India closer to death penalty freeze: Amnesty

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : No executions for five straight years has put India on the “welcome” path of a capital punishment moratorium, but 50 death sentences were passed by Indian courts last year, signalling the need for a focused debate, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

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Claudio Cordone, interim secretary general of the human rights group that published its annual death penalty report, welcomed India’s lack of executions but urged the government to “improve its mixed record and move faster on the incremental path to abolition”.

“India is stuck between joining the abolition trend and clinging to the misapprehension that the death penalty is an effective measure against crime and terrorism. It’s time for India’s leaders to focus the death penalty debate on the futility of capital punishment and the need to protect human rights,” Cordone said.

India’s record stood out in contrast to those of China, Iran and Sudan, where the death penalty continues to be used as a political weapon.

“Even as world opinion and practice shift inexorably towards abolition, the extensive and politicised use of the death penalty continues” in some countries, Amnesty said.

China executed more people than the rest of the world put together in 2009.

The country “refused to divulge exact figures… although evidence from previous years and a number of current sources indicates that the figure remains in the thousands”.

Amnesty “strongly” urged India to continue its moratorium on executions and place a ban on death sentences.

“A crucial step is for the Indian government to accept the Supreme Court’s suggestion to empower bodies such as the Law Commission of India or the National Human Rights Commission to carry out comprehensive research into the death penalty,” said Cordone.

“This would allow for informed discussion and debate on issues such as innocence and wrongful convictions, and the arbitrary application of the death penalty.”

Cordone, however, expressed disappointment that India had included the death penalty in a proposed amendment to the Anti-Hijacking Act and that the country had voted against a death penalty moratorium in the UN General Assembly in 2007 and 2008.

The rights group said capital sentencing in India remains uneven and arbitrary. It said its view describing the Indian process as a “lethal lottery” was subsequently endorsed in Supreme Court rulings.

For the first year since the organisation started keeping records, no executions were carried out in Europe and two countries – Burundi and Togo – abolished the death penalty.