We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

World Day Against the Death Penalty

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

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.