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2 posts from December 2015

12/14/2015

Mongolia becomes the fifth country to abolish the death penalty in 2015

On December 3, Mongolia’s parliamentary assembly, the State Great Khural, passed a historic law abolishing the death penalty under all circumstances. The newly amended Criminal Code had been expected since 2012, when Mongolia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty whose purpose is to achieve worldwide abolition of capital punishment. State parties to the Protocol are bound not only to refrain from carrying out executions and handing down death sentences, but also to anchor abolition in national law. As of today, 84 of the UN’s 193 member states are parties to the universal abolition treaty. By September 2016, when Mongolia’s new Criminal Code comes into force, 103 countries will have eliminated capital punishment from their legal systems – a solid majority of the world’s states.

Mongolia is the fifth country to legally abolish the death penalty this year, marking an acceleration of the global trend towards the elimination of capital punishment. Unlike the four other states that abolished the death penalty in 2015 – Fiji, Suriname, Madagascar, and the Republic of Congo – Mongolia carried out executions regularly until relatively recently, the last execution having taken place in 2008. Interestingly, states that are de facto abolitionist – in other words, states that have not carried out an execution in the last ten years – are at least as slow to legally abolish the death penalty as those that regularly execute. In fact, countries that do not apply capital punishment sometimes develop a deep political attachment to its symbolic presence in the legal system, a marker of the magnitude of the state’s authority over its citizens’ lives. Thus although Suriname, Fiji, and Madagascar had not carried out a single execution since they gained their independence in 1975, 1970, and 1960 respectively, it has taken until this year for their legislatures and governments to do away with the state’s legal power over life and death.

The worldwide movement towards abolition and the resolutely abolitionist stance of many international and regional institutions have certainly contributed to achieving abolition in these states. The commitment of the United Nations to exclude death as a punishment in war crimes tribunals, the European Union’s concerted effort to make universal abolition a foreign policy priority, and the current endeavors to develop a regional African treaty prohibiting capital punishment have all contributed to shifting the death penalty debate from the realm of criminal policy to that of human rights. Moreover, the last few years have seen the number of death penalty free states in the world tip over into a critical majority, accelerating the momentum towards worldwide abolition. After Mongolian President Elbegdorj was elected in 2009 and began systematically commuting all death sentences, he declared that a “majority of the world’s countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty. We should follow this path.”

In contrast, a small minority of countries have significantly increased their use of the death penalty. Last April, Indonesia attracted widespread international criticism and lasting diplomatic fallout for restarting use of the death penalty by executing a group of drug offenders, many of them foreign nationals. Although the government initially said the executions were justified by a drug-related state of “national emergency,” there have been no further executions since, at least in part due to the volume of the international outcry. In December 2014, Pakistan ended a long moratorium and resumed executions at a staggering rate; it has since executed over 300 people. Saudi Arabia has doubled its rate of executions in recent months, beheading at least 150 prisoners so far this year against 87 for all of 2014.

-- Delphine Lourtau

12/07/2015

Death Penalty Worldwide’s New Look!

As some of our regular users have undoubtedly noticed, Death Penalty Worldwide has a new, more dynamic home page, thanks to the brilliant design team at Cornell Law School. In addition to a new color scheme and photos, the Cornell team improved the look of our advanced search page instructions. The result is a brighter and cleaner presentation that makes our content easier to read and understand.

Cornell Law School is an ideal new home for us. With four full-time faculty members whose research interests and professional experience focus largely on efforts to limit the application of the death penalty in the United States and abroad, Cornell is one of the leading centers on scholarship and advocacy around capital punishment. John Blume and Sheri Johnson both have rich scholarly and litigation backgrounds, particularly in the area of racial and ethnic disparities in the administration of the death penalty. They have also been at the forefront of efforts to require states to conform to the Supreme Court’s mandate in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) barring the execution of persons with intellectual disability. Keir Weyble is one of the nation’s leading experts in the area of capital post-conviction remedies.

My research interests lie in the application of international norms restricting the death penalty, including the prohibition on the execution of individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities and the right to effective legal representation. My clinic students play a key role in the work of Death Penalty Worldwide: over the last nine years, I have taken 60 students to Malawi to improve access to justice for prisoners there. Our most recent project aims to obtain new sentencing hearings for Malawian prisoners who were formerly sentenced to death under the now-defunct mandatory sentencing regime. As of today, fifty-two prisoners have been released as a result of this project.

Delphine Lourtau remains Death Penalty Worldwide’s Research Director. She is currently piloting several research projects that will lead to new publications in 2016. Delphine is fluent in four languages, and her expertise in comparative research has been vital to DPW’s emergence as the most accessible and comprehensive source for international data on the death penalty.

Best wishes to all of our users for the new year ahead.

 -- Sandra Babcock