RESOURCES: International Reports Look at Human Rights Decisions and Death-Eligible Crimes

Two new reports on the death penalty are available from the international community. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States recently released a report containing excerpts from the most important death-penalty decisions issued by the IACHR in the past fifteen years, including cases from Barbados, Cuba, Guatemala, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. The International Commission against the Death Penalty released a report in January containing a country-by-country overview of crimes eligible for the death penalty around the world. The report analyzes whether the death penalty is really being restricted to the "most serious crimes."

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Information About Foreign Citizens on U.S. Death Rows

New information on foreign nationals facing the death penalty in the U.S. is now available through Mark Warren of Human Rights Research. This DPIC page includes information on 143 foreign citizens from 37 countries on state and federal death rows. California has the most (59 inmates), followed by Texas (24), and Florida (23). Many of these inmates were not informed of their right to contact their country's represenatives under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty the U.S. has ratified and relies upon to protect its citizens when they travel abroad. Thirty-one (31) foreign nationals have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, many of whom were not properly informed of their rights under this treaty. Among countries, Mexico has the largest number (60) of its citizens on death row in the U.S. 

INTERNATIONAL: Roman Colosseum Lit to Mark Connecticut's Abolition of Death Penalty

On November 29, the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, was illuminated in honor of Connecticut's repeal of the death penalty in April of this year. The event featured former death row inmate Shujaa Graham of California and George Kain of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. Five states in the past five years have abolished the death penalty: Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York. The program also commemorated the 10th World Day of Cities Against the Death Penalty, sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a faith-based organization focusing on conflict resolution and interfaith dialoge. See a slide slow of pictures from participating cities at this link.

INTERNATIONAL: U.N. Death Penalty Resolution Backed by Record Number of Countries

On November 19, 110 countries voted for a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty. The vote marked record support for the resolution compared to previous years. Among the countries supporting the resolution were the European Union nations, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Israel. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries opposing the non-binding resolution in the Assembly's Third Committee, which addresses human rights issues. Thirty-six countries abstained. Recently, France launched a campaign with other abolitionist states to get the full General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a death penalty moratorium. Though such a resolution would also be non-binding, diplomats say it would increase moral pressure. Around the world, about 141 are abolitionist in law or in practice, while 57 countries retain the death penalty.

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Reprieve Issues New Report on Foreign Nationals on Death Row In U.S.

A new report by Reprieve, a non-profit organization based in London that provides legal representation and humanitarian assistance to foreign nationals on death row in the U.S., found that many U.S. states were not in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).  This treaty, which the U.S. has signed and ratified, requires participating countries to give arrested individuals from other countries timely notice of their right to contact their consular officials.  In 95% of the U.S. death penalty cases involving foreign nationals reviewed by Reprieve, the requirements of the treaty had not been met. The report stated, “It is widely accepted that foreign nationals are at a significant disadvantage when confronted with the intricacies of the US criminal justice system - particularly when facing capital charges. They are likely to encounter various cultural and linguistic barriers that hamper their ability effectively to engage in the judicial process."  The report noted that none of the 37 death penalty states satisfactorily met their obligations under the VCCR, and even the federal government failed in 75% of their cases for which there was data.  The report concluded with a series of recommendations for other countries to follow to effect full U.S. implementation of this treaty.

INTERNATIONAL: UN Investigator Claims Executions are Increasingly Viewed as Torture Around the World

On October 23, the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, told a UN General Assembly human rights committee that countries around the world are increasingly viewing capital punishment as a form of torture because of the severe mental and physical pain it inflicts on those sentenced to death. Mendez told the committee, “States need to re-examine their procedures under international law because the ability of states to impose and carry out the death penalty is diminishing as these practices are increasingly viewed to constitute torture.” Mendez urged all countries to consider repealing capital punishment because it is “cumbersome and expensive and you’re never sure you’re doing it in the right way.” Mendez also spoke about the “death row phenomenon," that is, conditions on death row that cause severe mental anguish and physical suffering. He said such deprivations include anxiety due to the threat of imminent execution, extended solitary confinement, and poor prison conditions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Manufacturer of Proposed Execution Drug Blocks Its Use

The main supplier to the U.S. of a drug proposed for lethal injections has announced it will not allow the drug to be sold for executions. Fresenius Kabi USA, a German-based company with offices in Illinois, issued a statement forbidding the sale of propofol to correctional institutions for death penalty use. Earlier in 2012, Missouri announced it intended to switch to propofol as the sole drug in its lethal injection protocol, becoming the first state to do so. Fresenius Kabi officials reacted with a statement: “Fresenius Kabi objects to the use of its products in any manner that is not in full accordance with the medical indications for which they have been approved by health authorities. Consequently, the company does not accept orders for propofol from any departments of correction in the United States. Nor will it do so." Missouri, like most states with the death penalty, had been using sodium thiopental as the first drug in a three-drug protocol. Supplies of the drug expired or ran out, forcing states to seek alternatives. Some states replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital, but supplies of that drug have also dwindled after its manufacturer announced it will restrict the drug's sale for similar reasons. Read full statement from Fresenius Kabi.

INTERNATIONAL: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Calls for Hold on Executions

On August 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the U.S., called for a moratorium on executions in the region and released a report reviewing key areas of concern about the death penalty. The report made a series of recommendations for member States, including:
- States should refrain from any measure that would expand the application of the death penalty or reintroduce it,
- States should take any measures necessary to ensure compliance with the strictest standards of due process in capital cases,
- States should adopt any steps required to ensure that domestic legal standards conform to the heightened level of review applicable in death penalty cases, and
- States should ensure full compliance with decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court, and specifically with decisions concerning individual death penalty cases and precautionary and provisional measures.