Abolition of the Death Penalty for Some Crimes Symbolic at Best

16/08/2006
Press release

FIDH Fact-Finding Mission Reveals the Need for Further Reforms

The Jordanian Government’s decision to abolish the death penalty for some crimes is a positive but insufficient step, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said today as it released the preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission that visited the country last month. Jordanian Parliament will start deliberations over the proposed amendments during its extraordinary session which started yesterday.

The team, which comprised three human rights lawyers and advocates from Egypt, Lebanon and France, visited Amman from 4-12 July and met with government officials, judges, parliamentarians, lawyers, civil society organizations, journalists, as well as the National Center for Human Rights. The team also visited the death warden of the Swaqa prison and interviewed prisoners who were sentenced to death for criminal or terror-related offences. FIDH is thankful for the authorities’ openness and cooperation during the visit of its delegates.

Following the visit of FIDH’s mission the Jordanian Government announced its intention to refer to Parliament a bill that would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment for some crimes, including the possession of weapons and explosives and drug-related offences, while retaining the death penalty for "the most dangerous crimes". If the death penalty is retained for these crimes it is unlikely that the number of executions will decrease.

FIDH opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, as it contradicts the notion of human dignity and liberty in its essence. The death penalty has now proven its utter uselessness as a deterrent. Neither principles nor utilitarian considerations can justify upholding capital punishment.

In the case of Jordan, FIDH remains concerned that the impact of the government’s decision will remain symbolic at best. According to figures provided to the fact-finding team by Jordanian officials, 41 persons were executed in Jordan since the beginning of 2000, all of whom were convicted for murder, terrorism or sexual assault charges.

FIDH is also concerned that the proposed amendments would leave intact the exceptional State Security Court (SSC), responsible for issuing the majority of death sentences in the past three years. Despite the fact that its rulings are subject to review by the Court of Cassation, the SSC includes military judges and its president is an army officer. Moreover, SSC judges are appointed by an executive order of the Prime Minister in violation of the principles of judicial independence and the separation of powers. The SSC is notorious for its failure to investigate torture allegations and for admitting "confessions" extracted by torture. Abolition of the SSC was recommended by the UN Committee Against Torture back in 1995.

Torture and mistreatment in places of detention in Jordan is another well-documented concern that adds to the necessity of an absolute abolition of the death penalty. Following a mission to Jordan last month, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that "there is general impunity for torture and ill-treatment in Jordan" and that "torture is systematically practiced at both the [General Intelligence Department] and the [Criminal Investigation Department]." The Special Rapporteur also noted that "no functioning complaints mechanism exists to report and seek effective redress for acts of torture."

Also of concern is the fact that rulings by the Court of Cassation to uphold death sentences do not require unanimity. The fact-finding team examined final rulings by the Court of Cassation in which five judges on the same panel upheld the death sentence while the other four judges dissented.

According to the Jordanian Government, 29 prisoners are currently awaiting for their death sentences to be implemented or commuted. All of these prisoners are men and all of them are held at the Swaqa prison visited by the fact-finding team. The FIDH team was able to interview some of these prisoners in private. A consistent complaint concerned the solitary confinement of all prisoners sentenced to death, a requirement under the 2004 Law on Reform and Rehabilitation Centers (Prisons Law). Prisoners are only allowed one hour in the sun everyday and have to spend the rest of their time in small prison cells with extremely poor ventilation under suffocating heat.

Of the prisoners interviewed by the team, two had been sentenced to death after summary proceedings before military courts in 1974 and 1976, respectively. They have therefore been on death row, anticipating execution for over 30 years.
FIDH urges the Jordanian Government to issue a moratorium on executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty. The Government must take measures to consolidate judicial independence, ensure the right to fair trial and abolish all exceptional courts such as the SSC. Immediate steps must be taken to investigate torture allegations adequately and prosecute the perpetrators.

The findings of the mission and more detailed recommendations will be included in a report to be published by FIDH before the end of the year.

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