India: First executions in five years condemned

Press release
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(New Delhi, Paris) India’s execution by hanging early this morning of four men in Tihar prison in New Delhi, after five years without executions, is a step in the wrong direction and must be strongly condemned, FIDH and its member organization People’s Watch said today.

In 2013, the four men – Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh – were found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a young woman in a New Delhi bus in 2012, and sentenced to death. Their executions were postponed several times, as the defendants exercised all legal remedies available to them. The case drew much-needed attention to the widespread trend of sexual and gender-based violence in India.

“By not carrying out any executions for the past five years, the Indian authorities were taking steps towards joining the list of countries that were making progress towards the abolition of the death penalty. This morning’s executions are a step in the wrong direction, which do nothing to effectively address the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in India.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary General

FIDH and People’s Watch are particularly concerned that rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence continue to occur at an alarming rate in India, without substantive efforts being undertaken by the authorities to increase proven methods to reduce these crimes.

“No matter how heinous the crime is, the death penalty is never the answer. The only way to reduce rape and sexual violence is by strengthening the criminal justice system, and introducing measures that aim at eliminating impunity for perpetrators and facilitating the reporting of sexual crimes to the authorities.”

Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch Executive Director

In 2018, the Indian Parliament approved a Cabinet ordinance that introduced the death penalty for cases of rape of girls under the age of 12, increasing the number of offenses punishable by the death penalty to 54.

In 2015, the Law Commission of India recommended the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes, except terrorism-related offenses and waging war. In addition, during its consultations, a general consensus emerged among members of the Law Commission that courts were unable to adopt a fair and non-discriminatory approach to the death penalty.

India is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees right to life and requires a progression towards the abolition of the death penalty. However, during its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India in May 2017, the Indian government refused to accept all the recommendations it received with regard to the abolition of the death penalty. The government also voted against the 2018 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution in favor of a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

In 2019, courts in India imposed 102 death sentences, bringing the total number of prisoners on death row to 378 by the end of December 2019. No executions took place in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 and the last execution in the country, prior to this morning’s executions, was carried out in 2015.

FIDH, a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and a member of the WCADP Steering Committee, and People’s Watch reiterate their strong opposition to the death penalty for all crimes and in all circumstances.

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