NEW RESOURCE: Amicus Journal Examines Death Penalty Developments

The most recent edition of the Amicus Journal, a London publication that provides a forum for dialogue on issues concerning capital punishment around the world, contains articles addressing U.S. death penalty concerns.  Among the topics covered are clemency, mental retardation, conditions on death row, ineffective assistance of counsel, and lethal injection. The magazine features pieces by a number of U.S. death penalty experts, including an essay on clemency by Austin Sarat and  a reprint of a speech by Stephen Bright.

NEW VOICES: Former Ambassador to France Addresses Impact of Death Penalty on Foreign Relations

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Felix G. Rohatyn (pictured), the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1997 to 2001, noted that during his tenure "no single issue was viewed with as much hostility as our support for the death penalty." Rohatyn urged the U.S. to consider the impact of maintaining capital punishment on our relations with our allies, and he stated that consideration of international trends is appropriate when cases are reviewed by the Supreme Court. Rohatyn wrote:

PUBLIC OPINION: British Support for Death Penalty At Lowest Level in 40 Years

Support for restoration of the death penalty in Great Britain, even when the murder victim is a police officer, has fallen below 50% for the first time since its abolition four decades ago. According to a YouGov poll conducted for The Daily Telegraph, the number of people who oppose capital punishment even when the victim is a police officer has risen to 43%. The figure is a dramatic changed from the 20% who voiced opposition to the death penalty in a 1960 poll conducted by Gallup.

Virginia Man Denied Consular Rights, Will Not Face Death Penalty

A Virginia judge ruled that prosecutors may not seek the death penalty against a Vietnamese man accused of murdering two people because police violated the man's rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by not informing him that he could contact his country's consulate. "[T]he duty to give notice is absolute. . . . [T]he idea that the state can completely ignore its treaty obligations without consequence essentially obliterates the purpose for which the rights under the Vienna Convention were intended," Judge Alden of Fairfax County wrote in barring the death penalty against Dihn Pham. Pham's trial is scheduled to take place later this month, and he now faces a possible sentence of life without parole.

This is the second Fairfax case in three months to involve legal repercussions for failure to notify a murder suspect of his Vienna Convention rights. In November 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the non-capital case of Honduras native Mario A. Bustillo because he also was not told of his international treaty rights. The Vienna Convention was signed by the United States in 1969 and was created to provide protections for people arrested in another country. (Washington Post, January 4, 2006).

Innocence Questions Lead China to Reform Death Penalty Procedures

Amidst widespread suspicion that innocent people have been sentenced to death or executed, China has announced that reforming its death penalty system is a priority and it is implementing procedural changes to protect against wrongful convictions. In October 2005, the People's Supreme Court announced that it would reverse a decision from the early 1980's that gave final review on many death penalty cases to provincial high courts. Under the new policy, the People's Supreme Court would reclaim responsibility for reviewing all capital cases.

Some observers predict that the People's Supreme Court will find deep flaws within the current death penalty system and that their review of cases could result in a dramatic 30% decline in executions. Critics of the reforms claim that the changes do not go far enough to restrict the power of police and the courts.

Though the exact number of annual executions in China remains unknown, a high-level delegate to the National People's Congress publicly estimated in 2005 that it was "nearly 10,000." In 2004, Amnesty International documented 3,400 executions in China, but noted that the actual number was probably far higher.

Public Opinion: Australians Oppose Capital Punishment

A recent public opinion poll of Australians found that 69% of respondents believe the penalty for murder should be imprisonment, while only 25% of those polled stated it should be the death penalty. The poll, conducted by Roy Morgan International just one week after an Australian citizen was executed by Singapore for possessing less than a half a kilogram of heroin, revealed that public support for capital punishment is continuing to decline in Australia. In November 2005, the same poll found that 66% of respondents favored imprisonment and 27% favored the death penalty. Australia carried out its last execution in 1967 and abolished capital punishment in 1985.

European Parliament President Calls for End to Capital Punishment

During a recent meeting of the European Union's full assembly, European Parliament president Josep Borrell called on the 76 countries around the world that continue to retain the death penalty to discontinue use of capital punishment. He noted that the United States is the only democratic state that makes "widespread use" of the death penalty and that the European Union has a duty to convince Americans to end the practice.

"Most unfortunately, in the U.S. the 1000th execution was carried out. The fact that it almost coincided with Human Rights Day makes this fact particularly poignant," Borrell told the assembly. "But there is a glimmer of hope. U.S. society is changing its views on the death penalty." Borrell then added, "For us in Europe, the right to life is an inalienable right. No one ever loses their right to life, no matter what they have done."

INTERNATIONAL: World Day Against the Death Penalty

October 10th was World Day Against the Death Penalty, an occassion that Amnesty International used to urge abolition of the death penalty in all African states. Amnesty officials noted that recent developments show a trend toward death penalty abolition among African countries, and they stated that the majority of the continent's nations have abandoned using capital punishment. Senegal abolished the death penalty for all crimes in December 2004 and Liberia in September 2005. In March 2005, Kenyan officials announced that they are committed to ending the death penalty and are taking steps to commute all death sentences to life in prison without parole. Benin and Morocco have halted executions, and the Ugandan Constitutional Court recently ended the death penalty for certain crimes. In all, 13 of Africa's 53 states have permanently abolished the death penalty and another 20 countries no longer carry out executions. During World Day events hosted by Amnesty International around the globe, people signed a petition against capital punishment that will be presented to heads of state in Africa.

The World Day Against the Death Penalty is organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a group of 38 human rights organizations, local and regional authorities, bar associations, and trade unions.