Upon Nelson Mandela's Death, Recalling First Act of South Africa's Constitutional Court

When South Africa's Constitutional Court was created under then-President Nelson Mandela, its first act was to abolish the death penalty. Justice Arthur Chaskalson, President of the Court, announced its unanimous decision on June 7, 1995, stating, "Everyone, including the most abominable of human beings, has a right to life, and capital punishment is therefore unconstitutional....Retribution cannot be accorded the same weight under our Constitution as the right to life and dignity. It has not been shown that the death sentence would be materially more effective to deter or prevent murder than the alternative sentence of life imprisonment would be." Under apartheid, the death penalty had been applied much more often to blacks than to whites. Mandela, himself, faced the possibility of a death sentence in his 1962 trial for incitement.

INTERNATIONAL: Organizations Around the World Focus on Death Penalty Concerns

On October 10, the European Union commemorated World Day Against the Death Penalty, coinciding with events around the world challenging the use of capital punishment. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe released a statement, noting, “Voices in favor of the death penalty within some parts of society, including in our continent, show that there is a continuous need to spell out why the death penalty runs contrary to the right to life and to human dignity." Around the world, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while only 58 countries retain it. On October 8, the EU's work in educating the public about the risks of executing the innocent was recognized at the 10th anniversary of Witness to Innocence in Philadelphia. Antonio de Lecea (pictured), the Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs of the EU Delegation to the U.S., accepted the award. See below for more events.

INTERNATIONAL: New Report on the Death Penalty in Malaysia

A new report by the London-based Death Penalty Project explores the use of mandatory death sentencing in Malaysia. In the U.S., the Supreme Court barred the use of mandatory death sentences in 1976, holding that judges and juries needed to consider the individual differences among defendants, out of respect for human diginity. (Woodson v. North Carolina, and other opinions). DPP's report found that the number of executions carried out in Malaysia has declined in the last decade even though there have been no major changes in law or reforms in the system. As part of the research, a poll was conducted to discern the public's support for mandatory death sentences. The poll found little public opposition to abolishing the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offenses, though 56% of respondents still supported a mandatory death sentence for murder.  Read full text of the report.

NEW VOICES: UN Secretary General Urges Members to Abolish the Death Penalty

At a recent event sponsored by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged member nations to work towards ending capital punishment. Mr. Ban particularly focused on the risk of wrongful executions, saying, "We have a duty to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate price for miscarriages of justice. The most sensible way is to end the death penalty." The event--"Moving away from the death penalty--Wrongful Convictions"--featured the film West of Memphis, a documentary about three Arkansas teenagers who were convicted of a brutal crime they almost certainly did not commit. The three were freed in 2011. Damien Echols, who had been sentenced to death for the crime, was among the speakers at the event. Since 2007, the UN General Assembly has passed four resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions, and six countries have abolished the death penalty in that time. About 150 UN member countries are now abolitionist by law or in practice. 

INTERNATIONAL: Leaders from Many Countries Address Fifth World Congress in Madrid

On June 12-15, political leaders and criminal justice experts from five continents gathered in Madrid, Spain, for the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty. The World Congress was co-sponsored by Spain, France, Norway, and Switzerland, and included delegates from over 90 countries. The delegation from the United States included Jerry Givens, a former correctional officer in Virginia, who assisted with the execution of 62 inmates. Givens became an opponent of the death penalty after his experience of participating in executions. He said, “It was like a rollercoaster, up and down, because as a correctional officer I prepared inmates to return into society as a productive citizen and as an executioner you take lives.” The World Congress also included messages from Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Pope Francis, and other influential leaders from around the world.

LETHAL INJECTION: British Manufacturer Stops Drug Supply to Arkansas for Executions

The British manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals recently announced new rules to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses, such as carrying out executions in the United States. Earlier this year, Reprieve, a legal advocacy organization based in London, found that a U.S. subsidiary of Hikma sold 100 grams of phenobarbital to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Arkansas decided to use the new, untested drug in their lethal injection process when they were unable to secure supplies of the drugs they normally use. A spokesman for Hikma Pharmaceuticals said the order had been made as part of the regular request for drugs for prison hospital services and did not raise any red flags because the drug had never been used in executions before. Arkansas has been contacted by the drug company and told that the subsidiary was closing the account. The state's current supply of phenobarbital is sufficient to carry out eight executions and will expire in October 2015. The state will need to seek alternative sources or different drugs when their current supply becomes unavailable. Other drug companies have put similar restrictions on the use of their drugs in executions.

INTERNATIONAL: New Report Examines Countries That Have Abandoned Death Penalty

In April, the International Commission Against the Death Penalty (ICDP) released a new report titled, How States Abolish the Death Penalty. The report examines the experiences of 13 countries, including Argentina, France, Haiti, the Philippines, South Africa, and 2 states in the U.S. (Connecticut and New Mexico), in their paths to ending capital punishment. The report noted that some states took intermediary steps to abolition, including establishing an official moratorium on executions, reducing the scope of the death penalty, or removing mandatory sentences. The report recommended vigorous public debate on the subject, the publication of information about the use of the death penalty, and the emergence of principled leadership on the issue. The report was released during a recent meeting of the ICDP in Oslo, Norway.  Read full text of the report.

STUDIES: "The Death Penalty in Japan"

A new report from the Death Penalty Project, titled The Death Penalty in Japan, provides an assessment of that country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty which both Japan and the U.S. have ratified. While retaining the death penalty is not itself a breach of the treaty, the report states Japan is under an obligation to develop domestic laws and practices that progressively restrict the use of the death penalty. According to the report, Japan has failed to meet the treaty's requirements for fair trials, the provision of adequate procedures for appeal and clemency, and for the humane treatment of persons under sentence of death. The report also explores the quality of opinion surveys in Japan that have reported high public support for the death penalty.  Read full text of the report. (Amnesty International reported that Japan resumed executions in 2012 after a 20-month moratorium.)