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Photo by Lilly Marfy

Developments on the Death Penalty in Jordan

In mid-June 2012, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty organized its 10th annual General Assembly, hosted by Penal Reform International in Amman, Jordan. This General Assembly focused on the progress made, existing challenges and strategies towards the abolition of the death penalty in the Middle East, North Africa and abroad. There were over 130 civil society organizations in attendance, including the Jordanian media and a number of non-profit and non-governmental organizations. The topics discussed as crucial for the coming years included: “1. the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly moratorium resolution on the death penalty (set to be discussed December 2012); 2. steps towards developing and adopting an Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights on abolition of the death penalty; 3. the SAFE California Campaign and abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut.”

The General Assembly was opened by the Secretary General of the Jordanian Ministry of Justice, Judge Dr. Mustafa al-Assaf, who discussed the progress that Jordan has made toward the abolition of the death penalty, as well as the challenges that remain. Jordan is a retentionist state, meaning that the state retains capital punishment for certain crimes and has carried out executions within the last ten years (the last execution took place in March 2006).  Nevertheless, courts continue to impose death sentences as a form of punishment, as demonstrated by the 74 Jordanians currently under sentence of death (including seven Jordanians sentenced to death just this year)—all for crimes involving premeditated murder. In recent years, the Jordanian Penal Code has been amended to limit the number of crimes for which the death penalty can be applied. At present, the following crimes are punishable by death: murder, rape (of a girl under 15), some drug-related offenses, espionage, treason and terrorism.

At the latest United Nations General Assembly session in 2010, Jordan abstained from voting on a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Jordan’s abstention, taken together with its decision not to carry out any executions for the last six years, indicates that the government may be moving toward abolition of capital punishment.

Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, political change has brought renewed scrutiny of the death penalty. Thus far, however, none of the newly elected democratic governments have moved definitively to abolish the death penalty. In Jordan, the hiatus in executions provides an opportunity for reflection on whether the death penalty is a deterrent, whether its practice is consistent with international standards and whether a society moving towards a more liberated present can afford to retain this practice.