Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] and several other international human rights groups on Monday urged [press release] South Sudan to join the majority of UN members that have abolished the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. In particular, the groups recommended that the country abandon the punishment "in law or practice by placing a moratorium on all executions" in December, the first opportunity for South Sudan to vote on a UN General Assembly resolution to establishing such a moratorium. In a letter [letter, PDF] sent to South Sudan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nhial Deng Nhial [Sudan Tribune backgrounder], the rights groups expressed not only their concern that capital punishment "runs counter to the global move and commitment" to end such penalties, but also that the country's executions do not meet the minimum standards and safeguards provided by international law. While South Sudan has continued to use the death penalty, more than two-thirds of UN members states have abolished it in law or practice.
The issue of the death penalty continues to be heavily debated on both national and international levels. Last month the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged Iran [JURIST report] to immediately stop all executions, including 11 planned for the following day. The UN has repeatedly called on Iran to abandon the death penalty, but instead the country has increased the number of people it is executing. In August a UN human rights expert condemned Iraq [JURIST report] for the executions of 21 people and an additional five only two days later. Also in August UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the Gambia [JURIST report] to enact a moratorium on the death penalty. In July Singapore announced [JURIST report] it planned to relax mandatory death sentences in certain cases [JURIST report]. Only a week earlier 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 [JURIST report] made it on to the ballot for a November vote.