

  • Greenflag

    ‘It already died ‘

    The US dollar is also on life support thanks to the creditor nations of the far east such as China ,South Korea etc

    ‘Stop the flow of taxpayers’ money and its corpse will rot where it lies’

    For the USA & EU and the UK & Ireland whats needed to stop is the tax avoidance industry parasites . On the Cayman Islands with 30,000 residents there are 457,000 shell companies . Here’s Michael Meacher on the Aronson report and how the Aronson tribunal makes an absolute mockery of Cameron’s so called ‘big society ‘ A big society for thieves and banksters/fraudsters /con men and criminals.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9751000/9751114.stm

    The Euro will continue even if some present Eurozone countries leave such as Greece and others such as Iceland , Poland and Croatia join.

  • Tomas Gorman

    “The death penalty should be retained for war criminals , serial killers , those convicted of genocide”

    So our premeditated murder good, your premeditated murder bad? If intentionally ending another life is accepted as wrong it surely be across the board.

    “Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done -for if not then faith in the justice system will decline even more so than it has over the past several decades .”

    So justice can only be seen to be done through state killings? Do the people of Norway and Sweden have no faith in their capital punishment free judicial systems?

    The murder rates in Norway for example are 0.7 where there is no capital punishment but the U.S boasts a 5.4 rate.

  • Greenflag

    @ tomas gorman ,

    ‘So our premeditated murder good, your premeditated murder bad?’

    What are you on about ?Who ever said ‘premeditated murder ‘ was good?

    Every ‘murder ‘ is bad unless you might want to consider that if anybody had murdered Stalin or Pol Pot or Hitler , a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Bernie Madoff those ‘putative ‘ murders ‘could be construed as ‘good ‘ .

    There is no perfect justice .

    Why I would retain the death penalty for war criminals , those convicted of genocide as opposed to individual common murderers is that the former are guilty of murder on a scale that destroys millions of lives . These kind of people are ‘rare ‘ but the impact of their actions/policies on the lives of millions deserves capital punishment imo.

    In the case of individual premeditated murders I would leave the death or lifetime imprisonment decision to the family of the victim following conviction in a court of law .For those convicted of the murder of children and the elderly ditto.

    All others convicted – life imprisonment.

    Keeping somebody on ‘death row ‘ for 20 or 30 ‘years just makes an ass of the law imo.

  • Tomas Gorman

    “I would retain the death penalty for war criminals ”

    Why?

    I’m afraid you sailed past the point. Capital punishment is premeditated murder.

    What use is there in capital punishment if has shown no social use other than to satiate a blood lust that lowers the executioner to the same level as the murderer?

  • UserAinm

    I absolutely believe that there are crimes which should carry a death penalty. But I would never support it.

    Regardless of DNA, confessions, eye witness testimony etc, I don’t believe that the risk of one innocent dying is worth it.

    People will always be involved in the chain of evidence and people are fallible, consciously or unconsciously. There is no way that the law of the land should risk that.

  • UserAinm,

    There is a real risk that an innocent person could be executed for a single instance of alleged murder. It has happened. So I would not condone it either. But the chance that a person could be found guilty of two or more unconnected murders is really zero. I would execute serial murderers even though it is very tempting to allow them to suffer until the end of their lives in custody with no chance of having a “normal” life.

  • Greenflag

    @ tomas gorman ,

    I’m an atheist – I believe we are all kinda lucky to have a life /be alive /experience a brief period of awareness on the earth before we are shuffled off into the non existence from which we came .

    Therefore anyone who takes another’s life deprives that person imo -their brief spell of existence and thus in the case of war criminals and those convicted of genocide their lives too should be forfeited as they have been responsible for the killing of thousands /millions of lives – Go dig up Jared Diamond’s ‘Third Chimpanzee ‘ book where you can get a listing /league table of genocides for the period 1900 to 1950 and you can add another 10 to 20 million on since 1950!

  • babyface finlayson

    There are two reasons I have always felt that capital punishment is wrong.
    One is the risk of an innocent person being executed, which would be a terrible thing.
    The other is well articulated by Tomas Gorman as follows;
    “What use is there in capital punishment if has shown no social use other than to satiate a blood lust that lowers the executioner to the same level as the murderer?”
    it is not about what the murderer may or may not deserve, it is about what we want ourselves to be as a society.

