Statement by Baroness Scotland and Madame Ruth Dreifuss
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. While it is disappointing that T&T was not able to support the resolution, it is commendable that T&T has not implemented the death penalty since 1999. A diverse group of nations across the regions of the world since 1980 have taken steps on the road to abolition.
There is, however, no room for complacency. In the first month of 2013, Saudi Arabia beheaded nine people. In recent weeks, Yemen has sentenced a juvenile offender to death, fuelling 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 US, there were, in 2012, 43 executions and 77 death sentences. However, the trend in the US is firmly towards fewer executions and death sentences. Seventeen states have repealed the death penalty and a further eight have not executed anybody for 12 years or more. Overall, two-thirds of the death sentences nationally come from counties that contain just one-eighth of the American population.
Generally, the UN call for a moratorium on executions is underpinned by a global trend towards 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 One hundred and five countries have repealed capital punishment in their laws and others no longer carry out executions.
Quite simply, the death penalty does much harm and is ineffective at deterring violent crime. States which have abolished capital punishment often have lower murder rates than those that have yet to do so. The death penalty is also inherently cruel and risks execution of the innocent. Its harms are increased if there are problems with the conditions of those who are placed on death row and there are problems with the judicial system such as the right to competent legal representation. In November 2011, there were 31 prisoners on death row in T&T.
Much remains to be done, not least because a handful of states remain willing to risk international outrage, controversy and isolation by persisting with this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen–all in the global spotlight in recent weeks–are accompanied by China, Iraq, North Korea and the US as the world's most prolific executioners year on year.
Ultimately, experience from all over the world confirms that the death penalty is not just irrevocable and a violation of the right to life, it is ineffective as a deterrent to violent crime. The experience for T&T is the same. As more countries conclude that the only place for capital punishment is in the history books, the remaining executing states will find better solutions to their violent crime problems in examining the effectiveness of the criminal justice system as a whole and looking at the wider causes of crime.
The challenge for their leaders is to show political courage and foresight, and to bring their laws into the modern age by immediately suspending use of the death penalty, as a first step toward full abolition.