06 November 2019

S5M-18574 World Day Against the Death Penalty

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The first item of business is a members’ business debate on a motion in the name of Bill Kidd, on world day against the death penalty. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises World Day Against the Death Penalty 2019 on 10 October; considers that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights; notes that Amnesty International’s most recent annual report on the death penalty recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31% compared with 2017, which is the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in the last decade; further notes that most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam in that order; welcomes news that Amnesty International’s overall assessment of the use of the death penalty in 2018 indicates that the global trend is towards its abolition, despite regressive steps from a small number of countries; notes the statement from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in October 2018 calling for all nations to abolish the practice of executions, and stands against the death penalty in all circumstances.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As other members have done, I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing this important debate on the pressing issue of human rights. I also thank my intern, Claire, who joined me last week, whom I asked to look at the subject and write my speaking notes for me.

Despite Scotland being at the forefront of the movement to abolish the death penalty, we should not forget that it was practised in our country until relatively recently. The last execution on Scottish soil was that of Henry John Burnett in 1963, and—as was just referred to—it took until 1998 for the death penalty to be fully abolished under the European convention on human rights. Although we can be proud that injustice of that kind no longer occurs in Scotland, we must not fall into complacency, as we are not yet all free from the threat of the death penalty.

Opposition to the death penalty is based not only on the fact that it is a denial of human rights, but on the fact that it sets a precedent for a more broadly vindictive society. The continued existence of capital punishment forces us to ask what sort of society we wish to live in, and what sort of society we wish to help others to live in. The utilisation of the death penalty creates an authoritarian, brutal and regressive atmosphere that seeps into every part of life.

We must aim for our democracies to set an example to countries that are not democracies of how we should value compassionate justice and choose rehabilitation over retribution. Rehabilitation is difficult if the person who needs to be rehabilitated has been executed.

Such priorities are not about being weak on crime; in fact, they better equip us to reduce it. It is no coincidence that states that still employ the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that uphold the human rights of their citizens. The argument that it provides a deterrent is simply not borne out by the evidence from countries that are—or claim to be—democracies in which the death penalty is still part of the criminal justice system.

Today’s motion cites the trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. We heard that two thirds of countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The tide is turning against the death penalty, as more countries choose to reject such an outright denial and termination of human rights.

In 2018, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly abolished the death penalty, making it the latest of many countries to move away from capital punishment. The European Union has been at the forefront of the fight against the death penalty; not only does it ban it in all member states, but it is the largest donor to anti-death-penalty campaigns. In 2007, it declared 10 October as European day against the death penalty. We in Scotland, and in the UK, share that commitment to protect and ensure the rights of all our citizens.

Although progress is being made every year, as many colleagues referred to, at least 20 countries carried out executions in 2018. As we look to the future, we should rightfully acknowledge, through the motion, the firm support of Scotland—of which we, as a Parliament, are a part—for the abolition of the death penalty.

I hope that we continue to take the time to recognise world day against the death penalty. Let us continue to promote and uphold human rights around the world as we push to eliminate such a cruel punishment from existence.


Stewart Stevenson
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