The first item of business is a members’ business debate on a motion in the name of Bill Kidd, on world day against the death penalty. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. Before Mr Kidd rises, I note that I anticipate that seven other members will speak in the debate. We must conclude by 2 o’clock, so I am afraid that speeches in the open debate must be no longer than four minutes.
That the Parliament recognises World Day Against the Death Penalty 2019 on 10 October; considers that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights; notes that Amnesty International’s most recent annual report on the death penalty recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31% compared with 2017, which is the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in the last decade; further notes that most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam in that order; welcomes news that Amnesty International’s overall assessment of the use of the death penalty in 2018 indicates that the global trend is towards its abolition, despite regressive steps from a small number of countries; notes the statement from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in October 2018 calling for all nations to abolish the practice of executions, and stands against the death penalty in all circumstances.
World day against the death penalty was marked on 10 October 2019. We were unable to hold the debate on that date, unfortunately, but I am pleased to bring it to the chamber today.
World day against the death penalty was launched in 2003 by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, in which many international human rights groups are represented. It was founded to strengthen the international fight against the death penalty and has the goal of abolition. I am glad that members are here today to add their voices and thoughts to that ambition.
Although many strides have been taken since the United Nation’s adoption of the universal human rights charter, the fundamental right to life still has to be fought for around the world.
Out of the 193 member states of the United Nations and 198 countries in the world, 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including 106 states that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Eight countries have now abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only, with exceptions for crimes that are committed in times of war. Twenty-eight countries could be considered abolitionist in practice, having not held an execution for the past 10 years—they are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions.
The work of Amnesty International should be highlighted in today’s debate. Aside from its political advocacy, the organisation’s efforts in international record keeping ensures that states are kept accountable and that debates such as this are grounded in facts. Amnesty’s records show that 56 countries use the death penalty.
Organisations such as Amnesty are essential to the functioning of democracies around the world, as they are key in keeping institutions accountable, which is the height of importance for issues such as the death penalty and the operation of justice systems.
In the past year, 20 countries have carried out executions. In 2018, the top five countries for the number of executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iraq. In that period, 690 verifiable executions were recorded. That figure excludes cases that Amnesty could not confirm, but the organisation estimates that the number of executions in China in 2018 was in the thousands. China does not release any figures on executions, as figures pertaining to the death penalty remain a state secret.
It is clear from the figures that the death penalty is still widely used as a punishment around the world. It is used not only for capital crimes, such as murder and terrorism, but for other purposes, such as discrimination and the suppression of political opinion and groups of people, as well as the suppression of individuals on the grounds of their sexuality, religious belief, race or ethnicity, or their advocacy of human rights or, specifically, women’s rights.
The death penalty also disproportionately affects members of vulnerable groups who cannot afford experienced defence attorneys to advocate on their behalf.
There are cases of children being given the death penalty, which is particularly abhorrent. To be clear, the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders is against international law. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the 1969 American convention on human rights and the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child all ossify that. However, Amnesty understands that, currently, there are juvenile offenders who are under sentence of death in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and South Sudan. In addition, in 2018, Iran executed at least seven people, and South Sudan at least one person, for crimes that were committed while they were under the age of 18. This year, Iran executed two 17-year-old cousins, Mehdi and Amin. Both were arrested at the age of 15 and went through what might be considered an unfair trial.
Whether in the name of the people or in the name of the regime, the taking of life by the state is the ultimate abuse of human rights.
According to Amnesty International, China is the world’s most prolific executioner and, as I said, the real number of state executions in 2018 could be thousands higher than the confirmed number of 690. Although China is estimated to have executed thousands last year, there is no exact figure.
Right now, we are seeing a battle for democracy and the independence of judicial system in Hong Kong. We are also seeing many news reports of the mistreatment of different ethnicities in the west of China, notably the Uyghur people. Credible estimates suggest that 1 million Uyghur people are being held in camps. Human rights activists continually disappear and religious belief is suppressed. For example, in China, Christianity has grown from 3 million believers in the 1980s to an estimated 100 million in 2018. Despite that, Human Rights Watch reports that the Chinese Government crackdown on churches has intensified in Henan province from 2018 to 2019, with authorities demolishing dozens of church buildings and crosses, preventing gatherings in house churches and confiscating Bibles.
