The latest swathe of botched executions in the US has once again made headlines across the Atlantic Ocean, with British newspapers expressing outrage at the barbarity of capital punishment and the way it is administered. A particularly thoughtful piece appeared in GQ magazine, in which it was asked whether it really matters whether or not a person suffers when being put to death--surely it is the killing that is wrong, and not just the method of killing. The British Government shares this view, condemning the imposition of death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the 'humaneness' of the execution.
Abolitionist states can do more than just shake their heads and express their outrage at executions, though. The European Commission has been proactive in ensuring that European states do not inadvertently facilitate the use of the death penalty elsewhere, and has imposed export controls on the drugs that are used in lethal injections. The number of executions in the US has plummeted as a result, with states struggling to get hold of the drugs that they need to kill death row inmates.
Germany has taken further steps to ensure that it is not complicit in the use of the death penalty. German authorities have recently withheld evidence from US military investigators in a homicide case involving military personnel in a base near Kaiserslautern. Staff Sergeant Sean Oliver was charged in March with the murder of Petty Officer 2nd Class Dmitry Chepusov, but German police have held on to crucial bits of evidence, stating that they will not cooperate until there is a guarantee that no death sentence will be imposed as a result of the investigation.
If the Germans are to be applauded for taking a principled stance in stopping the machinery of death from working, then unfortunately the same cannot be said for those states that seem to turn a blind eye to death sentences. Take the case of Andargachew Tsege. A British passport-holder, and resident of the UK, Tsege is currently being held by Ethiopian authorities in Addis Ababa on terrorism-related charges that carry the threat of execution.
Tsege, who was born and brought up in Ethiopia, has been openly critical of the Ethiopian regime, and has lived in the UK as a political refugee since 1979. He is Secretary-General of the Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy, which is an opposition party that has been outlawed by the Ethiopian government. In 2009, he was tried by an Ethiopian court and sentenced to death for an alleged coup attempt. He was tried again in 2012 on terrorism charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. On both occasions, Tsege was not present in court and so was unable to present a defence, but there is scant evidence that he is guilty of the crimes that he has been accused of.
On June 23, 2014, while in transit in Yemen, Tsege was stopped by Yemeni authorities who promptly extradited him to Ethiopia in violation of international law. He is at risk of multiple human rights abuses, including torture, an unfair trial and, perhaps most serious of all, execution.
As a British passport-holder, the UK is in a position to exert pressure on Ethiopian authorities to release Tsege, or at the very least ensure that Tsege is not subjected to any human rights violations and is spared the death penalty. A prominent Member of the European Parliament has written to the Foreign Secretary to implore him to do all he can to ensure the return of Tsege to his partner and children in London. While the UK generally has a good record for assisting its nationals abroad who face the death penalty, a spokesman for Ginbot 7 has accused the British Government of dragging its heels in this case. According to Ephrem Madebo, UK authorities knew about Tsege's abduction and extradition for almost a week before they acted on the information.
At the time of writing, we can only hope that the UK will follow Germany's lead and take steps to stop the death penalty from being imposed. You can take steps to compel the British authorities to use their power, and on Friday 1st August, 2014, there is a planned peaceful protest outside the Foreign Office to call for Tsege's release.
And if Tsege is eventually executed, bear in mind that he won't die by lethal injection. Ethiopia currently uses a firing squad instead. It has been argued by a judge in the US that firing squads are a more efficient means of execution, and the evidence suggests that there is less scope for error and botched executions. But of course the real question is not how we should kill, but whether we should kill at all, and whether we should sit back and allow other states to kill.