Kenya Committed to Abolishing Capital Punishment

Kenyan Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi announced that those on the nation's death row will soon have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Murungi noted that he is working closely with Kenya's President's Office to bring the nation into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "We are committed to abolishing the death penalty. The death sentence is a violation of the right to life," he said. In the 1970s, Kenya argued that the death penalty would deter crime, but the nation's leaders have since found no downturn in crime. Following a 1982 coup attempt, no death warrants issued by the courts were ever signed by the President, and in February 2003, President Kibaki ordered the release of 28 prisoners on death row and commuted the sentences of 195 others.

BOOKS: Clemency

  • A new book by Professor Austin Sarat focuses on clemency's role in the U.S. criminal justice system: "Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution." According to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, "This thoughtful book should be read by every citizen who cares about the issue, and by every governor and president entrusted with the power to punish or pardon." In "Mercy on Trial," Sarat reviews the complexities of clemency and examines issues such as rehabilitation. (Princeton University Press, 2005).

India Moves Closer to Abandoning the Death Penalty

In a proposed amendment to its penal code, Indian leaders are seeking to implement a change that would end the nation's death penalty even "in the rarest of rare" cases. The amended Indian Penal Code would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a strict life without the possibility of parole measure. Currently, the nation's life sentence statute only requires imprisonment for 14 years. The decision to seek an official end to capital punishment fulfills a pledge made by the chairman of the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, Mr. Justice VS Malimath.

Amnesty International's Human Rights Report Notes Decline in Countries with Death Penalty

In its annual report on human rights around the world, Amnesty International noted the abolition of the death penalty in five nations in 2004. Last year, Bhutan, Greece, Samoa, Senegal and Turkey joined a growing list of countries that have abandoned capital punishment for all crimes. The report stated that such changes are positive signs, noting: "Global activism is a dynamic and growing force. It is also the best hope of achieving freedom and justice for all humanity." The report covers 149 countries and highlights important human rights developments and abuses. 

New Resource: A Look at the Death Penalty in Japan

The May/June issue of Foreign Policy magazine includes an article on the death penalty in Japan by Charles Lane, Supreme Court reporter for The Washington Post.  Lane notes that Japan's death penalty is shrouded in secrecy and culminates in executions outside of all public view.  He provides readers with a rare look inside this system and compares that country's policies with U.S. practices and international trends.

The article, "A View to a Kill," notes that although death sentences are slightly on the rise in Japan, it carries out only about two executions a year, far fewer than the 59 people executed in the U.S. in 2004.   Japanese prisoners awaiting execution do not know the date of their execution, and the only witnesses to their hangings are representatives of the prosecutor's office. 

SCOTUS Declines to Rule on Foreign Nationals' Rights


Supreme Court The Supreme Court today dismissed as “improvidently granted” the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national on death row in Texas. In an unsigned decision, justices dismissed as premature the case in which Medellin argued that an opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) entitled him and the 50 Mexican foreign nationals on death row in

NEW VOICES: New Iraqi President Says Death Penalty is a Problem

The new president of Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani (pictured), recently voiced his concerns about the death penalty, even for those accused of war crimes like Saddam Hussein. "I am among the lawyers who signed an international petition against the death penalty in the world and it would be [a] problem for me if Iraqi courts issued death sentences," Talabini said when asked about the fate of Hussein, who is in U.S. custody in Iraq awaiting trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Kurds were among the communities who suffered the most under the dictatorship of Saddam.  Under current law, the former Iraqi leader could face the death penalty. 

Amnesty International Releases Annual International Death Penalty Report

According to a new report issued by Amnesty International, the United States is among four countries that carried out the vast majority of the 3,797 executions around the world in 2004. Amnesty's report states that the nations carrying out the most executioners last year were China (3,400), Iran (159), Vietnam (64), United States (59), Saudi Arabia (33), Pakistan (15), Kuwait (9), Bangladesh (7), Egypt (6), Singapore (6), and Yemen (6). The report notes that the increase in executions in China is partly due to a new way of estimating such executions since the government does not publicly release this data.  The use of the death penalty declined in the U.S. in 2004 compared to 2003.