Baroness Anelay speech to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty

Speech delivered by Human Rights Minister Baroness Anelay at an event held at Australia House

Human Rights Minister Baroness Anelay

Thank you Philip. And thank you High Commissioner for allowing us to use the beautiful Downer Room for this event. I am delighted also to be sharing a platform again with Baroness Stern. The All Party Parliamentary Group has been stalwart for many years in advancing the cause of abolition. It is not always easy or popular work, but I am delighted that our political parties work together so effectively in pursuit of this most important of causes. One of our messages to our friends overseas who are considering abolition is that in the years since 1964, when the UK’s last executions were marked with sad dawn vigils in Manchester and Liverpool, our political consensus never to go back has grown strong.

When I spoke on World Day against the Death Penalty just two years ago, the outlook for complete abolition within a generation did look bright. The downward trend in executions was clear at that stage and had been sustained throughout the early part of the new century. A record number of states voted at the United Nations that year for a moratorium.

Sadly, not all the developments since have been positive. Pakistan’s resumption of executions after a lengthy moratorium has been particularly disappointing. The standards applied in many individual cases continue to give cause for alarm. I am concerned today about the imminent execution of Imdad Ali in Pakistan; a man whose advocates say he has serious mental health problems. I was concerned to hear that two death sentences issued in Gaza in the past week. These sentences add to a worrying trend of increasing use of the death penalty in Gaza since the start of this year. I am concerned about the prospect of others around the world such as Matsumoto Kenji being executed in Japan; his advocates say that he suffered brain damage at birth. It is always striking that the death penalty is disproportionately handed down to people who perhaps do not understand the confessions they are making.

China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now responsible for more than 95% of the world’s executions. Inevitably such a very heavy use of judicial killing often fails to meet the standards set out by the United Nations. Countries which do choose to continue to execute must adopt the highest standards of legal process and exercise great caution in their use of a terrible and irreversible penalty. It is wrong that many executions in China and Iran are conducted in secret and that the death penalty is widely applied to offences which are not – to quote the UN standard - ‘the most serious’. It is appalling that same-sex relationships are capital offences in Iran. Like many of you here, I was horrified when Saudi Arabia executed 47 people in earlier this year and reflected on the damage the executions have done to relations with the Shia minority.

In condemning the death penalty today, as I do every day, I do not mean to belittle the suffering of the victims of violent crime or to underestimate the pain which terrorism and violence inflicts on societies. We all grieved with Pakistan following the massacre of school children at Peshawar. We all recall the senseless horror of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. But executing those responsible doesn’t solve anything. The crazed world view which inspires the terrorism that we see around us is actually reinforced by executions. When states choose to execute, extremists exploit the cruelty of the process to generate hatred and recruit the next generation of terrorists.

While there have been setbacks in a handful of countries, I continue to believe that our progress towards a world free of judicial killing continues. Last year, 169 of the 193 member states of the UN carried out no executions. Fiji, Guinea, Madagascar, Mongolia, the Republic of Congo and Suriname have abolished the death penalty in the last year. There were no executions in Europe last year; nor any in the Americas outside of six states of the USA. There were fewer than 100 executions in the whole of Africa where many states have established long-term moratoria and are considering abolition. We are in a situation where the death penalty is the exception, not the norm. I was delighted to hear that the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations called last week for abolition of the death penalty. I do hope the Japanese Government listens to them.

I understand that some countries who keep the death penalty on their statute books do so because of a fear of crime. I respect their view, but it is the wrong view. I will keep on trying to persuade them of that and I won’t give up.

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Published 14 October 2016