Today, on the European and World Day Against the Death Penalty, my thoughts are very particularly with the people who have been sentenced to death and will be or have been executed for their work for democracy and human rights, as well as with their families.
More and more countries are recognising that the death penalty is a cruel and inhumane form of punishment. Over the last fifty years more than one hundred states have abolished the death penalty, most recently Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea, whom I would like to congratulate on taking this step.
However, while there is a global trend towards abolition or moratoriums, there is also an illiberal countermovement. The number of executions worldwide has thus risen again over the last year. China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria execute particularly large numbers of people. In January, Belarus extended the death sentence to attempted acts of terrorism. This must be seen in the context of the violent suppression of protests in the country. Numerous activists have since been handed this charge. In July, the military junta in Myanmar had prominent representatives of the democratic opposition executed. In August, Iran handed down death sentences to two activists for gay and lesbian rights: Zahra Sedighi-Hamedani and Elham Chobdar.
Germany opposes the death penalty under all circumstances and campaigns worldwide for its abolition. From 15 to 18 November, Berlin will become the temporary abolition capital. The 8th World Congress Against the Death Penalty will bring together members of government and civil society from over 90 countries in Berlin – including ministers, activists, lawyers, artists and family members of death row inmates.
I hope that this Congress will enable us to launch new initiatives for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Today I would like to thank the many human rights defenders who are working to make this goal possible.