Sunday, 3 February 2019

Capital Punishment

At our January meeting Anne Walker of Amnesty International presented a workshop on Capital Punishment exploring the use of the death penalty around the world and looking at the arguments for and against its use, especially in relation to real people who have been sentenced to death.

Anne based her workshop/talk on the 2017 Amnesty International Report on Capital Punishment. She began by providing a quiz to ascertain what people knew or thought they knew about capital punishment around the world. Questions included: How many executions in 2017, how many people were on death row, which countries executed the most people, what crimes are punishable by death worldwide and when did the UK formally abolish the death penalty for all crimes?

There were at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 and 39% from 2015 which had had the highest number since 1989.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order.

China remained the world’s top executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret. The global figure of at least 993 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 84% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

During 2017, 23 countries are known to have carried out executions – the same as 2016. But there were five countries that resumed executions in 2017 and another five which carried out executions in 2016 did not record any in 2017.

Executions noticeably fell in Belarus, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Executions doubled or almost doubled in Palestine (State of), Singapore and Somalia.

In 2017, two countries abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes so that at the end of 2017, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 21 countries and 55 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in six countries.

At least 2,591 death sentences were recorded in 53 countries in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. At least 21,919 people were known to be on death row at the end of 2017.

Methods of execution used across the world in 2017 were beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Public executions were carried out in Iran (at least 31).

At least five people were executed in Iran who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were sentenced to death. In many countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards. This included the extraction of “confessions” through torture or other ill-treatment, including in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The report goes on to give a regional analysis.

As well as the Quiz Anne divided us into two groups and invited one group to provide arguments for the death penalty and the other to provide arguments against.