I wish to make the House aware of the 2011 update to HMG’s strategy on global abolition of the death penalty and provide an update on progress which the Government have made against the strategy since it was publicly launched on 11 October 2010.
Promoting human rights and democracy is a priority for the UK Government. It is the long-standing policy of the UK to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe that its use undermines human dignity; that there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value; and that any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable.
Since the publication of the “Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty”, the Government have raised the death penalty bilaterally with a number of our priority countries at both official and ministerial level in Asia, Africa, the middle east, the USA, Europe and the Caribbean.
We have had some success through our project work. The British High Commission in Uganda is currently supporting a project which aims to provide access to justice for those who have been on death row for over three years, and through this we have funded work by an organisation which has applied to the courts for those on death row to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The FCO is also currently funding a project in the middle east and north Africa region covering Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan, funding workshops which have provided others with the tools to advocate for abolition. This project has also led to the publication of a book that shows the death penalty is not implicit in sharia law. Through the funding of projects in Commonwealth Caribbean and Commonwealth African countries, we have worked to achieve further restrictions on the use of the death penalty, for example in June the mandatory death penalty for felony murder was ruled unconstitutional in Trinidad and Tobago as a result of one of these projects. In July the FCO funded a regional workshop in the Caribbean, providing training to 70 mental health professionals from across the Caribbean, which should lead to improved mental health assessments for those facing the death penalty in the region. In Kenya we supported a regional seminar on the abolition of the death penalty, which took place in April, and we are also currently supporting project work in Nigeria and China.
Consular staff in London and at our overseas missions continue to work hard, in collaboration with the NGO Reprieve, and local lawyers to make progress on the cases of British nationals facing the death penalty. For each case, we have agreed with the key stakeholders our handling strategy, to ensure that our representations are targeted and appropriate. In recent months we have made ministerial and head of mission representations on cases in the US, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan.
We have also worked with the EU to create an international voice for abolition. We have raised the death penalty with a number of countries, through statements, dialogues and project work. We have also raised many cases of third country nationals who are facing the death penalty.
In November 2010 the UN General Assembly resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty was adopted with record support. As part of an EU campaign, the UK lobbied several states to vote in favour of the resolution or at least move from voting against to abstention. We have also made recommendations to several countries on the death penalty through the universal periodic review process since October 2010.
We have welcomed a number of other positive developments over the past year. Illinois became the 16th US state to abolish the death penalty in March, and in China we welcomed the return of the power of final review to the Supreme People’s Court and the reduction of the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 68 to 55 in February. The international momentum towards abolition continues to grow and the Government will continue to work to make progress against their strategy in order to achieve their ultimate objective of global abolition of the death penalty.
A copy of the updated strategy to 2015 will be placed in the Library of the House and published on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk) on 10 October.