Amnesty: 21 Countries Used the Death Penalty Last Year

April 9, 2013 – China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the world’s top executioners last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the use of the death penalty.

The organization recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012, virtually unchanged from 2011, when it recorded 680 executions in 21 countries. The figures do not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which does not publicly release information on its use of the death penalty.

A U.N. push to end the death penalty seems to be gaining traction with no executions recorded in 174 of the U.N.’s 193 member states (the two U.N. non-member states that carried out executions last year were Palestine and Taiwan). 

A General Assembly vote in November 2012 on putting a moratorium on the death penalty passed by a vote of 110 in favor, 39 against and 36 abstentions, a slight improvement from the same vote in 2010 and six more in favor than in a 2007 vote. A diplomat involved with the text said the aim is now to encourage states that have declared a moratorium to abolish executions, citing strong progress in Africa on ending the death penalty.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to still use the death penalty, carrying out 43 executions last year, the same as in 2011, but in only nine states, compared to 13 in 2011. There are 3,170 people still on death row in the U.S., according to Amnesty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, carrying out at least three executions last year.

At least 557 executions were carried out in Middle East countries last year. Iran put 314 people to death in 2012; Iraq, 129; and Saudi Arabia, 79. Yemen, where a minimum of 28 people were executed last year, was the sixth biggest executioner in 2012. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the region last year.

Japan, seven executions last year, and the U.S. are the only G8 countries to still apply the death penalty. In Japan, as well as Belarus, prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, according to the Amnesty report.

Hanging remains the most commonly used method of execution followed by shooting. The U.S. and China both use lethal injection while Saudi Arabia still practices beheading, often in public.

The Amnesty report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

57 Countries Urge UN Security Council to Refer Syria to ICC

Jan. 14, 2013 – Switzerland, on behalf of 57 countries, on Monday sent a letter to the president of the Security Council urging the 15-nation body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Among the signers of the letter were permanent Council members Britain and France as well as non-permanent members Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea. 

Libya and Tunisia were the only Arab countries to sign the letter.

China and Russia, not surprisingly, did not sign on to the letter but neither did Sweden, the United States and current non-permanent Council member Argentina. 

The letter was sent the same day the International Rescue Committee released a report detailing “horrific levels” of sexual violence recounted by refugees who’ve fled Syria in the past 22 months. 

-Denis Fitzgerald 

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Iceland Takes on Israel and Iran at UNGA

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Sept 29, 2012 – Saturday morning is far from top billing at the UNGA but Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphÿinsson delivered one of the more creative speeches of the 67th General Assembly in his 9.30am slot. (photo by UN Photo)

In Skarphÿinsson’s own words:

“[T]he first letters of the themes I have broached here today – Palestine, Energy, the Arctic, Climate Change and the Economy, form the word we should all hold dearest here in this hall and towards each other, whatever our differences – P-E-A-C-E, Peace.”

Nice, though if he makes headlines it will likely be for the ‘I” part of his speech when he delivered tough messages to the Israeli and Iranian leaders.

“I listened to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech on Thursday, and I have a comment to make on behalf of the Icelandic people: Don’t bomb Iran. Don’t start another war in the Middle East. At the same time I say to President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership: Don’t build a bomb. Let diplomacy work, not rabblerousing or fearmongering. Let’s work for peace together.”

When he spoke last year, he told the Assembly that the Icelandic parliament would vote to recognize Palestine as a sovereign, independent state: “I’m happy to tell you today, that we have fulfilled that promise. What’s more, not a single member of the Icelandic Parliament voted against the recognition of Palestine,” Skarphÿinsson said Saturday.

He had strong words too on the Gaza blockade saying, “I have visited Gaza and I met with fishermen who are not allowed to go fishing in the waters off Gaza – and it hurts my heart, being an old fisherman myself. I met the children of Gaza whose lives are made impossible by poverty, violence and a blockade that by others than myself has been described as an open door prison.”

And on the West Bank barrier, invoking a politician of times past, Skarphÿinsson said: “I have seen for myself how the human rights of the people of the West Bank are violated every day by a man-made barrier cutting through their roads, their lands, their lives. When I was in Qalqilya the words of a former statesman we all know rung in my head. Mr. Netanyahu – tear down this wall!”

As for the U.N. Security Council: “We must reform it, so as to make it a tool, not a hindrance, for progress in situations such as in Syria this year, or – as we saw last year – concerning the Palestinian application.”

He finished by addressing the sparsely filled GA hall: “Thank you for your beautiful silence.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Full text (as prepared) and video of Skarphÿinsson address.

(His strong support of Palestinians was evident too in January 2009 when he refused to meet with Israel’s Minister for Education Yael Tamir who was touring Europe to explain Tel Aviv’s version of its invasion of Gaza, according to a classified U.S. cable released by Wikileaks).

Legendary Iranian Goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi Laid to Rest in Tehran

Legendary Iranian Goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi Laid to Rest in Tehran