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Death penalty: the battle for a moratorium must forge ahead, says Bonino

New record in number of executions in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and North Korea. Suspension in Pakistan and considerable reduction in China. The latest report by “Hands off Cain” on the worldwide situation regarding the death penalty, up-dated from last month [August 2013], was presented at Palazzo Madama, the Italian Senate building, in the presence of Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. The report shows a picture of light and shadow, given the dramatic developments, but also some good news in the “geopolitics of death”, commented the Chair of the Senate Committee for Human Rights, Luigi Manconi.

Escalation in executions

The new figures presented by the Treasurer of Hands off Cain, Elisabetta Zamparutti, show a very real escalation in the number of executions last month, in countries like Iran (35), Iraq (21), and Saudi (7 beheadings). In Somalia, the number of death penalties has doubled since last year, while Vietnam has resumed executions after a two-year pause. But there is some good news, from the halt in Pakistan to the proposed abolition in Tanzania, to Switzerland’s decision to ban exports of substances used for lethal injections. China has decided to gradually abolish the practice of using the organs of executed prisoners for transplants, starting in November 2013.

Progress in totalitarian countries but backwards steps in some democracies

We must not, however, lower our guard because, as Sergio D’Elia, Secretary of Hands off Cain, pointed out, the battle for the moratorium “is making progress in some totalitarian states but taking backwards steps in certain democratic ones”, like India and Japan. D’Elia proposes pursuing the abolition of state secrecy on executions established in the latest moratorium approved by the United Nations in December 2012. He also proposed that a special envoy should be appointed to monitor the situation.

Italy lobbying against the death penalty

Minister Bonino stressed the need to defend the International Criminal Court, which risks being weakened by budget cuts. And, most important, to support the many African states that feel they are the sole victims of investigations into crimes against humanity. As regards the moratorium on the death penalty, Italy is working to create a pressure group with other states. An initial, and important, opportunity to discuss the issue will be the UN General Assembly starting on 17 September in New York.