In all those cases of human rights abuses, there is great cause for concern and an international response to the political suppression, disappearances of individuals and executions that are taking place.
In times such as these, and as we recognise world death penalty day, it is clear that the role of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International UK is essential to the functioning of any democracy.
I ask my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to join Amnesty International in calling on states to abolish the death penalty and to uphold human rights across the world.
The death penalty is cruel, inhumane, degrading and a violation of human rights.
I thank my colleague Bill Kidd for bringing this important debate to the chamber and for all the work that he does for peace and justice.
I am also grateful to organisations around the world that are fighting every day for change. I would like to give a special mention to Reprieve, which I had the pleasure of meeting at the beginning of the month. Combined with public pressure, its work on the front line and in investigating cases, tracking down evidence and witnesses and taking court action works. It has had an enormous impact and has saved more than 400 prisoners who were facing the death sentence.
Every day, people are put to death in countries around the world. The so-called crimes that are punished by execution can include homosexuality, adultery and blasphemy.
We could have a whole other debate on blasphemy, but I want to acknowledge that, even though the blasphemy laws are not used in modern Scotland, I support the calls from the international movement to end all blasphemy laws around the world, including in Scotland.
Every single day, people are put to death in countries around the world. In Pakistan, hundreds have been hanged, including young people and those who are mentally ill. In Egypt, activists and journalists face death sentences, and of course in the USA—that great friend of Britain’s—there are states that use untested combinations of misused medicines to kill prisoners, while passing secrecy laws to hide their tracks. That is cruel, inhumane, degrading and a violation of human rights.
Authoritarian regimes regularly use the death penalty to silence those who dare to oppose them, and I want to provide a snapshot of one of them. For more than a decade, Saudi Arabia has had the dishonour of being one of the five worst executing countries in the world. With more than 300 people put to death in the past two years, there are no signs that the situation is getting any better.
Convictions in Saudi Arabia death penalty cases often rely on confessions—false confessions that are coerced through torture. Those sentenced to death then suffer the further indignity of being executed in public. Execution methods in Saudi Arabia include beheading, stoning and crucifixion. That is cruel, inhumane, degrading and a violation of human rights.
Reprieve has raised concerns that United Kingdom funding and training for Saudi security bodies could be contributing to human rights abuses, including the death penalty. According to Reprieve, British police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters. My understanding is that concerns have been raised that the proper safeguards are not being taken in those projects. It would be helpful if, when she sums up the debate, the minister could confirm whether, in any situation globally, Police Scotland is sharing its expertise on proper safeguards being in place. After all, one of the values that is expressed by our Scottish force is to ensure that its
“actions and policing operations respect the human rights of all peoples and officers”.
Sadly, that value is not yet universal globally.
I welcome the opportunity to recognise world day against the death penalty and thank Bill Kidd for bringing the debate to the chamber.
In 1950, the European convention on human rights was adopted by the Council of Europe. The convention established that members would commit to a certain standard of behaviour and the protection of basic rights and freedoms for all people, regardless of race, sex, nationality or any other identifier. Those rights embody our society’s key values, such as fairness, dignity, equality and respect. Our human rights are a means of protection for us all, but especially for those who are discriminated against and abused. Those rights enable us to speak up and to change our society for the better.
The right to life is one of the many fundamental human rights that are set out in the convention. It is our most prized and dearly protected right, and one that cannot be taken lightly in any circumstance.
As a ratifying member of the convention on human rights, the UK has made a legal commitment to abide by the standards that are set out in the convention. It is our duty to ensure that the rights of all our citizens are respected and protected. The UK’s elimination of capital punishment protects the human rights not only of Scots, but of all who live in and visit Scotland. No matter the nationality of an offender in our nation, they are given a guarantee that their human rights will not be infringed by our judicial system.
