Is Britain doing enough to oppose unjust executions?

Use of the death penalty surged to a 25-year high in 2015, according to Amnesty International

David Cameron and the King Salman meet for talks at the G20 Summit.David Cameron and the King of Saudi Arabia Salman meet for talks at the G20 Summit.

 

More people were executed in 2015 than at any time in the last quarter-century, according to an Amnesty International report, published today.

The report finds that, across 25 countries, at least 1,634 people were executed across 25 countries, an increase of more than 50 per cent from 2014. Since the number of executions carried out in China is not known, the true figure is likely to be substantially higher.

The shift is driven by increased use of the death penalty in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, including for offences that do not meet the threshold for ‘most serious crimes’.

The figures have already been used to criticise the UK’s failure to strongly oppose use of the death penalty by it’s allies. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, commented:

“We’re worried that the government has started soft-pedaling over foreign countries’ use of the death penalty, preferring to prioritise trade with countries like China, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.”

Until recently the UK’s policy of seeking global abolition of capital punishment had a clear focus and strategy. Now the death penalty’s been thrown into the pot with other concerns and it’s much harder to tell whether the government is prioritising this life-and-death matter.

These criticisms come a day after the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee reported a clear perception that human rights have been deprioritised by the government.

‘The actions and words of Ministers in the Foreign Office have undermined the excellent human rights work carried out by the Department.’ commented Committee chairman Crispin Blunt.

He recommended that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be ‘more mindful of the perceptions it creates at Ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security—as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.’

Commenting yesterday, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, said:

‘Tory ministers need to realise that Britain’s standing in the world is diminished if we fail to speak out against the death penalty and abuses of the rule of law or fail to speak up for the rights and freedoms that all human beings are entitled to. David Cameron should be using Britain’s influence to stand up to repressive regimes rather than letting human rights slip down his Government’s list of priorities.’

In particular, the government has been intensely criticised over its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has executed 82 people since January, having used the death penalty 158 times in 2015.

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