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World Day against the Death Penalty, 10 October 2020. © FPS Foreign Affairs
This year too, the international day against the death penalty on 10 October provided a unique opportunity to draw attention to the horror of the death penalty. The theme this year was torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment possibly accompanying the death penalty.
Priority of the Belgian human rights policy
Fighting the death penalty is a priority of the Belgian human rights policy. There are more than enough reasons for this. For example, it has not been convincingly demonstrated that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime. Moreover, the chance that a court sentences an innocent person to be executed can never be excluded. That is why the death penalty is experienced as a serious violation of human rights and human dignity.
In Belgium, the last execution in peace time took place in 1863. The abolition of the death penalty has also been embedded in the law since 1996, which was also finally reflected in the constitution. It applies to all crimes committed in all situations, including times of war.
Internationally, Belgium supports the EU which also firmly positions itself as an unequivocal antagonist of the death penalty, although we go even one step further in this regard. For example, our country is a member of a number of international coalitions that defend the abolition of the death penalty, one of which is the International Commission against the Death Penalty.
Belgium, together with like-minded countries, regularly puts forward a resolution relating to the death penalty in the UN Human Rights Council. For example, in 2013, the human rights of children of parents sentenced to death or executed were at issue. The most recent resolution in 2021 focused on the theme of transparency. We also support resolutions regarding a moratorium on the death penalty in the UN General Assembly.
In 2019, our country organised the 7th World Congress against the Death Penalty, which is a triennial event bringing together hundreds of people from all levels of society opposed to the death penalty, in Brussels. The driving force behind the World Congress is the NGO "Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort" (ECMP). An ECMP project in DR Congo receives Belgian aid. The 8th World Congress is taking place in Berlin from 15 to 18 November 2022 in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib.
Eighteen countries performed executions in 2021
All these efforts continue to be more than necessary. According to a report by Amnesty International, 55 countries are still holding on to the death penalty. Eighteen of those countries actually performed executions in 2021. In 2021, the NGO counted a total of 579 executions, excluding China - this is a 20% rise compared to 2020. The top 5 executing countries are China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
But that does actually mean that 175 of the 193 member states did not perform any executions in 2021. So there continues to be an unmistakeable worldwide trend towards abolishing the death penalty. Therefore, a world without the death penalty does lie on the horizon. Yet, the increase in the number of executions in 2021 compared to 2020 indicates that we may not let off on our efforts. Therefore, our country will continue to aim to achieve total abolition of the death penalty, anywhere in the world.
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