Saddam hanging farce leads to new global push against death penalty

By staff writers
January 8, 2007

Human rights, religious and civic political activists are stepping up the global campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, in the wake of overwhelming worldwide criticism of the manner and impact of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s execution.

On Saturday 6 January 2007 the mayor of Rome lit up the historic Colosseum to highlight Italy's support for an international ban on the death penalty. The Vatican, Amnesty International and many church bodies have renewed similar calls.

Italy has also begun a diplomatic pushed to have the issue taken up by the United Nations General Assembly after discussions with the Holy See.

Yesterday the new United Nations secretary general, Ban ki-Moon called on Iraq to implement a stay of execution on co-defendants Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar – who were convicted along with Saddam Hussein for their part in the murder of 148 Shia Muslims in the Iraqi village of Dujail in the 1980s.

As the Iraqi government special tribunal’s trial of ex-Baathists continued today, genocide charges against Saddam were formally dropped. Kurds and others are furious that in the rush to hang him the full extent of his crimes were not exposed in a courtroom, albeit a deeply flawed one according to the majority of international lawyers.

“It was most unpleasant to see this on television, even with the knowledge of what Saddam had done to others,” said the Rt Rev John Gladwin, the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, of the hanging of Saddam.

He continued: “Maybe it will raise in the public mind how offensive and morally unacceptable this form of justice is. The element of forgiveness central to Christianity is lost in execution. It is degrading to the people who have to do it and it degrades the society that requires it.”

The Rt Rev John Packer, Anglican Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, took a similarly robust line: “The whole business of humiliating a human being in this way can only lead to increased disrespect and increased violence. The photographs of the execution seem inappropriate.”

The Vatican has denounced the execution as “tragic” and said it was unlikely to help efforts to reconcile Iraqi society.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams told BBC last week: “I’m not a believer in the death penalty as a general principle… I think that Saddam Hussein is manifestly someone who has committed grave crimes against his own people and grave breaches of international law. I think he deserve[d] punishment, and sharp and unequivocal punishment… but I would say of him what I have to say about anyone who’s committed even the most appalling crimes in this country; that I believe the death penalty effectively says ‘there is no room for change or repentance’.”

Meanwhile President Bush’s key ally, British PM Tony Blair, has continued to refuse calls for him to criticise the barbaric and humiliating manner of Saddam’s execution – which have been described as “totally unacceptable” by his deputy, John Prescott.

Pressure was added when UK chancellor Gordon Brown, who has designs n the premiership when Blair resigns later this year, described the way the Iraqi dictator was hanged as "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable".

Brown added that the manner of Saddam Hussein's death would do nothing to ease the tension between Sunnis and Shias. Several Sunni Arab countries have criticised the hanging as sectarian. Libya has melodramatically pledged to build a statue to Saddam, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says it has turned the former leader into a martyr.

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