  • I would be willing to personally execute, say, a serial psychopathic child murderer. So I am no better than him or her?
    Glad to find out something about myself. I’m not sure I can live with myself any longer. Anyone willing to do me in?

  • Greenflag

    @ Mister Joe ,

    Indeed Joe as would the vast majority of people . As for pulling the trap to hang an Eichmann , or Saddam Hussein or Hitler or Idi Amin etc I’m sure there would be no shortage of volunteers .

    T Gorman/Finlayson seem to be suggesting that those who ‘satiate ‘ blood lust ‘ by the millions of lives ought to receive the same sentence as those found guilty of taking one life ?. I guess they must be followers of Stalin who was famously quoted as stating that ‘One death is a tragedy but 6 million deaths (in his case closer to 30 million) is merely a statistic .

    There may come a time when the world and it’s peoples are safe from the danger of war criminals and genocidal maniacs but as of now 2012 – it’s beginning to look a bit like 1913/1914 with the proviso that the weapons technology of the 21 st century is now capable of destroying all l life on Earth bar the microbial ,

  • tacapall

    “Indeed Joe as would the vast majority of people . As for pulling the trap to hang an Eichmann , or Saddam Hussein or Hitler or Idi Amin etc I’m sure there would be no shortage of volunteers”.

    You forgot Bush, Blair, Obama, Cameron, Thatcher, all were in control while their armies engaged in mass murder but im sure your mass murderers are different than the mass murderers I’ve mentioned.

    Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, Bridgewater 4 all would have been executed if the death penalty was available then and all were subsequently found innocent. All were framed by corrupt police officers and all were found guilty by a corrupt court system who allowed the police free reign to gather and fabricate evidence as they liked.

    Would you have been as quick to hang those above ?

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few but in the case of the death penalty and the possibility of an innocent person being executed, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.

  • babyface finlayson

    Mister_Joe
    “I would be willing to personally execute, say, a serial psychopathic child murderer. So I am no better than him or her?”
    I don’t mean to suggest that. I’m sure you are a fine human being.
    All I am trying to say is that we as a society should aspire to more than blood vengeance.
    I have no problem with seeing the worst offenders locked away for the rest of their lives, but I see no sense in saying that to punish killers we become killers.

  • Tomas Gorman

    Mr Joe,

    Is the value of a child more than that of an adult? If you kill the serial child murderer (who more than likely suffers from a deep psychological issue) does your action of killing him not equate with his act of killing?

    It is a highly complex and emotive issue that i continue to debate internally but i still fell that a bottom line of rationale based morality should exist wherein the act of ending life should never be acceptable no matter the circumstances. A brief perusal of Hannah Arendts views on violence and authority sums up my present feelings on this.

    Also, I certainly am not standing on a soap box judging everyone who believes in capital punishment, I’m only raising the issues that changed my approach to the issue.

  • HeinzGuderian

    A brief perusal of whoever,is going to be pretty useless when you come home to find your wife/mother/children being hacked to death .
    ‘Hold on mate while I peruse Hannah Arendts,she will have a view on this……

    Meanwhile,back in the real world………

  • Tomas Gorman

    Whats your point Heinz?

  • babyface finlayson

    HeinzGuderian
    “A brief perusal of whoever,is going to be pretty useless when you come home to find your wife/mother/children being hacked to death .
    ‘Hold on mate while I peruse Hannah Arendts,she will have a view on this…”

    That is so true Heinz. However, I don’t see what it has to do with whether a country should allow the death penalty for people tried and found guilty of such crimes.

  • carl marks

    HeinzGuderian
    yes we are all waiting for your point,

  • Harry Flashman

    Pointy-headed liberals gravely consider the great moral issue of the death penalty, having given it very serious thought they all to a man agree that for the state to humanely kill a convicted murderer is an abomination against humanity, under no circumstances could they accept that the state, or anyone else, has the moral right to take the life of another human being no matter how heinous the crimes that person may have committed.

    Fair enough.

    A business opens in Belfast which proudly announces that for payment it will, poison, eviscerate, decapitate, disembowel and dismember human babies in their mother’s womb.

    Self-same pointy-headed liberals are all a-quiver with delight at this marvellous, progressive advance for society.

    Heads melt trying to fathom the logic.