It’s a topic that’s recently floated to the surface in Jordanian politics: plans to curb, if not moves towards abolishing, the death sentence in the state security court. Amendments to the penal code are looking to remove capital punishment for all crimes except premeditated murder; in other words, crimes against state security, which include terrorism, espionage, etc. Over the years, the number of crimes eligible for capital punishment have been decreasing but I’m not sure if that has made any impact on the number of people on death row (currently 40). But it is indicative of moves to slowly phase out the punishment, or at least limit it through binding legislation.
The amendments to the code are being proposed by the government and still need to approval from Parliament. The Jordan Times is praising the move as one that is an indication of the government’s desire to “harmonize” itself with “international human rights standards.” I’m not so sure that’s the case. Prison reform still has a long way to go in this country. There are annual reports from various agencies that point to human rights abuses inside the Kingdom’s prisons, with some testimonials detailing torture. Whether these cases are true or not is irrelevant; the perception that they are is what matters.
That being said, if this is an attempt to symbolically show the world that we care about human rights then I am personally all for it. Even window-dressing for the international community is a good first step, specifically if it involves changing legislation as opposed to empty promises. It is a starting point that can actually have a trickle-down effect in the long run, and in the short run, the state isn’t killing people.
Nevertheless, any calls on limiting, if not completely abolishing the death sentence, should go hand in hand with calls to reform the Kingdom’s atrocious prison environment. It should also come hand in hand with the wider scope of judicial reform – many of our problems and issues with the system extend beyond mere legislation and more to do with judges and their judicial discretion.
It’s time for the government to start changing public perceptions, not only globally, but locally as well. Judicial reform as a whole needs to be taken more seriously, and I would argue that it’s probably more pertinent than economic or political reform at this point. Unfortunately, judicial reform is moving much to slow, even by judicial system standards. Change in this field does take time, especially if it’s the kind of proper change that goes through public and transparent channels as opposed to the hundreds of under-the-radar, temporary laws enacted by various governments over the past decade.
In the meantime, this latest piece of news is a good first step – it just shouldn’t be the only one being taken.