by Paul Godfrey
In 2007, the United Nations adopted a resolution to move towards the universal abolition of the death penalty. In less than a decade since this resolution was adopted, recent statistics produced by Amnesty International show that 140 countries, or two-thirds of the countries worldwide, are abolitionist either in law or practice. The Maldives counts as one of those countries as it is more than 62 years – a lifetime some might say – since anybody has been executed.
Unfortunately, there is a serious risk that next time the statistics are produced, the Maldives will have joined the minority of countries that impose this cruel punishment. The government has justified its move to resume executions as a deterrent to serious crimes. But there is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Indeed, there is conclusive evidence that the murder rates are consistently lower in countries that do not have the death penalty lower than those that do have it.
The government has justified its move also on religious grounds. But Islam is a religion of peace, where compassion is valued. Many Muslim scholars have opposed the use of the Death Penalty and many Islamic countries, such as Morocco and Turkey, do not practice it. The Maldives itself has been an Islamic country for more than 800 years, does it make it more Islamic now to turn back the clock to the age of when the state elected to kill its own citizens?
Another serious problem in the Maldives is the reliability of the judgements made by the courts. The new penal code that is in accordance with Islamic Sharia and respects universal human rights came into effect in the Maldives in July 2015. But recent cases in which the death penalty was confirmed by the Supreme Court seem to be at odds with the new code. Article 1204 of the penal code prescribes the conditions under which the death penalty can be implemented. It clearly outlines the elements of the case – the proof required, the use of confessions, and the evidence requirement – that should be fulfilled beyond reasonable doubt in order for a death sentence to be handed down. Clearly, it is critical that these safeguards are respected as any miscarriage of justice will be irreversible.
The Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for three individuals, Hussain Humaam Ahmed, Ahmed Murrath and Mohamed Nabeel. Their cases have raised serious concerns about irregularities and due process. These concerns include that the defendant's claims of coercion were ignored by the courts, claims of mental illness that have not been investigated, and requests from victim's family to postpone the execution being ignored.
At present, the lack of confidence in due process means that the risk of the execution of an innocent man or woman is greater than ever. The European Union urges His Excellency President Yameen and his government to consider the risk of taking an innocent life and to maintain the Maldives' proud and impressive history of not having executed anyone since the 1950s. The moratorium should be a stepping stone to the Maldives joining those nations who have completely abolished the death penalty.
Editor's Note: Paul Godfrey is Chargé d’Affaires of the European Union delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.