Britain has begun the year by abandoning its strategy on the death penalty which had been in place since 2010, as executions in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan hit record numbers.
Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 47 people, including at least four protesters, on 2 January. 2015 saw the kingdom execute at least 157 people, according to estimates by international human rights organization Reprieve – believed to be the highest total for two decades.
Meanwhile, Pakistan executed over 300 people since lifting a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, and Iran executed nearly 1000 people in 2015. At least 600 of those hanged in Iran last year were convicted of drugs offences, the highest total for 16 years.
The UK Government announced last year that it would not be renewing its Strategy on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in 2016. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also said it would no longer use the term ‘countries of concern’ when assessing states’ human rights records. China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – the world’s most prolific executioners – were all classified as ‘countries of concern’ in the FCO’s most recent ‘Human Rights and Democracy Report’ (2014).
Reprieve has also questioned why Saudi Arabia was absent from the list of priority countries in the now-defunct death penalty strategy, despite the inclusion of the other most prolific executioners – Iran, Iraq, China, Pakistan and the USA – as well as a number of other countries, such as Jordan and Morocco, which execute at a far lower rate.
Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at international human rights organisation Reprieve said: “With Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan all executing at a horrific rate, now is not the time for the UK to be abandoning its strategy on the death penalty. Taken alongside the decision to stop classifying serious human rights offenders such as Saudi Arabia as ‘countries of concern’, this raises suspicions that a desire to avoid embarrassing Britain’s ‘allies’ has taken precedence over standing up for basic British principles. The Government’s softly-softly approach to Saudi Arabia does not seem to be working – it is time for a re-think.”
* Reprieve http://www.reprieve.org.uk/