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Some African countries reinstate death penalty - Amnesty International

The Africa Report

Amnesty International (AI) has appealed to South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, The Gambia and Botswana to abolish the death penalty, which they have reinstated.

AI said South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Gambia and Botswana were the only African countries to carry out executions last year.

The Amnesty yearly review, released early Wednesday in London, said the overall shift away from death sentences and executions continued in 2012.

Executions in South Sudan, for example, are reviewed by the Supreme Court and approved by the president as required by law.

But Amnesty has expressed concerns that the country's nascent judicial system might not be able to guarantee a fair trial.

"Quite often people were unable to follow the court proceedings and potentially they did not speak the language that the court officials were using.

"Quite often the defendants didn't have access to lawyers," Jan Erik Wetzel, an adviser on the death penalty to Amnesty, told journalists.

In many parts of the world, executions are being abolished, with only 21 countries recorded as having carried out executions in 2012, the same as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier.

In Africa, progress was measured in many countries, with Sierra Leone, Benin and Madagascar ratifying a key UN treaty committing the countries to abolishing the death penalty.

Ghana also moved towards banning capital punishment in its new constitution, while no death sentences were imposed in Benin, Burkina Faso and Malawi.

Last year, South Sudan joined 111 countries to vote in favour of a United Nations resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. However, the country has asked for time to change its policies.

"South Sudan agrees with the logic of abolishing the death penalty. But we believe that this is a process that could be approached gradually," South Sudan's permanent representative in Geneva, Riek Puok Riek, told the UN Human Rights Council last year at a meeting in Switzerland.

In its report, AI said some African governments cling to alleged public support for the death penalty as a way to justify executions, and forget that the death penalty is a human rights violation and they should be engaging the public on abolition.

There were 682 confirmed executions in 21 countries in 2012, two more than were recorded in 2011.

China executes more people than any other country but keeps the data secret. The US executed 43 people in 2012, the same figure as the previous year.

The top five countries in terms of numbers of executions last year remained China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

In many countries where the death penalty is still used, there are serious concerns about the fairness of the judicial proceedings – making it very likely that innocent people might be put to death.


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