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Death Penalty

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2013

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to end the use of the death penalty worldwide.

My Lords, we continue to work towards global abolition in line with the FCO strategy for abolition of the death penalty. We regularly raise this issue in bilateral discussions with countries of concern and fund projects in support of abolition. In December last year we worked intensively to help ensure that the UN General Assembly resolution against the death penalty was supported by more countries than before.

My Lords, we need to limit the death penalty, which is much used in China. It is more limited in other countries, and it still exists in parts of the United States. Generally, there has been a reduction in the death penalty, but further limitations must be pressed.

I agree with the sentiments of the noble Lord. That is why we work with countries on a two-pronged approach—those countries which wish to retain the death penalty on their books but want, effectively, to impose a moratorium and then move towards abolition.

My Lords, Mr Warren Hill, a man with intellectual disability, was due to be executed in Atlanta, Georgia just a week ago today. Due to the very welcome intervention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other advocates, there was a stay of execution. I understand that the state of Georgia is still hoping to execute Mr Hill before 1 March, when its licensed medication runs out. Could the Minister advise the House what other steps the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is taking to try to ensure that Mr Hill’s mental disability is properly assessed, that the method of execution is considered and that this man is granted a reprieve?

I cannot answer the specific questions that the noble Baroness raises, but I will write to her with details of that very specific case. I can assure her that we have done casework on individual cases with individual states. Our consular section has intervened and expressed its interest in matters such as this, but we have also worked with organisations such as Reprieve, in which Clive Stafford Smith and his colleagues have worked quite closely with lawyers in assisting and supporting people on death row. However, I will write to the noble Baroness about the specific case she raised.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. In that capacity last week, I visited South Sudan and Tanzania. What is being done, first, through the Commonwealth Secretariat and, secondly, through bodies such as CHOGM to impress upon Commonwealth countries to sign Resolution 44/128 of the 1989 United Nations resolution on abolition? More importantly, can we encourage more countries to have a moratorium on carrying out death sentences, as Tanzania has done?

The Commonwealth is an important institution within which to have these discussions and, of course, the signing of the Commonwealth charter in December only last year is a way to further strengthen the underpinning of the values of the Commonwealth family. However, individual countries within the Commonwealth take different views in relation to the use of the death penalty. We continue to work with them on a bilateral level, as well as through multilateral organisations, to try and move them to a position of abolition.

Can the Minister give an assurance that no European state is exporting to the United States pentobarbital or any other drug that is used in execution?

My Lords, I read about that somewhere in my brief, but I am not sure exactly where it was. Rather than give the noble Lord an answer that is not entirely correct, I will write to him with a very specific answer.

My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, Afzal Guru was hanged in India on 9 February this year—the second execution in that country in three months—following an eight-year hiatus in executions. Reports suggest that four more prisoners, after their mercy petitions were rejected, are due to be executed imminently. What efforts are the Government making to encourage the Indian Government to stop this regressive move? Was this one of the issues that the Prime Minister raised with the Indian Government when he recently visited India?

The matter was raised during the recent visit. We made representations via my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Hugo Swire, who has responsibility for India. He raised that matter when he visited Delhi with a large delegation on 21 February. We have separately made representations through the EU, and will continue to raise through the EU-India human rights dialogue India’s use of the death penalty. Of course, the matter is extremely concerning, because there was effectively a moratorium, as the noble Lord said, between 2004 and 2012. We would like it to move back to that position, with a view to formal abolition.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, told us about the dreadful situation facing Mr Hill, and my noble friend agreed that she would “write” about this issue. However, today is 26 February and the execution is, I understand, due to take place on 1 March. Can we do something a bit more than write? Can she not make a positive statement that she is going to do something about it today?

I was intending to do exactly that. My noble friend makes an important point in terms of the timing. I can assure her and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, that I will deal with this matter when I return to my office in about half an hour’s time.

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the recent wave of executions in Iran, which have been stepped up to number many dozens in the past few months? Does she agree with me that the inhuman and barbaric treatment of the people of Iran underlines once again the fact that the people who decide on these executions are inhuman and disregard the wishes of their own people?

The noble Lord is right. Tragically, Iran executes more people per capita than anywhere else in the world—at least 352 people in 2012 of whom we have records. Tragically again, the death penalty is regularly used for non-serious crimes. In doing so, Iran fails to meet even the most basic minimum standards under international law and, also tragically, consistently refuses to engage with the international community on this issue.