Sunday 25 September 2011

Bad Week for the Death Penalty

The blog was quiet last week, as I was in China (I can't access the blog in China) lecturing on capital punishment to judges in Guangzhou and Kunming. The general mood was very favourable to the restriction of capital punishment. But meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, there were some very unhappy developments.
Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, some two decades after being sentenced to death. This was despite strong evidence that he is not guilty. There were appeals from around the world, but the authorities in the United States ignored them. Generally, though, the rate of execution in the United States is on the decline. It is about half what it was a decade ago. Some states have removed the death penalty from their legislation, and juries show increasing hesitation in imposing capital punishment ro recommending its use.
Iran is one of the few countries where the rate of execution seems to be increasing. It is also right at the top of the list in terms of the rate of execution. Although China executes more people in absolute numbers, it is also much more populous than Iran. Per capita, Iran kills a lot more people than China. Last week, Iran executed a 17-year-old, Alireza Mollasoltani. He was hanged from a crane in public where the crime for which he was convicted had been committed in the city of Karaj, which is slightly west of the capital, Tehran. Mollasoltani said he had acted in self defence.
Alireza Mollasoltani was born on 24 December 1993 which means he was not yet eighteen years of age at the time of the execution. A representative of the Iranian judiciary who was present at the hanging, Ali Rezwanmanesh, was reported to have said ‘Alireza was not a minor, according to Sharia, since in the Sharia the lunar calendar is used and the years are shorter’. Apparently, the Islamic lunar calendar is some 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, with 354 days a year.
It is now beyond question that the execution of a person for a crime committed when under the age of eighteen is contrary to customary international law. With respect to Iran, it is also contrary to treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
With his bizarre comment about the Sharia calendar, the Iranian judge seemed to understand that there was a legal problem with executing someone under the age of eighteen. Rather than deny that Iran was required to observe the international norm, he attempted a contrived argument about how years are to be counted. The international norms are in international treaties. At the international level, a year has 365 days.

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