World Day Against the Death Penalty: Women on death row face despicable discrimination

Women on death row have, in many cases, been denied justice for the prolonged physical and sexual violence and abuse they have suffered, which preceded and triggered the offences for which they were convicted for, Amnesty International said ahead of the World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October).

“Many women have been convicted and sentenced to death in shoddy, unfair trials that have often failed to follow due process or consider mitigating factors, such as long-term abuse, violence and sexual assault,” said Amnesty International’s senior director for research, advocacy and policy, Rajat Khosla.

“By sentencing these women to death, justice systems around the world are not only perpetuating an abhorrent and cruel punishment, they are also making women pay the price for the authorities’ failures to address discrimination. In addition, a lack of transparency around the use of the death penalty means the cases we know of are just the tip of the iceberg.”

In many cases, the failure of authorities to act on specific complaints and end discriminatory practices have created a culture of abuse that women on death row have had to endure, meaning that these women continue to be further marginalised as they move through the criminal justice system.

Noura Hussein Hamad Daoud, from Sudan, was sentenced to death in April 2017 for the murder of the man she was forced to marry at the age of 16. After she was forced to wed and move into his home three years later, the man with help of two of his brothers and a male cousin violently beat her and held her down while he raped her. Amnesty International, along with other organizations, campaigned on behalf of Noura and eventually her death sentence was commuted. Others, however, have not been as fortunate.

In 2018, Amnesty International documented the execution of a Kurdish woman Zeinab Sekaanvand in Iran. She was a child when she married, and endured years of sexual violence at the hands of her husband and brother-in-law, before being arrested at 17 on charges of murdering her husband and convicted in a grossly unfair trial.

In some countries including Ghana, the mandatory death penalty for certain crimes, such as murder, has prevented some women from raising their experience of gender-based violence and discrimination as mitigating factors at sentencing. In Malaysia, an overwhelming majority of women on death row, in particular women who are foreign nationals, are there for drug trafficking, for which the death penalty is mandatory.

“By the end of last year, 108 countries had fully abolished the death penalty. Thankfully the world is moving away from the idea that states have the power to deny the right to life. But until every country has abolished the death penalty, we will not stop campaigning for its end. Together we can help to consign this cruel punishment to the history books forever,” said Rajat Khosla.

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International is calling for people to take action and support a legislative proposal to abolish the death penalty in Ghana for most crimes. The organization is asking people to show their support by writing to Ghana’s Speaker of Parliament or Minister of Justice; spreading the word online using #Ghanavoteforabolition; and reaching out to their own member of parliament.