"If the death penalty is not a deterrent, and it is not, and if the death penalty does not make us safer, and it does not, then it is only high-cost revenge."
These words could easily have come from me or one of my colleagues at Amnesty International. We have after all been campaigning for abolition since the 1970s because we view capital punishment as the ultimate cruel and inhuman form of punishment.
But the quote actually comes from Charles M. Harris -- a senior judge in Florida, one of only nine states in the United States to carry out death sentences in 2012.
Thankfully, Harris's view is far from unique. Today, Amnesty International is releasing its annual report on death penalty statistics across the globe. Once again, we have seen the world move, slowly but surely, closer to becoming death penalty-free. Only 21 countries were recorded as having carried out executions last year, down from 28 a decade ago.
A longer perspective makes the change even more striking. When we first started campaigning for abolition of the death penalty 35 years ago, the world's 16 abolitionist countries were a clear minority. Now, 97 countries have completely abolished the death penalty in law, while 140 in total are de facto death penalty free.
In 2012, we saw progress in all regions of the world.
Latvia fully abolished the death penalty; Benin and Mongolia took clear legal steps in this direction; the governments of Ghana and Sierra Leone turned their backs on capital punishment; long-term executioners Vietnam or Singapore did not carry out any executions; Connecticut became the 17th abolitionist U.S. state. With the exceptions of Belarus and the United States, Europe and the Americas remained execution-free.
In short: the trend is clear.
But it is not all good news. There were some extremely disappointing developments last year, which highlighted how the death penalty is still an ever-present risk unless fully abolished in law.
In Asia, we saw India, Japan and Pakistan all carrying out executions for the first time in years. In November 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was suddenly hanged -- it was the first execution in India since 2004. In Pakistan, the military authorities put a soldier to death in November -- the first execution in more than four years.
In Africa, Gambia carried out its first death sentences in almost three decades when eight men and one woman were shot by firing squad on the same day in August. President Yahya Jammeh first said that all death sentences would be "carried out to the letter," but backtracked following an international outcry and announced a "conditional" moratorium on executions which would be "automatically lifted" if crime rates increased.
Iraq carried out almost twice as many executions in 2012 as the year before, and has replaced Saudi Arabia as the third biggest executioner in the world, after China and Iran.
Equally worrying is that the use of the death penalty often appears to be motivated more by politics than anything else.
In several countries that executed in 2012 there is evidence that leaders use the death penalty to show they are tough on crime -- a shocking way to play with people's lives.
The death penalty is also often used as just another tool of outright repression. In July 2012, Iran sentenced five men to death for "enmity against God" -- a charge aimed against those threatening the central government with armed violence, but in practice often used against anybody associated with banned organizations. All five were activists from the long-suppressed Ahwazi Arab minority, and had been arrested in the run-up to planned demonstrations.
Another example is Sudan, which together with Gambia is responsible for a rise in reported executions and death sentences in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012; death sentences in Sudan were imposed against real or perceived political opposition activists.
Other governments cling to alleged public support for the death penalty as a way to justify executions. But not only are there indications that this popular support is wafer thin across much of the world, this argument also ignores the fact that the death penalty is a human rights violation; governments should be engaging the public on abolition, in order to promote and protect the right to life.
The death penalty is the premeditated, judicially sanctioned killing, by the state, of a human being. It is, in fact, the ultimate denial of human rights. The use of such calculated violence in the name of justice stains any society.
Laurence Lien, a member of parliament from Singapore, summed this up well when he said: "It is not just about our criminal justice system, which we also want to be proportionate and restorative; it is about the type of society that we want to build -- a society that values every person and every human life, and one that doesn't give up on its people."
Our message to the minority of governments that still execute is the same -- the death penalty is cruel and inhuman; it cannot be defended, and in retaining it you are out of step with the rest of the world. We hope that, one year from now, we'll be able to look back on even more governments accepting that obvious truth.