Unfortunately, Scots are not afforded the same protection of their human rights while abroad. For example, in 2017, Amnesty International reported that there were 25 British nationals on death row across the world. In many such cases, both past and present, the British Government does what it can to intervene on behalf of its citizens. The British Government not only provides legal counsel, but makes direct pleas for clemency on behalf of nationals on death row. However, such measures do not ensure that the sentence will be commuted by the detaining country, as the ultimate decision is out of the UK’s hands. Elimination of the death penalty by all countries would ensure that there no longer needs to be that narrative. Scots would be assured of their claim to that fundamental human right without the need for Government intervention.
I do not believe that we can have such a small, centred perspective and that we should focus only on Scottish human rights. We are part of a global community and therefore we should be aware of, and do our part to protect, human rights on a global scale.
Amnesty International reported that there have been 20 known executing countries in the past 10 years. The 20 countries that still use the death penalty represent a small proportion of the 195 countries that are recognised by the UN, which is welcome news. Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. Those 20 countries have an impact on a staggering number of individuals and their rights—their total combined population makes up approximately 35 per cent of the world’s population. That means that 35 per cent of people still face the possibility of a state-endorsed violation of their fundamental human rights. They are subject to the reality that the death penalty is possible even for minor crimes, and they are confronted with the irrevocable nature of the death penalty and its subsequent abuse.
We are privileged to live in a country in which that is not our daily reality. Our fundamental human rights, and the fairness, dignity and equality that they embody, are fully protected. Much has been done to ensure that other countries allow their citizens the same level of respect and protection, but there is still much to do. I hope that we can do our part to help make their reality a better and brighter one.
As other members have done, I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing this important debate on the pressing issue of human rights. I also thank my intern, Claire, who joined me last week, whom I asked to look at the subject and write my speaking notes for me.
Despite Scotland being at the forefront of the movement to abolish the death penalty, we should not forget that it was practised in our country until relatively recently. The last execution on Scottish soil was that of Henry John Burnett in 1963, and—as was just referred to—it took until 1998 for the death penalty to be fully abolished under the European convention on human rights. Although we can be proud that injustice of that kind no longer occurs in Scotland, we must not fall into complacency, as we are not yet all free from the threat of the death penalty.
Opposition to the death penalty is based not only on the fact that it is a denial of human rights, but on the fact that it sets a precedent for a more broadly vindictive society. The continued existence of capital punishment forces us to ask what sort of society we wish to live in, and what sort of society we wish to help others to live in. The utilisation of the death penalty creates an authoritarian, brutal and regressive atmosphere that seeps into every part of life.
We must aim for our democracies to set an example to countries that are not democracies of how we should value compassionate justice and choose rehabilitation over retribution. Rehabilitation is difficult if the person who needs to be rehabilitated has been executed.
Such priorities are not about being weak on crime; in fact, they better equip us to reduce it. It is no coincidence that states that still employ the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that uphold the human rights of their citizens. The argument that it provides a deterrent is simply not borne out by the evidence from countries that are—or claim to be—democracies in which the death penalty is still part of the criminal justice system.
Today’s motion cites the trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. We heard that two thirds of countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The tide is turning against the death penalty, as more countries choose to reject such an outright denial and termination of human rights.
In 2018, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly abolished the death penalty, making it the latest of many countries to move away from capital punishment. The European Union has been at the forefront of the fight against the death penalty; not only does it ban it in all member states, but it is the largest donor to anti-death-penalty campaigns. In 2007, it declared 10 October as European day against the death penalty. We in Scotland, and in the UK, share that commitment to protect and ensure the rights of all our citizens.
Although progress is being made every year, as many colleagues referred to, at least 20 countries carried out executions in 2018. As we look to the future, we should rightfully acknowledge, through the motion, the firm support of Scotland—of which we, as a Parliament, are a part—for the abolition of the death penalty.
I hope that we continue to take the time to recognise world day against the death penalty. Let us continue to promote and uphold human rights around the world as we push to eliminate such a cruel punishment from existence.
I, too, thank Bill Kidd for lodging this important motion and for achieving today’s debate. The words that are inscribed on the mace that sits in this chamber are compassion, wisdom, justice and integrity. Those are the founding ideals of this Parliament; they are ideals that we all take seriously and which must be central to any debate on the death penalty.
