Sunday, April 29, 2007

Six Countries Responsible for More Than Nine of Ten Known Executions Last Year

The economist has an interesting piece on capital punishment, Here is they sting - More and more countries have doubts about the death penalty. One of the more interesting points in this gruesome accounting of world wide executions is that just six countries are responsible for more than 9 out of ten known executions last year.

Care to guess the six countries?

Oh, we're in good company on this regard, as many of you may have already guessed. The six countries responsible for more than 90% of executions are, in order of contribution, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States. That's right. We were ahead of Saudi Arabia in total executions last year. Iraq jumped back into the top six after the death penalty was suspended after the invasion. Now, desertion from the Iraqi Army is punishable by death.

The article notes that the total number of executions varies wildly from year to year, but the number of countries that allow executions has

fallen steadily from 40 a decade ago to just 25 last year. Since 1985, 55 countries have ended the death penalty or, having already limited it to “extraordinary” crimes (such as those committed in wartime), have now banned it outright.

Seems that worldwide, there is a growing aversion to the death penalty. Even in the US, public sentiment is leaning toward a moratorium. After the botched lethal injection of Angel Diaz, even Florida (where Jeb seemed to be enjoying a little sibling rivalry with GW on this score) has suspended executions while the state looks into the "humanity and constitutionality" of lethal injections.

Even China, by far the world's biggest executioner, has made strides toward changing their methods and reducing the overall number.

Since January 1st all death sentences have had first to be approved by the Supreme People's Court—a practice that had been suspended after the launch of China's “strike hard” crackdown on crime in 2003, when publicly admitted executions soared to more than 7,000. In their annual report to parliament last month, representatives of China's chief legal bodies, including the Supreme People's Court, the public prosecutor's office and the ministries for justice and the police, urged a reduction in use of the death penalty (as well as torture).

Last month, a Chinese delegate to the UN Human Rights Council said he was confident the death penalty in China will be abolished, although some think this might be window dressing for the Olympics. The story reports that at least China is moving away from firing squads to lethal injection.

The US, Japan, India, South Korea, and Taiwan are the only democracies to still have the death penalty. To me, that provides hope that we can, at least in those countries, create a netroots opposition that will at least force candidates to address the issue. Considering that more than 120 people since 1973 have been found to have been wrongly sentenced to death, there is certainly a moral argument for a moratorium.

For me, though, the logical argument is still the best: I don't hit my kids when I tell them not to hit people.

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