'Ruthless' Middle East dominate execution toll: Amnesty

Paris, France: Despite an overall decline during the Covid-19 pandemic, four Middle Eastern nations, led by Iran, used the death penalty "ruthlessly and chillingly" in 2020, dominating the global toll of executions, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

The London-based rights group documented 483 executions in 18 countries worldwide last year, a decrease of 26% from the 657 recorded in 2019 and the lowest number in a decade.

According to the survey, MENA countries account for four of the top five executioners in the world.

Except for China, which is thought to execute thousands each year, Iran (246+), Egypt (107+), Iraq (45+), and Saudi Arabia (27) accounted for 88 percent of all confirmed executions carried out worldwide in 2020.

Amnesty International's study excludes China, which it claims is the "world's leading executioner," with thousands executed each year, but the data is classified as a "state secret."

"The year 2020 was marked by a further global decline in the use of the death penalty, and while the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to reductions in the number of executions carried out and death sentences imposed, it also exacerbated the inherent cruelty of this punishment," Amnesty said.

"Throughout 2020 countries from the Middle East and North Africa displayed a ruthless and chilling persistence in carrying out plans to put people to death even during a year when most of the world was focussed on protecting people's lives from a deadly virus," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Also read | Major NGO Amnesty halts India operations alleging government’s ‘witch hunt’

The number of executions reported in the Middle East dropped by 25%, owing to an 85 percent decrease in recorded executions in Saudi Arabia and a more than half reduction in executions in Iraq.

The paper, however, noted an "important increase" in reported executions in Egypt, which more than tripled to 107 last year from 32 in 2019.

Iran carried out at least 246 executions, maintaining its role as the region's most prolific consumer of capital punishment and the world's second after China.

According to Amnesty International, "the death penalty has increasingly been used as a means of political repression against activists, demonstrators, and members of ethnic minority groups" in Iran.

According to the study, some of those executed this year belonged to Iran's Kurdish and Baluchi minorities.

Meanwhile, Iran continued to use the death penalty on citizens under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, in contravention of international law, it said, citing three such cases.

Unfair trials

The rate of executions is even more concerning considering that the death penalty is often used in MENA following trials that do not meet international fair trial requirements, Amnesty said in its report. 

People in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continued to be executed or sentenced to death in 2020 for actions that should not be criminalized and other offenses that do not reach the level of most serious crimes, i.e. targeted killings, as mandated by international law.

At least 23 of the 107 people executed in Egypt were sentenced to death for political violence following grossly unjust trials marred by forced "confessions" and other severe human rights abuses, such as torture and enforced disappearances, the NGO says. 

Following a security incident involving death row prisoners in the infamous al-Aqrab prison in September, the number of executions in Egypt increased dramatically.

“Use of the death penalty is abhorrent in all circumstances and its prolific use in MENA is alarming because of the frequency with which it is applied after flawed convictions based on confessions extracted through torture or other ill-treatment,” said Heba Morayef.

As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice.

Amnesty under fire

Meanwhile, the coveted international NGO has recently come under the fire after reports of micro-aggression and racism surfaced from within its employees, including allegations of white privilege.

According to an internal review of its secretariat, Amnesty International has a culture of white privilege, with cases of blatant prejudice such as senior staff using the N-word and micro-aggressive behavior such as brushing black colleagues' hair, the Guardian reported

It came after eight current and former Amnesty International UK (AIUK) staff outlined their own encounters with racial discrimination and released a statement calling on senior figures to resign.

One of the whistleblowers, Katherine Odukoya, said: “We joined Amnesty hoping to campaign against human rights abuses but were instead let down through realizing that the organization actually helped perpetuate them.”

Also read | In a first, Amnesty International calls for global appeal over rising anti-human rights agenda

Representatives from both branches of the UK-based human rights organization apologized and promised to make improvements, with AIUK's director citing "the painful fact that we have not been good enough."

According to Amnesty Internationa's Secretariat review of the situations, the following issues came up:

1. When colleagues protested about senior staff using the N-word and the P-word, they were labeled as too sensitive.

2. Systemic racism includes black staff's tendency to be challenged repeatedly and without explanation, as well as minority ethnic staff, feeling disempowered and sidelined on ventures.

3. A lack of knowledge or sensitivity to religious beliefs, which results in inappropriate statements and actions.

4. Aggressive and dismissive behavior, particularly over email and frequently directed at employees in offices in the global south.

“There’s a hegemonic white middle-class culture that seemed to be protected and reproduced. White privilege was pervasive,” Katherine Odukoya said. 

Odukoya described colleagues at AIUK commenting on her hair and asking to touch it, as well as making disparaging remarks about her "urban" accent and referring to her as the "black kid."

An apparent irony to the NGO, Amnesty International's workplace was revealed to be "toxic" in February 2019.

A corporate culture study, commissioned after two employees committed suicide in 2018, discovered systematic bullying.
With AFP inputs. 

Share this story