A week ago – the exact date is still not sure — nine prisoners were executed in the Gambia soon after a public announcement by President Jammeh that all people on death row will be put to death by mid-September. This is a tremendous regression as the Gambia had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty for a quarter of a century since 1985, and it reaffirmed the moratorium as recently as 2010 in the context of its Universal Periodic Review here in Geneva.
In Iraq, during the month of August, 26 people have reportedly been executed — including 21 in a single day on Monday — bringing the number of people executed since the beginning of 2012 to around 100. Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings in Iraq, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is – as the High Commissioner said in a statement back in January after a large number of people were executed all at once – “a truly shocking figure.” It is even more shocking that the number has now gone up even further like this.
Finally, on Tuesday, two men were hanged in South Sudan, in the Central Prison in Juba. One of the issues there is that they did not have proper legal assistance.
Not included in this list is a recent Indian high court decision to apply the death penalty to the sole surviving perpetrator of the 2008 Mumbai hotel attacks. India has not applied the death penalty since 2004, and the decision has sparked considerable debate.
Overall, the general global trend has been toward more and more states abolishing the death penalty. In all, 150 states have issued a moratorium on the death penalty either in statute or in practice. Alas, as Pillay’s remarks show, there does seem to be some regression in recent weeks.