Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Africa dumps death penalty

By Luk Po Chu

Government officials and civil society representatives from Commonwealth African countries met in Entebbe, Uganda, on May 10 and 11 to discuss the death penalty. We welcomed positive action across Africa to abolish capital punishment. About half of African countries no longer execute convicted prisoners.

There is a clear trend worldwide toward abolition of the death penalty, with an average of three countries a year ending capital punishment. It is unfortunate that Asia and the Middle East are lagging behind the overwhelming majority of European, Latin American and now African countries in this regard.

Of the 78 countries that retain the death penalty, 17 are in this region. China heads the list, executing more people than the rest of the world put together -- and for a range of 68 crimes including tax fraud, avoiding SARS quarantine and killing pandas. Singapore executes the most people per head of population. Vietnam, like China, has chosen to make execution statistics a state secret, and many countries in the region have mandatory death sentences for crimes such as drug smuggling.

The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, degrading and inhumane punishment. The death penalty has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments.

On the other hand, many innocent people are known to have been put to death. A jail sentence at least offers the possibility that at some future date cases can be revisited and either confirmed or overturned.

President Muluzi of Malawi and President Mawanawasa of Zambia both made pledges not to sign execution orders while in office. Our leaders could learn from this.

We hope that Asian and Middle Eastern countries as well as the US will consider the example being set by African countries and join the trend to abolish the death penalty.

Luk Po Chu

Hong Kong

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