Stepping Back from Capital Punishment

By Mohammed Bedjaoui; Ruth Dreifuss; Federico Mayor | International Herald Tribune, February 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Stepping Back from Capital Punishment


Mohammed Bedjaoui; Ruth Dreifuss; Federico Mayor, International Herald Tribune


There is a growing understanding that capital punishment has no place in any modern justice system.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a global moratorium on the death penalty. This fourth such vote in five years was supported by a record 111 nations.

Yet in the first month of 2013, Saudi Arabia beheaded nine people. In recent weeks, Yemen has sentenced a juvenile offender to death, fueling hunger strikes by scores of imprisoned children. Iran has reportedly begun imposing death sentences for petty criminals accused of robbery.

Elsewhere, a court in Indonesia, where there have been no state executions since 2008, sentenced a British grandmother to death for drug trafficking -- reportedly to gasps of disbelief in the courtroom. Zimbabwe has hired a hangman after seven years of searching, while Sri Lanka, which has not carried out an execution since 1976, has reportedly recruited two executioners who are undergoing special training.

In the United States, the trend is toward fewer executions and death sentences, with more states repealing the death penalty. Nevertheless, in 2012 there were 43 executions and 77 death sentences.

Such developments make for grim reading. However, we at the International Commission against the Death Penalty -- an independent body opposed to capital punishment in all cases -- remain hopeful. It is clear that the world is becoming an increasingly lonely place for states that practice executions.

The United Nations call for a moratorium on executions is underpinned by a global trend toward abolition that has dramatically gathered pace in recent years. One hundred and five countries have repealed capital punishment in their laws and others no longer carry out executions.

According to the United Nations, over 150 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. All across humanity's diverse and sprawling community -- encompassing all major cultures, religions and regions -- there is growing understanding that this abhorrent practice has no place in modern justice systems.

Quite simply, the death penalty does much harm and no good. …

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