The Death Penalty is about Who We Are as a Society

By Malek Al-Manaa, Media Fellow at Amnesty International USA

(Amnesty International)

On April 10, 2019, Amnesty International presented the findings from its annual global report on the death penalty at the United National Secretariat in New York.

Speaking at the event was the Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Juan Sandoval Mendiolea.

In his opening remarks, Mendiolea expressed his gratitude for organizations like Amnesty International for their efforts and reports that help continue the debate over capital punishment. Regardless of the crime committed, Amnesty International advocates against the death penalty, without exception and perceives it as a defiance of the fundamental human right to live.

142 countries today have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. This represents an improvement, said Mendiolea, but should not be taken for granted since some countries still maintain a death penalty. “Punishment by death is the ultimate denial of human rights,” he said.

(Amnesty International)

Amnesty International Senior Director for Law and Policy, Tawanda Mutasah, discussed two major findings of the report:

(Amnesty International)

According to the annual report, there have been at least 690 executions recorded in 2018, representing a 31 percent decrease from 2017. Countries like Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan — who used to lead the number of death penalties and sentences — have also shown a significant decrease in sentencing prisoners to capital punishment. For instance, the death penalty in Iran fell astonishingly by 50% since 2017.

While these findings are celebratory evidence of the tremendous change that has taken place in the past few years, Mutasah emphasized that the fight for the abolishment of capital punishment is far from over.

While the global trend of death penalties is on the decline, countries like Belarus, Japan, South Sudan, and the United States are outliers of such trend, recording an increase in the numbers of yearly executions.

(Amnesty International)

In addition to these countries, others like Thailand have reinstated the death penalty after not executing anyone since 2009.

Additionally, countries like China, Viet Nam, and Belarus are pose a challenge to getting an accurate representation of the exact number of death penalties worldwide, as they do not provide that data to the public and hold it as a classified state secret.

In his speech, Mutasah called on these countries to be more transparent about the death penalty and make their data public.

2) The death penalty has been used as a form of discrimination, violating international law

In his speech, Mutasah mentioned how the death penalty can be a form of discrimination against vulnerable individuals.

He emphasized the socio-economic and racial factors that interplay in sentencing these individuals. He cited the example of juvenile crimes — people that are executed for crimes they committed as children. He also mentioned the executions of detainees with mental disabilities who are still sentenced to death despite their vulnerability, and those who are executed or sentenced to death without a fair trial.

Both Mendiolea and Mutasah emphasized that the biggest challenge is recognizing that the death penalty “is not about who the criminal is, nor about the severity of the crime. It is about who we are as a society,” said Mendiolea. “it is about the values that our legal system represents.”

The Amnesty International 2018 Death Penalty Report can be found here:

We've been fighting the bad guys since 1961 - you can join us! Official Amnesty International USA profile.

We've been fighting the bad guys since 1961 - you can join us! Official Amnesty International USA profile.