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UN rights chief urges Gambia to halt executions

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] urged Gambian authorities Thursday to enact an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty [press release]. The statement is a response [UN News Centre report] to the execution of nine prisoners [JURIST report] on Sunday following a 27-year moratorium on the practice. In addition to those executions, President Yahya Jammeh [official website] announced that all remaining death row inmates would be executed, by firing squad, by mid-September. Pillay said:

The confusion and lack of transparency for several days over whether the executions actually took place, and accompanying uncertainty about the identity of those executed, is unacceptable, particularly for the family members of those killed. Secretly executing individuals without informing their families amounts to inhuman treatment. ... The statement by President Yahya Jammeh that all remaining death sentences would be carried out by mid-September is extremely worrying, and raises serious questions about the motivation behind the sudden rush to execute.
Pillay also noted that the fairness of capital trials in the nation made the recent executions particularly suspect and might be contrary to requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [treaty text] which was ratified by the Gambia.

The issue of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] continues to be debated on an international level as well as in individual states in the US. In July Singapore announced it planned to relax mandatory death sentences in certain cases [JURIST report]. Just one week before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] called for an end to capital punishment [JURIST report]. In April an initiative in California dealing with overhauling death penalty laws in the state made it on to the ballot for a November vote.

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