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.) 

STUDIES: Amnesty International Reports Continued Movement Away from Capital Punishment

According to a new report from Amnesty International, the international trend away from the death penalty generally continued in 2012. The number of countries in which death sentences were imposed fell from 63 to 58. The number of countries that have completely abolished the death penalty stood at 97. Ten years ago, this figure stood at 80. In total, 140 countries worldwide have ended the death penalty in law or in practice. However, 3 countries--India, Pakistan, and the Gambia--returned to carrying out executions in 2012 after many years of having none. The U.S. carried out the same number of executions in 2012 as in 2011, but in fewer states. There were 43 executions across nine states. The five countries that carried out the most executions in 2012 were China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said, "In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past. Only one in 10 countries in the world carries out executions. Their leaders should ask themselves why they are still applying a cruel and inhumane punishment that the rest of the world is leaving behind."

RESOURCES: "Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases"

A new international manual covering psychiatric and psychological issues arising in capital cases has been prepared by a team of forensic psychiatrists for use by attorneys, judges, and mental health officials. The Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases sets out model structures for psychiatric assessment and report writing for every stage of a death penalty case, from pre-trial to execution. It also discusses ethical issues, particularly with regard to an inmate's competence to be executed. The handbook is published by The Death Penalty Project (DPP) and Forensic Psychiatry Chambers, both based in England. It is available online or in print from DPP.

Lethal Injection Developments Around the Country

Controversies surrounding lethal injections continue in many parts of the country. In Georgia, the legislature passed a bill to classify the names of those involved in executions as “state secrets.” The bill requires the identity of any entity that “manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes” lethal injection drugs to be kept secret. In Arkansas, a state judge ruled that death row inmates cannot use the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about the source, history, or quality of the drugs the state will use during execution. An attorney for the inmates claimed they should have a right to the information because of problems with drugs obtained in the past. On March 25, a federal appeals court heard arguments in a case involving death row inmates from across the country arguing that the Food and Drug Administration acted inappropriately in 2010 when it allowed some states to import lethal injection drugs from foreign sources. Eric Shumsky, an attorney representing the inmates, said, “This case is … about ensuring that illegal drugs are not used in carrying out otherwise legal executions.” Also recently, the Israel-based drug company Teva announced that it would resume manufacturing the sedative propofol, but would not allow its use in executions. Missouri has proposed using propofol for its executions.