Death Penalty Roundup

by Kevin Jon Heller

It’s been a difficult week for the global campaign to abolish the death penalty. First, Afghanistan executed 15 prisoners, ending a three year moratorium on executions:

The mass execution took place Sunday evening according to Afghan law, which calls for condemned prisoners to be shot to death, said Abdul Salam Ismat, the prisons chief.

During the 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban government, executions were carried out in public, many of them at the war-shattered Kabul stadium, but the practice stopped after the Islamic extremist movement was ousted from power in a U.S.-led invasion.


Among those executed was Reza Khan, sentenced for adultery and the slaying of the three foreign journalists and the Afghan photographer in 2001. The four were pulled from their cars, robbed and shot near the eastern city of Jalalabad while traveling toward Kabul, six days after the Taliban had abandoned the capital following heavy U.S. bombing.

Also executed was Farhad, who like many Afghans goes by one name. He was convicted of involvement in the 2005 kidnapping of an Italian aid worker, Clementina Cantoni.

Second, both of the candidates in Guatemala’s presidential election have vowed to reinstate the death penalty if elected:

Álvaro Colom of the centre-left National Union of Hope (UNE) says he will do so because the death penalty forms part of the country’s laws, and Otto Pérez Molina of the right-wing Patriot Party (PP) has pledged to do so out of conviction.

Under the government of Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004), Congress revoked 1892 legislation known as the “pardon law”, under which the president can either pardon a death row convict or allow the execution to go ahead.

Since then, Guatemala has no procedure for death row inmates to seek a pardon or the commuting of their sentence, which means a de facto moratorium on executions has been in place since 2000, even though capital punishment is still on the books.

Both candidates have made it clear that if they are elected they will ask Congress to pass a draft law that will allow executions of those on death row to go ahead.

Third, and finally, Poland vetoed an EU resolution to designate October 10 the “European Day Against the Death Penalty”:

“Unfortunately, it was not possible to find a consensus among all the 27 [EU] member states,” Portuguese Justice Minister Alberto Costa told reporters after the Brussels meeting of EU justice and interior ministers.

EU officials also confirmed that Warsaw alone objected to the move.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Andrzej Duda said that the EU “should approach the subject in a broader way and debate the protection of life”.

“The death penalty is only one element of the debate; there are more – for example, abortion and euthanasia,” he said.

This is the latest in a series of political clashes between Brussels and Warsaw, on everything from homosexuality to environmental protection, our correspondent says.

She says that Poland’s junior coalition partner, the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families, wants to bring back the death penalty for paedophiles.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski last year called on EU member states to reintroduce the death penalty.

Fortunately, not all of the news is bad. Following Poland’s veto, the Council of Europe — which does not require a unanimous vote — passed the EU resolution anyway. France then chose October 10 to ratify Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires states to formally abolish the death penalty in all circumstances. France’s ratification means that 40 of 47 members of the Council of Europe have ratified Protocol 13; the other seven members have instituted moratoria on executions.

One Response

  1. We had a debate before if abolition of the death penalty was an elite project in Europe. It certainly is in the US:

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