Human rights are the foundation of our shared values of fairness, respect, equality and dignity, and they apply to everyone.
In 1948, when the United Nations unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it proclaimed every individual’s right to life and stated that nobody should be subject to cruel or degrading punishment. There is no justification for respecting some of those rights but not the most fundamental, which is the right to life.
In February this year, in a message to the seventh world congress against the death penalty, Pope Francis affirmed that
“the dignity of the person is not lost even if he has committed the worst of the crimes. No one can take his life and deprive him of the opportunity to embrace again the community he hurt and made suffer”.
I believe that we must also refuse to facilitate extradition to countries that still endorse capital punishment.
Supporters of the death penalty often talk about it in an abstract way, but we should never forget that it is state-authorised killing. The methods—beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection of chemicals or shooting—are barbaric, and the weight of the death penalty is carried disproportionately by the poor and by racial, ethnic or religious minorities, who are often denied proper legal representation.
The unseen victims—children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed—were rightly highlighted in the world day against the death penalty this year. The notion that actions relating to children must be in
“the best interests of the child” is now enshrined in various human rights conventions, and that must also be considered.
Politicians and others who support capital punishment often fail to confront the real causes of crime, such as poverty and inequality. The political use of the death penalty is common in countries in which members of the judiciary may be elected. As such, they adopt hard-line positions to win votes.
Our argument against the death penalty must be part of the conversation about how we propose to make communities safe while respecting the human rights of all. Justice should be available for all, regardless of economic status. Unless Governments are willing to allocate proper resources to fight poverty and inequality, our communities will never be safe. Prisons are often ineffective in rehabilitating, and reoffending rates are high.
Here at home, our judicial system continues to imprison vulnerable women, as opposed to society investing in the services that are needed to provide an alternative.
I go back to why the death penalty should never again have a place in our justice system. It is irrevocable, and no court system in the world has not been guilty of terrible miscarriages of justice. We all know the long list of such miscarriages of justice in our own country—the Guildford four and the Birmingham six come to mind. As Stewart Stevenson said, there is no evidence that capital punishment works as a deterrent.
The debate has provided a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to add its voice to the voices of all those who spoke out so clearly on the world day against the death penalty on 10 October. Once again, I thank Bill Kidd for lodging the motion.
I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing the debate.
Like other members who have spoken, I strongly oppose the death penalty. That is because I believe that no one has the right to take a human life.
It is a grim thought that in 2019, every four hours, people around the world are executed. That includes innocent people such as political activists, journalists, human rights lawyers and gay people. In some theocratic regimes, conducting an extramarital relationship can result in execution.
The figure also includes people who have been convicted of serious crimes. In many cases, the justice and penal systems under which they were convicted and imprisoned can be deeply flawed and inhumane, and sometimes such people wait for a long time for the awful sentence to be carried out. International law now recognises that the mental trauma from impending death and lengthy incarceration causes mental health deterioration—that is known as the death row phenomenon. Developing international jurisprudence says that that in itself constitutes cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, which is prohibited by international law under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that the death penalty can be used only in very restricted circumstances. That has provided a framework for some countries to move away from mandatory executions to giving individualised consideration to a convicted person’s character record and circumstances.
However, it is clear that individualised consideration is compromised for many people who have a mental illness or an intellectual disability. Customary international law prohibits the execution of mentally ill people and people with severe intellectual disabilities, and the UN Commission on Human Rights has adopted several resolutions that urge all states not to execute any such person, but some countries continue to convict them. Why should they not do so? Mentally ill people and people with intellectual disabilities are much more likely to confess to crimes that they did not commit. Such defendants are much less likely to be able to meaningfully assist their lawyers and are more likely to be poor, to present as hostile and to be perceived as lacking in remorse. Crucially, there is little data to tell us how many such people are executed globally, because of the dearth of qualified mental health professionals in executing countries. Individuals are not assessed properly in those penal systems, and mental illness and intellectual disabilities are not documented.
