Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Tuesday implored the Indian government [open letter, PDF; press release, PDF] to stop the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana and ban all forms of capital punishment. AI claimed that if India allows the execution, the country's first since 2004, it would be moving backward and away from an international trend of eliminating the death penalty. The group highlighted that the recent trend has seen more than two-thirds of the world's countries abolish the death penalty, and that Asia in particular has seen a gradual movement away from capital punishment in recent years. According to the letter, Japan did not execute anyone this past year, while Mongolia became the 141st country to reject the penalty. While India is one of the countries that have not abolished the law, they have essentially abolished the practice, evidenced by the fact that Rajoana will be the first person executed in India in eight years, even though Indian courts continue to impose the sentence. AI "opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
AI sent the letter just as it released the numbers for death penalty cases for 2011, reporting that executions rose worldwide [JURIST report] last year. This year's report marks a change from previous years, since the number of executions decreased in 2010 and 2009 [JURIST reports]. Last month JURIST guest columnist Nadia Bernaz of Middlesex University Law Department wrote that Iraq is not complying with its obligation to respect international law on the right to life, and the UN should, at a minimum, demand that Iraq limit its use of the death penalty [JURIST op-ed]. Last year Illinois abolished the death penalty [JURIST report], becaming the sixteenth US state to do so. Also last year, China dropped the death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes [JURIST report], including the crimes of teaching crime-committing methods and robbing ancient cultural ruins.