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International protests urge abolishment of death penalty

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on Sunday marked the 8th World Day against the Death Penalty [advocacy websites], specifically urging the US, Iran and China to end the death penalty [press release]. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner [BBC profile] encouraged all countries that still embrace the death penalty [JURIST news archive] to abolish it and set up a moratorium [AFP report] on executions and death sentences. In May, the World Coalition participated in the launch [press release] of the UN death penalty report [text, PDF] by the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice [official website]. Despite the continued use of the death penalty in some countries, there is a growing movement toward international abolition. Earlier this year, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] the number of countries using the death penalty dropped [report, PDF] in 2009. According to the report, more than 700 people were executed last year in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US. AI's figures exclude the estimated thousands of executions conducted in China [press release], where the government refuses to release death penalty statistics. For the first time since AI started publishing its report, there were no executions in Europe for the year. More than two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Last month, a Chinese lawmaker said that the National People's Congress [official website, in Chinese] did not consider removing [JURIST report] the death penalty as a punishment for corruption during the consideration of an amendment to the criminal code. Earlier this year, the Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines for limiting capital punishment [JURIST report] in Chinese courts. In August, Capital punishment advocates in Switzerland began collecting signatures in support of a referendum [text, in German; JURIST report] to reinstate the death penalty for those convicted of murder. In March, Taiwanese Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng [official profile] resigned in defense of her position against the death penalty [JURIST report]. Though Taiwan has not executed a criminal since 2005, Wang said she would not sign the execution warrants of any of the 44 prisoners still on death row. Last month, a South Korean high court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the South Korean constitution [JURIST report]. The court's decision could lead to a reinstatement of the death penalty in South Korea, which has held an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment since 1998. Earlier this year, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia [official profile] announced that he would suspend the death penalty [JURIST report] and commute the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to 30 years in prison. UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] has praised the increase in the number of countries [JURIST report] that have suspended or abolished the death penalty. Speaking at the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [FIDH backgrounder] in Geneva last month, Ordzhonikidze expressed hope that countries that have not abolished the death penalty would adopt the 2007 UN Resolution 62/149 [text], placing a moratorium on the use of capital punishment.

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