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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 20:32 GMT 21:32 UK

World: Europe

Amnesty urges end to death penalty

Death chamber in the Philippines - one of Amnesty's targets

By World Affairs correspondent Nick Childs

Check the main points of Amnesty's report region by region:

  • Africa

  • Americas

  • Asia-Pacific

  • Europe

  • Middle East

    Amnesty International, has called for a worldwide ban on the use of the death penalty to mark the year 2000. Releasing its annual report on human rights abuses on Wednesday, it said 36 countries carried out judicial executions in 1998.

    [ image: Pierre Sane says there is an international momentum towards stopping executions]
    Pierre Sane says there is an international momentum towards stopping executions
    The report also details what Amnesty says were human rights abuses in 142 countries over the past year, including torture and ill treatment by security agencies in 125 states, the detention of prisoners of conscience in 78, and cases of so-called "disappeared" individuals in 37 states.

    But the focus of the report are the judicial executions which occurred in 36 countries last year - including in the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, and Sierra Leone.

    Amnesty's Secretary-General, Pierre Sane, says these were carried out in the face of an increasing international momentum towards abolishing the death penalty.

    The report singles out the United States as the only country known to have executed juvenile offenders in 1998. Amnesty is calling for a permanent ban on the death penalty for the year 2000.

    [ image: The death penalty arouses strong emotions for and against]
    The death penalty arouses strong emotions for and against
    According to the report, 1998 did see historic steps limiting the impunity to carry out human rights abuses. It called the detention of the former Chilean President General Pinochet in Britain last October a "defining moment", and the agreement to establish a permanent International Criminal Court "a historic event".

    But Mr Sane says governments must now follow up these developments with a real commitment to bringing about lasting improvements.

    Another Amnesty official, Executive Director William Schulz, says the use of the Internet has increased the awareness of human rights abuses around the world and increased participation in human rights organizations.

    The main points region by region

    In Africa, Amnesty says the first judgments announced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in cases of people accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide, were a positive development.

    But it says the Great Lakes region continues to be a theatre of widespread human rights abuses, with hundreds of unarmed civilians deliberately and arbitrarily killed by security forces.

    In the Americas, Amnesty says torture, ill-treatment and murder by police and security forces, and groups acting with their support, continued to be rife in parts of the region.

    According to Amnesty, the decision by Trinidad and Tobago to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights was a serious backward step, and it bemoaned what it said were moves by some countries such as the Bahamas to facilitate executions.

    It also highlights what it says were abuses by the United States, including the unfair and racist use of the death penalty.

    According to Amnesty, Asia saw some positive developments in 1998, including the release of long-term political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and East Timor.

    And there was, it says, a landmark judgment in Sri Lanka in which five security force members were found guilty of murder, rape, and causing disappearances.

    But it also bemoans new moves against dissidents in China, Malaysia's actions against the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his associates, and detentions of trades unionists in South Korea following public protests and strikes.

    Amnesty says racial and ethnic tensions continued to play a major role in human rights violations in parts of Europe, and it chronicles what it says were hundreds of human rights violations against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as a prelude to the conflict which followed.

    It highlights racially-motivated assaults by police officers in a number of countries, including Spain and Portugal, and reports of ill-treatment in Germany, France and Switzerland, where many victims were members of ethnic minorities or asylum seekers.

    On a positive note, it says, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania abolished the death penalty.

    Turning to the Middle East, Amnesty says Syria released hundreds of political prisoners, and Kuwait and Morocco released large numbers too. It says the level of violence in Algeria, while still high, seemed lower than in the previous year.

    But executions were carried out in at least 12 countries, and several hundred people remained under sentence of death, including in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And there was continued torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, including in Egypt, Israel and the occupied territories.

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    Internet Links

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