This year, to mark the sixth annual World Day against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP), are calling for an end to capital punishment in the Asia Pacific region.
Amnesty International and the WCADP are targeting six countries. India, South Korea and Taiwan have been chosen because they have made progress towards abolition. Japan, Pakistan and Vietnam have been chosen as countries where there are concerns about the application of the death penalty. In this action however, we are focusing solely on India.
Every 10 October since 2003, national and international institutions and NGOs have rallied together to oppose the use of the death penalty and to remind the world that its abolition is a universal struggle.
Since its launch, the World Day has seen hundreds of initiatives organised in more than 60 countries across five continents. These have included debates, concerts, press conferences, demonstrations, petitions, and educational and cultural activities.
To date, 137 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Sixty countries retain and use the death penalty, most often as a punishment for people convicted of murder. At least 1,252 people were known to be executed in 24 countries during 2007. The true figure was certainly higher. Of those known executions in 2007, 88 percent took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA.
Asia still leads the world in executions. Twenty seven countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice in the Asia Pacific region. The Philippines and Cook Islands are the latest countries in the region to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
In India, at least 100 people were sentenced to death in 2007 although no executions took place. Apart from one execution in 2004, there have been no executions in the country in the past ten years. In 2008 there were at least two commutations.
The death penalty is mandatory in India, including for drug-related offences. Despite a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty should be used only in the "rarest of rare" cases, there are grave concerns about arbitrariness and discrimination in the processes that lead to people being sentenced to death.
Poorer defendants often have inadequate legal representation. Concerns about legal representation in capital cases include lawyers ignoring key facts of mental incompetence, omitting to provide any arguments on sentencing, or failing to dispute claims that the accused was under 18 years of age at the time of the crime despite evidence to the contrary.
Death sentences have been imposed on people who may have been children at the time of the crime, and on people suffering from mental illness. Also there are concerns about the fact that India has expanded the scope of the death penalty under a number of special laws adopted after India's accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1979.
Prisoners sentenced to death may wait many years while their cases are in full review. The government of India does not disclose how many people have been executed and how many are awaiting execution today. Executions in India are carried out by hanging. Over the last two decades, India has reduced the number of executions carried out.
Amnesty International and the WCADP believe that there is a momentum now to push the Asia region further towards abolition. The focus on Asia will also support Amnesty International's campaign "Countdown to a death penalty free world" as some of the selected target countries for the World Day 08 are part of AI's campaign on the death penalty.
Amnesty International therefore calls on the government of India to immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty as provided by UN General Assembly resolution 62/149.