Less support for death penalty in North Africa

Unlike West Asia, North Africa has recently given signs it is moving away from capital punishment. The exceptions, however, are Egypt and Libya, which still have the death penalty and voted against the three UN General Assembly resolutions on a capital punishment moratorium adopted in 2007, 2008 and 2010. In Libya, at least 18 persons were executed in 2010.

A de facto moratorium has been observed since 1991 in Tunisia and since 1993 in Algeria and Morocco. Algeria was a co-sponsor of the three UN Resolutions. Morocco and Tunisia were less enthusiastic but not negative about them. Indeed, Tunisia chose not to attend the vote in order to avoid abstaining and voting ‘no’. The Tunisian government said it was simply not ready to adopt a more courageous attitude toward the moratorium. Morocco abstained.

The governments of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have always argued that their societies are not ready to accept the abolition of death penalty. It is true that the readiness of these societies for a total abolition remains questionable, but nothing has been done to change this situation. Neither the media nor the parliament has opened a public debate to enhance awareness of the issue and its problems among people. Indeed, the ‘not ready’ argument has been always an excuse for passivity and inertia. Moreover, the North African governments have not been tolerant enough of NGOs fighting against death penalty, which have had to struggle to get access to the public to plead their cause.

Tunisian model

However, with the political situation in the region now radically different, prospects for the abolition of death penalty are likely to improve considerably. Indeed, the peaceful Tunisian revolution which put an end to Ben Ali’s dictatorship on January 14 has become a model that has spread throughout the region. Political reforms, including the enhancement of human rights, have risen to the top of the agenda. This would be sure to help the abolitionist movement in the region because it will have more liberty to act and to campaign against death penalty.

Furthermore, the promises of the Tunisian revolution are likely to be trustworthy. Just days after taking power in mid-January, the Tunisian government that was formed after the failure of Ben Ali’s regime made numerous revolutionary decisions, all intended to consolidate human rights. On February 19, Tunisia became a member of the International Criminal Court and ratified the International Convention protecting persons against forced disappearance. In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture will be able to accept individual claims against the Tunisian government after the first Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture have been adopted.
It is true that the second Optional Protocol to the 1966 Covenant aiming at abolishing the death penalty has not been adopted yet, but there is no doubt now that human rights are at the top of the political and civil actors’ agenda in Tunisia. Probably the interim government chose not to make this decision in order to give the next government, which will be selected in upcoming elections, the opportunity to launch a large debate on the issue.

In Egypt, the end of Mubarak’s regime on February 11 has raised major hopes for more respect of human rights in general and specifically the right to life. Indeed, the uprising that has spread through the region since the success of the Tunisian revolution has highlighted the importance of democracy and human rights. The genuine commitment of the new political and social actors who have carried out this uprising will lead to more courageous decisions regarding capital punishment.

Still, a total abolition would not be easy to push through in all North African countries. In Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, abolition of death penalty seems to be a mere question of time. The new regime in Egypt will at least restrain from the use of the death penalty and adopt a de facto moratorium like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

While in Libya the situation remains unclear, observers agree that nothing will continue as before and that the future Libyan regime will certainly display more respect for human rights and so likely follow the regional trend of diminished tolerance for the death penalty.

IPS

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