Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty and Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand is calling on the people of this country to step up and help the Pacific rise against the death penalty.
The Pacific is the only region in the world that does not practice the death penalty and for three decades has been death penalty free.
Yet four Pacific countries still retain the death penalty in law - Tonga, Papua New Guinea*, Nauru and Fiji.
“Today, as we mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty, there is no better time to show the international community that not only is a world free of the death penalty possible, but that the Pacific can lead the way towards realising it,” says Margaret Taylor, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand spokesperson.
New Zealand has historically taken a strong anti-death penalty stance and is well placed to encourage the four Pacific countries to end this brutal act. Amnesty International is calling on the people of New Zealand to send letters and e-actions to the leaders of these countries at www.amnesty.org.nz.
“With the execution of Troy Davis still fresh in our minds, let’s mark this day by taking action to ensure this ultimate denial of human rights is brought to an end” says Taylor.
“As long as the death penalty exists, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”
Troy Davis, who had been on death row since 1991, was executed by lethal injection at the Georgian state prison in Jackson on 21 September, despite serious doubts surrounding his conviction.
On the same day, Iran publicly hanged a 17-year old boy convicted of killing a popular athlete despite international prohibitions against executing juveniles, while China executed a Pakistani national convicted of drug smuggling even though drug offences do not meet the threshold for “most serious” crimes in international law.
Troy Davis left a message with Amnesty International before he was executed. “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me, I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace.”
Amnesty International reported thousands of executions in 23 countries in 2010.
At the end of 2010, at least 17,800 people were under sentence of death around the world, waiting for governments to kill them.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The inhumanity of its application is evident in cases from all around the world.
People describe their appalling living conditions on death row, the anguish of waiting for their execution to happen, often because they had "confessed" after torture to a crime they maintain they did not commit.
Amnesty International will also mark the World Day by looking towards Belarus, the only European state that still kills people.
As many as 400 people may have been executed in Belarus since 1991 – the true number is unknown because of the secrecy surrounding executions.
Prisoners are usually told they will be executed, with a bullet to the back of the head, just moments before their death sentence is carried out.
“When Amnesty International was founded in 1961, only nine countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes and capital punishment was barely considered a human rights issue. Fifty years on, the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty is unstoppable, and the fight continues,” says Taylor.