Such spectacular systemic prejudice against people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities in executing countries must be amplified in the debate, particularly given that recent analysis shows that there has been an increase in the use of the death penalty around the world. In 2018, four executions took place in Belarus, which were the first executions in the region since 2005. The number of executions has tripled in Japan, and there has been an overall increase across the Asian Pacific region. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, there has been an 89 per cent increase in the number of executions, and federal executions in the US resumed in 2019.
Here in Scotland, the death penalty was abolished in 1969, but there is no room for complacency. A 2019 poll revealed that 41 per cent of Scots favour the reintroduction of the death penalty, and there has been a rise in pro-death penalty support in the UK since the EU referendum in 2016, which is extremely worrying. The death penalty is cruel, inhuman, degrading and a violation of the inherent right to life. In my view, it is wrong, per se, which is why I am very pleased to have spoken in the debate and that Bill Kidd secured it.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to my long-standing membership of Amnesty International.
I join others in congratulating Bill Kidd on securing the motion. I do not think that anything has been lost by the fact that the debate did not take place on the day for which it was scheduled, because many communities around the world face the trauma of the death penalty every day.
Bill Kidd’s work on promoting nuclear disarmament and peace has been mentioned. The word “deterrence” is often used. Stewart Stevenson talked about effectiveness, and we know that having nuclear weapons is not a deterrence against terrorist acts, just as we know that a state that sanctions violence against its citizens is likely to face high levels of violence.
In the brief time that I have, I will focus on young people. The use of the death penalty for crimes that are committed by people who are younger than 18 is prohibited under international law, yet it takes place. Setting aside the abhorrent act itself, its significance goes beyond the number of deaths, and we must call into question the respect for international law of states that use the death penalty.
I am grateful to Amnesty International for its briefing. Since 1990, Amnesty International has documented 145 executions of children in 10 countries—China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, the USA and Yemen. Several of those countries have now changed their laws in that regard.
Recently, I saw someone post on Facebook about the celebrated case of George Junius Stinney Jnr, with which some people will be familiar. He was a boy whose conviction was overturned 70 years after he was fried in a chair, holding a Bible. I have been described as a man with no faith, in that I do not adhere to any organised religion. However, I struggle to accept that there is any theological basis for taking someone’s life. During my childhood, I was brought up in a household that was religious, and it strikes me as important that two wrongs do not make a right.
Of course there is an obligation to provide public protection but, as others have said, the people who have found themselves vulnerable in countries with the death penalty are from very select and much-maligned groups of people. The young man to whom I referred was a black boy who was wrongly convicted of killing two young white girls in a state in America. I think that we can all reasonably safely say that, had the background of the individuals been changed, it is unlikely that a white child would have received the death penalty. “Deterrence” is not an appropriate word to use. Often, as others have said, capital punishment has been carried out as a result of a lack of legal representation because people have not been best placed to inform their legal advisers, and often torture has brought about false confessions.
What can we do about it? We must send a clear signal about the kind of society that we want, and there have been some excellent contributions here. I know that when she speaks, the Minister for Older People and Equalities will not say, “This is not anything to do with us; it is international affairs,” because on previous occasions, the Scottish Government has made representations to countries where there have been significant human rights abuses. That is one way that we can do it. Of course, we can lead by example, as Maurice Corry said, and do our very best to provide the very highest standard of human rights on the planet.
I thank Bill Kidd for initiating this debate. I will state clearly that I unreservedly endorse Amnesty International’s statement that it opposes
“the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime”.
I note from its briefing that Amnesty has found it difficult in several countries to get actual numbers of death sentences that have been carried out.
I also condemn countries including North Korea, where, it is understood, prisoners are intentionally worked or starved to death, and China, where there is evidence of organ harvesting—prisoners being deliberately killed for their organs.
I endorse members’ comments that capital punishment does not work and is, of course, irreversible. However, I will take a slightly different direction from others by making some comments from a faith perspective. A number of faiths have scriptures that appear to support the death penalty for certain crimes—Christianity, Judaism and Islam among them. However, on closer examination, we see that the Christian faith has both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The former, which is similar to Jewish scripture, includes provision for the death penalty. However, when Jesus was questioned about some of those Old Testament teachings, he said that they had been allowed because of our hardness of heart, and that he now expected a higher standard. He taught that we should be ready to forgive our enemies, including people who have done terrible things to us. Following that kind of teaching, even some survivors of the Holocaust were able to forgive their prison guards and persecutors. Many of us would find that hard to comprehend.
