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 John Finnie John Finnie Green

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.