Death Penalty Worldwide


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4 posts from March 2012


Mongolia on the Brink of Abolition

Following last week’s momentous announcement that Mongolia had ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aimed at abolishing the death penalty, Death Penalty Worldwide has updated its entry for Mongolia.

Mongolia’s March 13 ratification of the Second Optional Protocol is the culmination of President Elbegdorj’s steadfast commitment to abolishing the death penalty in his country.  President Elbegdorj began commuting death sentences in June of 2009 and announced an executive moratorium on executions in January of 2010.  On January 14, 2010, in a landmark speech he gave before the Great Khural (the Mongolian Parliament), President Elbegdorj stated eight reasons for rejecting the death penalty and adopting the principle of systematically pardoning death-sentenced offenders. These reasons included the irreparable nature of any judicial error, the historical use of the death penalty as a means to effect political purges in Mongolia, the international community’s calls for universal abolition, and the demonstrable failure of the death penalty’s deterrent effect. In President Elbegdorj’s words, capital punishment is “a degradation of human dignity” which affords no relief to victims and brings no peace to society.

Despite initial internal resistance to the President’s abolitionist position, on January 5, 2012, the Great Khural passed a bill to ratify the Second Optional Protocol by a large majority. The Protocol is to enter into force on June 13, 2012. Although Mongolia has not yet repealed its criminal laws providing for capital punishment, it appears unlikely that Mongolia will resume its use of the death penalty in the near future.

Our updated research on the death penalty in Mongolia is available here.

-- Delphine Lourtau


Niger: Government Support for Abolition Encounters Resistance

The Death Penalty Worldwide updated its research for Niger this week. According to the U.N.’s definition, under which a state is deemed “abolitionist de facto” if it has not carried out any  executions in at least 10 years, Niger has been an abolitionist de facto state for over a quarter of a century, and death sentences are rarely pronounced by courts. Nevertheless, a recent government attempt to abolish capital punishment was defeated, highlighting the complex dynamic between abolitionist and retentionist forces at the national level.

Since 1976, when the last executions were carried out in Niger, the death penalty has been primarily used to deal with political offenses. The last persons to be executed in the country were convicted of participating in an attempted coup. Of the 20 or so persons sentenced to death since then, 16 were either affiliated with the Tuareg in the civil conflict in North Niger, or had attempted a coup d’état. The last known death sentence was pronounced in 2008 against a former minister and Tuareg leader, Rhissa Ag Boula, for an alleged political killing. In 2010, Boula was acquitted and released, following the 2009 peace deal between the government and the Tuareg.

Although it has been 36 years since Niger last carried out an execution, there is strong resistance to abolition in some parts of Niger society. The current government saw the major constitutional reforms of the past year as an opportunity to abolish capital punishment, and in December 2010, the Conseil Consultatif National, or transitional parliament, was convened in an extraordinary session to discuss an abolition bill. The bill was ultimately defeated by 40 to 23. Opposition was divided between those who claimed no decision should be taken before an in-depth national debate had taken place, and those who suspected the abolition bill to be the result of lobbying by foreign forces such as international organizations.

Nevertheless, at its human rights review before the U.N. Human Rights Council in February 2011, Niger declared that it was continuing to “[develop] strategies for approval” of abolition. The government plans to raise public awareness of death penalty issues among religious leaders, traditional chiefs, NGOs, political parties and state institutions to ensure public support before re-submitting an abolition bill to a vote.

The recent abolition attempt and Niger’s long execution hiatus are difficult to reconcile with the country’s position with regard to an official moratorium on executions. From the late 80s to the early 90s, then President Saïbou instituted an official moratorium by announcing that all death sentences confirmed on appeal would be commuted to life imprisonment. Today, however, the Niger government will not commit to an official moratorium, declaring to the Human Rights Council only that there is a de facto moratorium in place. Moreover, at the U.N. General Assembly vote on the institution of a global moratorium on executions, Niger aligned itself in 2008 and 2010 with prominent pro-death penalty states and signed the Note Verbale of dissociation from the moratorium proposal. Niger also abstained from voting on the moratorium itself.

Our updated research on the death penalty in Niger is available here.

 -- Delphine Lourtau


Mali: Executive Opposition to the Death Penalty But No Abolition

This week, Death Penalty Worldwide updated its entry of another abolitionist de facto state, Mali. No excutions have been carried out in Mali since 1980, and two successive presidents have firmly expressed their opposition to the death penalty. In 1997, President Konaré commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment, and a decade later, current President Toumani Touré declared his commitment to abolition just before his cabinet approved an abolition bill in October 2007.

Howver, the tabling of the abolition bill in the National Assembly unleashed fierce opposition from Islamic groups and the political opposition. Under the leadership of Modibo Sangaré, the National Union for Renaissance (Union Nationale pour la Renaissance) demonstrated in Bamako in May 2008 to denounce the abolition bill as the result of Western “manipulation” on a small group of Malian intellectuals. For their part, some religious leaders rejected abolition as “fundamentally opposed” to the principles of Islam and expressed the fear that it would pave the way to anarchy and social instability. A former leader of the national bar association (the “Ordre des Avocats”), Kassoum Tapo, criticized the religious objections for being irrelevant, since the death penalty in Mali is a civil penalty and does not result from the application of sharia law. As a result of the stormy national discussion surrounding the death penalty, the debate of the abolition bill in the National Assembly has already been postponed several times.

Meanwhile, Mali continues to issue death sentences every year, at least 40 since 2008. However, as in Cameroon, discussed in last week’s blog, executions in Mali have been avoided through the use of executive clemency. In one recent high-profile example, last November a Tunisian national, Bechnir Simoun, was sentenced to death for the terrorist attack against the French Embassy in Bamako in January 2011. Two weeks later, President Toumani Touré granted him clemency and authorized his extradition to Tunisia for further judicial proceedings.

Our updated research on the death penalty in Mali is available here.

-- Delphine Lourtau




This week, the Death Penalty Worldwide continues its examination of the contradictory features of abolitionist de facto states. Cameroon, our most recently updated entry, has not carried out any excutions since 1997. However, there are currently at least 77 prisoners on death row, and Cameroonian courts continue to hand down death sentences - the last death sentence was issued at least as recently as 2010.

While the death penalty remains a feature of the criminal justice system, actual executions have been avoided through the use of executive clemency. In 2009, during its last Universal Periodic Review – a U.N. mechanism under which the U.N. Human Rights Council examines the human rights record of every state every four years – the government reported that the president’s policy was to “routinely” grant mercy petitions, which under Cameroonian law are automatically filed once a death sentence becomes final. Since 2004, the president has also issued four blanket amnesty decrees commuting death sentences to life imprisonment. However, certain types of offenders, for instance repeat offenders, or those convicted of capital murder or aggravated theft, have been excluded from these executive clemency grants.  

Despite this unique use of the clemency power, there appears to be no immediate prospect of complete abolition in Cameroon. Government representatives made that position clear before the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009, when they rejected the recommendation that Cameroon abolish the death penalty, “because of its dissuasive effect and public support for its retention.”

Our updated research on the death penalty in Cameroon is available here.

-- Delphine Lourtau