Britain's campaign to see capital punishment abolished globally and its pledge to exercise moral leadership on this issue reflects a long standing philosophical commitment to this doctrine. The United Kingdom’s strategy highlighted by the British Foreign Office, through its embassies worldwide on the “World Day Against the Death Penalty” (October 10), draws upon its own record of abolition since 1965. Britain is working towards a a global moratorium on executions by 2015. The key objectives of the policy are the protection of British citizens overseas facing the death sentence, extradition of accused persons to countries without the risk of execution, and exerting influence on third parties to refrain from carrying out sentences in important cases. Accordingly, the strategy is to get the hardline states to reduce the number of offences that attract this penalty, while encouraging incremental steps towards a total abolition. These include refraining from executing juveniles, pregnant women and the insane, besides guaranteeing the right to fair trial, appeal, and seek a pardon or commutation. In addition, pressure will be mounted on the United Nations for getting another resolution passed by the General Assembly on global moratorium.
The results so far speak for themselves. Over the past decade, 22 countries have scrapped this ultimate punishment with the number of abolitionist states now standing at 95 including the entire European continent except Belarus. Retentionist countries are down to 58, but impressive changes have been recorded here too. In China, the Supreme People’s Court now requires this harshest penalty to be issued only in extreme cases, and death by firing squads is soon to be replaced by lethal injection. In the United States, the Supreme Court is to rule on the constitutionality of lethal injection in the context of the 8th Amendment. Some 35 countries have imposed a moratorium on executions. Russia represents an outstanding example; the constitutional court having indefinitely extended in 2009 the freeze on carrying out sentences. As for India, a declaration of a moratorium would be a realistic next step after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1980 that a death sentence can be given only if the alternative of a life sentence is unquestionably foreclosed. Vigorous steps need to be taken to lay out a global consensus on the elimination of the death penalty from the statute books of nations.