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World Day Against the Death Penalty

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

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Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

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.