We often hear people say that all that they want is justice. However, that can easily slip into wanting revenge, such as, “I lost my child through murder, so that family should lose theirs, too.” That attitude is, in many ways, understandable, but we do not want our justice system to be like that.
Another angle of Christian teaching is that people can change. In the Bible, we read of Paul, who had been heavily involved in persecuting Christians, who happened also to be Jews. at that time. God met him and changed his whole perspective: he confessed his sin, sought forgiveness and was given new life. At that point, he had metaphorically died from his old life and had been presented with a new one as a free gift.
That is a key reason why I am opposed to the death penalty. Even if someone is hugely evil and has carried out murder or other horrendous crimes, they can change. If we end their life as a punishment—it can be argued that they might deserve that—we remove the opportunity for them to change.
I welcome today’s debate. I deplore use of the death penalty and hope that we will see a continuing reduction in its use throughout the world.
I thank Bill Kidd for this important debate. The notion that someone who has taken a life deserves the loss of their own life might seem to be a fair balance of justice. However, over my lifetime—from the time of capital punishment to there being no death penalty for murder—I have witnessed miscarriages of justice that have proved to be the opposite of quid pro quo.
One of the most harrowing cases that shatters the myth of fair justice is that of Stefan Kiszko, who was arrested and found guilty of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old child. Mr Kiszko was 23 when that crime was carried out. I well remember the case and the fact that, like many other people, I was mighty relieved that the courts jailed Mr Kiszko for that particularly horrendous crime.
Seventeen years later, Mr Kiszko was taken from prison to hospital with a fairly serious illness that required him to undergo a full and thorough examination. Mr Kiszko had been convicted mainly on the basis that his sperm had been left on the victim’s clothing. However, the medical examination discovered that Mr Kiszko, due to his lack of male paraphernalia, did not have, and had never had, the capacity to rape somebody or to produce any sperm. When he was charged, he was aged 23, with the mental and emotional age of a 12-year-old. Had the death penalty been available, that totally innocent person, who in real terms was a child, would have been executed and no one would have been any the wiser. He would have gone.
Mr Kiszko was released when he was 43. Only two people had been convinced that he was innocent—his mother and his lawyer, both of whom had stood by him throughout, right to the end. If anyone still believes in the death sentence after being made aware of that case, I feel only sorrow for them. Unfortunately, Mr Kiszko died 18 months after being released, and was quickly followed by his mother, so neither of them got the benefit of the £500,000 that the state paid because of its errors.
Use of the death sentence had ended just seven years prior to that murder case. Throughout the country, there was much pressure to bring back the death sentence, based on that single case. If Mr Kiszko had been executed, the state would have murdered a completely innocent person who, in real terms, was a child.
As they say in court, I rest my case.
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing the motion to Parliament for debate. I know that the debate was originally to have taken place on 10 October and was delayed. However, every day is a day to focus our attention on the issue, so we are right to debate it today. I thank Bill Kidd for all his work to raise awareness not just of this issue but of all the other issues on which he has mentored me and been an inspiration to me.
The Scottish Government strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of fundamental principle. I say that at the outset in order to make our Government’s position absolutely clear. The death penalty is barbaric and inhumane, and is a grievous violation of human rights. Treatment before and during execution in itself amounts to inhumane and degrading treatment. Joan McAlpine raised the issue of the impact on people who are waiting on death row, which is the usual term that is used.
There is clear evidence from around the world that the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society are disproportionately affected by the death penalty. Bill Kidd, Ruth Maguire, Alex Rowley and Joan McAlpine all highlighted that, but it was most powerfully highlighted in the testimony that we just heard from Gil Paterson, in his words about Stefan Kiszko. We should never forget that name when we talk about the push in some places to bring back the death penalty.
