UK Government to scrap Death Penalty Strategy

August 3, 2015

Image of a shadow of a noose hanging on a cracked wall

The British Government will not renew its Strategy for working to end the death penalty around the world, international human rights organisation Reprieve has been told by the Foreign Office (FCO).

Reprieve also understands that the Government plans to abandon the term ‘countries of concern’ when assessing the human rights records of states such as China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Although a formal written statement has not yet been made, Reprieve has received verbal confirmation from the FCO of the proposed changes, and has written to the Foreign Secretary, urging him to reconsider.

The UK’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty has been in place since 2010, and was last year cited by Foreign Minister David Lidington as the mechanism by which the Government was pursuing its “firm goal” of “global abolition of the death penalty.”

In its letter to Philip Hammond, Reprieve points out that any “retreat from the fight for global abolition” could be “disastrous” at a time when countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are seeing a surge in executions.

Reprieve also notes concerns that UK support for counter-narcotics operations abroad is leading to increased numbers of death sentences for people accused of non-violent drugs offences.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve said:

“At a time when executions in countries around the world are spiking, it is alarming that the Government is ditching its Strategy on the death penalty. With Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran all executing at a rate we haven’t seen for years, the UK’s move will send the wrong signal. The worry is that by doing this, and softening its language on countries which abuse human rights, the Government is seeking to unburden itself of important obligations. It is vital that the Foreign Secretary thinks again.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, or to request a copy of Reprieve’s letter to Philip Hammond, please contact Reprieve’s press office: clemency[DOT]wells[AT]

2. For FCO minister David Lindington’s comments on the death penalty strategy see Hansard, 28 Feb 2014: Column 527W.