MADRID, Spain, Jun 13 – Hundreds of civil society, political figures and journalists from five continents gathered in Madrid to push for the universal abolition of the death penalty during the World 5th Congress on death penalty.
During the opening ceremony, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said his country is at the forefront and is committed to the abolition of death penalty. In a plenary session Burkhalter said Switzerland seeks to have those countries which have not as yet abolished the death penalty at least place a moratorium on its use.
“It is a priority in Switzerland, we need to take a pragmatic approach and ensure a world without death penalty,” he said.
Burkhalter said capital punishment was incompatible with the values represented by Switzerland and had an impact on the country’s other obligations such as the prohibition of discrimination.
The death penalty was abolished from Swiss federal criminal law in 1942, but remained available in military criminal law until 1992.
Together with Spain, France and Norway, Switzerland is patron of the 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty which is hosting around 1,500 delegates from over 90 states in Madrid until Saturday.
France, according to the Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has taken political leadership to not only abolish but also engaged other countries diplomatically who are yet to abolish and explain to them the importance of the ridding off the death penalty.
France abolished death penalty just over 30 years ago.
He said his country’s envoys across the world have been instructed to engage the diplomatic world and organize conferences so as explain universal abolition of the death penalty.
Politicians must be courageous and must stop the death penalty.
“I consider that diplomacy can do a great deal and I had given instructions to all French Ambassadors to organise throughout the countries in order to explain the reasons why we are against the death penalty. Politicians and civil society must take their part,” Fabius said in his opening remarks.
According to Norway which is represented at the Congress by the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Gry Larsen it will support multi stakeholder’s initiatives like the work of the International Commission on Death Penalty, International Bars Associations and Universities.
“It has taken the political leadership to abolish the death penalty and in almost all of the countries the public have been against when we have taken the decisions in our countries to the vote but what we have seen in our countries is that when we have used the political leadership the public have followed. We don’t wait for the people we have to lead,” she said.
According to the conference organisers Together Against Death Penalty (ECPM) the universal abolitionist trend has gained some considerable ground these past forty years.
ECPM says the planet has undergone real abolitionist changes ranging going from 20 percent to 70 percent of countries having done away with the capital punishment.
However, in 2012 at least 682 inmates were executed in 21 countries and 1722 individuals were sentenced to death in 58 countries. The Madrid event is aimed at addressing this situation and come up with a solution to end the reality.
The Congress focus is expected on the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and Asian regions, but also targeted discussions on Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, United States and China.
Kenya is one of the countries under scrutiny for having in its book the death penalty yet for over two decades none of those people who have been sentenced to death have been executed. This means Kenya is a de facto abolitionist.
In August 2009 the then President Mwai Kibaki commuted over 4,000 death row prisoners to life imprisonment, however, Kenyan judicial officers have continued to send offenders of capital offences to face the hangman’s noose. Despite the high number of death row prisoners Kenya has not executed any prisoner since the late 80’s.
Two weeks ago Kenya was put on the spot by the UN Committee against Torture when the country presented its report for review. Kenyan judges and magistrate were accused of imposing death sentences yet there are over 1,600 death row prisoners are yet to be executed.
“The committee remains concerned by the legal uncertainty following the High Court judgments, by the high number of death sentences passed, including for minor offences, and by the conditions of the 1,600 persons still on death row,” says part of the report.
At the Madrid Congress the EU pays particular attention to an active participation having the abolition at the heart of its human rights policy.
This participation is prescribed as a targeted task under the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, adopted in June 2012.
The EU will reaffirm its strong and principled policy and its opposition to the death penalty and show case all diplomatic tools at its disposal to advance the cause of worldwide abolition. It will underline all efforts carried out in bilateral, multilateral and regional level.
The EU will also present the newly updated and revised EU Guidelines on Death Penalty (as adopted by Foreign Affairs Council in April 2013), which form the basis of our everyday action.
The EU continues to be the lead donor to the efforts of civil society organisations around the world towards abolition of the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty is one of the thematic priorities under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Today, 140 of the world’s 198 states have renounced the use of capital punishment, but a quarter still retain the death penalty. Executions continue to take place every year in around 20 states – mainly China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
In 2012, various states (Botswana, Gambia, India, Japan, Pakistan and Kuwait) reapplied the death penalty after years of de facto moratorium, according to the foreign ministry.