The rights to life and to freedom from torture are protected by the European convention on human rights, under EU law, and by United Nations treaties. The Scottish Government calls on all states to follow the lead of the UK, the EU, the Council of Europe and Scotland. It is time to outlaw the death penalty in every situation.
Many members have highlighted the important work of Amnesty International. In a report that it published in April, it confirmed that, in 2018, 690 executions took place across 20 countries. We are not sure whether that is the real number, but it is the number that Amnesty could get. It is the lowest number that Amnesty has recorded in the past decade, and although we welcome that progress, it is still 690 too many. Sadly, some countries have increased their use of the death penalty, and the number of death sentences remains almost the same as it was in the previous year.
We heard powerful testimony from Bill Kidd about the propensity of some countries to continue child executions, and about the impact on everyone involved.
Nevertheless, campaigning by human rights organisations is making a difference. In 1977, when Amnesty started its work, only 16 countries had totally abolished the death penalty. Now, 106 countries—more than half the world’s countries—have abolished it completely and more than two-thirds are either abolitionist in law or have not carried out an execution in the past 10 years. We should highlight that progress, while remaining mindful that there is always more work to do.
The rights to life and to freedom from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment are bare minimums that we should expect from every country. The abolition of gross human rights abuses such as the death penalty establishes a basic threshold of decency, as we have heard from members, but such action is a bare minimum.
Stewart Stevenson and Alex Rowley said that compassion should be paramount in everything that we do in our justice system. Everyone has a right to live, certainly, but more than that, everyone has a right to live with dignity. That broad approach is shared by the UN’s Committee Against Torture, whose remit goes beyond a narrow focus on conditions in detention to include violence against women and girls, human trafficking and hate crime—areas in which the Scottish Government is taking decisive and world-leading action.
The right to live with dignity means the full realisation of all human rights for all people, equally—not just in Scotland, but across all nations. Alex Rowley reminded us of the words of Pope Francis. Dignity is important in everything that we do.
Members will be aware that the Scottish Government has established a national task force for human rights leadership, of which I am delighted to be a member. We met for the first time just last month and agreed our remit to develop legislation for a human rights framework for Scotland, which will bring internationally recognised human rights into our domestic law. That work really is about leadership. It is about demonstrating that Scotland not only meets its own obligations, but helps to set international standards from which everyone can benefit. I hope that the co-ordinated approach will make a difference.
I reassure John Finnie that our progress towards incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as his valuable and welcome work on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, which will soon become an act, send a clear message to the rest of the world that we are a global leader.
Ruth Maguire made an important point about police training, specifically in Saudi Arabia. Police Scotland’s international activity supports building mutually beneficial partnerships with law enforcement agencies overseas. The training that Ruth Maguire spoke about occurred in 2011, in Scotland, and focused solely on advanced driver and road policing forensic-investigator training programmes. Such activity is in line with the Scottish Government’s international framework, which talks about Scotland
“sharing our knowledge, skills and technical expertise for global good”.
I reassure her that the Scottish Government, as a good global citizen, is committed to securing democracy, the rule of law and human rights across the world.
We expect Police Scotland to carry out due diligence as a matter of course, and to exercise sound judgment in its overseas dealings. The Scottish Government ensures that due diligence has been carried out to assess the human rights credentials of the individuals, organisations or Governments overseas with whom we engage, and we expect other public bodies to take similar account of human rights considerations.
All overseas training that Police Scotland provides undergoes a human rights risk assessment, and Police Scotland ensures that ethics, values, equality and human rights are interwoven throughout all training. We take work into countries that maybe need to hear explanations, in that regard. Police Scotland has not conducted any police training in Saudi Arabia and has no plans to deliver any police training in Saudi Arabia. I hope that that reassures Ruth Maguire.
I will close, Presiding Officer, and meet your deadline on point. The Scottish Government encourages all states to join the general trend towards moratoriums on executions. Indeed, we call on all states to take action within their jurisdictions to entirely abolish the death penalty for any reason.
The debate has provided an important opportunity to record the Scottish Parliament’s views and its condemnation of any and every use of the death penalty. Let us all add our voices to the international campaign to end that barbaric punishment and to outlaw its use in every circumstance and in every nation of the world.