Editorial: the death penalty is not history yet

29 avril 2013

Let’s gather in Madrid between June 12-15

A new report taking stock on the death penalty worldwide published in April* highlights the diminishing number of death sentences in those countries that still use capital punishment. This could mislead us into believing that nooses, lethal injections and firing squads will soon be consigned to the museum of mankind’s bygone horrors.

This is far from being the case.

While the abolition of the death penalty is indeed making progress, with each country still using this punishment becoming more isolated every year, our common dream is far from being fulfilled.

As it moves forward, the abolitionist front is now hitting harder resistance from those who seem deaf to international voices. From Asia to the United States and the Arab World, many oppose cultural, historical and public opinion arguments to universal values. They insist the death penalty is an internal issue, not one of international law.

One illustration is the insult inflicted on the international community after it gathered in Taiwan a few days ago and received assurances from the highest authorities there regarding a decrease in the number of executions – only to hear that 6 prisoners were executed two days after the meeting. We were there (photo: ECPM Executive Director Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan hands World Coalition Against the Death Penalty documents to Taiwan's ambassador for NGOs Rong-chuan Wu) and you can read our reaction here.

Today, 60% of the world’s population still lives in a country where the death penalty is in force. Executions resumed in 2012 in areas where a moratorium had been in place for any number of years: from 9 in India to 30 in the Gambia. In 2012, mentally retarded were still executed in the US and so were juveniles in Iran, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

In 2013 and beyond, only concerted efforts by abolitionist actors will effect changes in this world. Let them not weaken – but let us allow ourselves some dreams, too.

We asked secondary school students in France and Spain: “Draw me the abolition”. Show us, with your pens or your keyboards, what our joint dream looks like. They did not draw sheep, as the main character expected in the classic book The Little Prince, but rather doves flying free out of a noose and rubbish bins to discard the death penalty once and for all. They used a variety of words to express the variety of their outlooks. The poetic creativity expressed by the Little Princes of abolition deserves praise.

Let us continue to move forward, take action, work and research, and meet in Mardrid between June 12-15 for the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penatly: register here!

Ariane Grésillon
Deputy executive director

* Amnesty International’s 2012 annual report on the death penalty