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Over 1,500 people gather to call for an end to death penalty

On 26 February, the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty began at the European Parliament in Brussels. Organised by ECPM, it is the world’s leading abolitionist event and the International Observatory of Human Rights is attending the four-day conference together with 1,500 politicians, 150 other NGOs as well as lawyers and researchers from over 115 countries.

The Congress is advocating for the abolishment of the death penalty in 52 countries where the practice is still implemented.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated that the Congress against the Death Penalty is a good example for that progress is possible. Since its first launch in 2001, 31 more countries have abolished the death penalty. “2018 was a good year, we received positive results almost every month. Let’s try a 2019 that is even better […] The death penalty is incompatible with who we are.”

At the opening ceremony of the Congress, several state representatives stated their support for the abolition of the death penalty., Cheick Sako, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Guinea, announced that his country is ready to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. So too did Jean-Claude Gakosso, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Congo. The Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso, Bessolé René Bagoro, announced that the draft new Constitution will include abolishing the death penalty and should be adopted in March.

Sonia Jacobs, a death row survivor who witnessed her husband’s execution, told IOHR that “Even when we are proven innocent, society still sees us as guilty.”

Jerry Givens, a former executioner, said “God pulled me through something to get me to something, to get his message to people that we don’t have to kill one another to prove that killing is wrong. We don’t need to execute people. You could sentence a man to life in prison and if you come to find out 10 or 20 years down the road that this man didn’t commit crime, you can always go back to prison and pull him out.”

146 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty either in law or in practice as of 2018. Abolition is part of a universal trend. And yet, some regions still strongly resist the advance of abolitionist thinking and continue to apply the death penalty in a significant way.

In 2017 alone, at least 993 executions took place in 23 countries and 21,919 people are known to be on death row according to the latest statistics from Amnesty International. That year, most known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

China remains 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 recorded in 2017 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out there. Excluding China, 84% of all reported executions took place in just four countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

Amnesty International also recorded significantly higher numbers of death sentences imposed in 2017 in Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka
and Trinidad and Tobago. On 21 February, IOHR reported that 15 people had been executed in Egypt in just three weeks.

“Please stop the executions. The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” said António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General.

In Iran, the situation remains bleak and over 6,000 people have been executed in the last decade. According to a joint report from ECPM and Iran Human Rights launched at the Congress, at least 273 people were executed in Iran in 2018.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, described how the execution of child offenders in Iran has continued over decades in violation of the country’s international human rights obligations. At least 85 child offenders are on death row in Iran today and girls can be sentenced to death as young as 9 and boys as young as 15.

IOHR has been a strong advocate for the release of Iranian-Swedish professor Dr Ahmadreza Djalali who is on death row in Iran. He was arrested in Iran in April 2016, then unjustly accused of treason and sentenced to death in October 2017 and with no access to medical care or consular visitation even though he is a dual-national Swedish citizen.

His wife, Vida Mehrannia, made an appeal for his release on IOHR TV in May. She told IOHR “My husband’s detainment has had a severe impact upon his physical and mental well-being. He is under immense strain and suffering every day […] My children and I wish to be reunited as a family with a beautiful husband and a loving father. Ahmadreza is innocent. Help me free him.”

The International Observatory of Human Rights is fighting for a death penalty free world and has taken a clear stance against the use of death penalty.

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