International News and Developments: 2001
Pakistani President Musharraf announced on December 13 that he will commute the death sentences of approximately 100 young offenders to life imprisonment. (Amnesty International, 12/13/01)
President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon expressed his commitment to imposing a moratorium on executions while he is in office.
(Amnesty International, 12/13/01)
Yugoslavia Abolishes the Death Penalty
The Yugoslav Parliament abolished the death penalty on November 5th, when it adopted a revised penal code. The new code replaces the death penalty with a 40-year prison term. (Agence France-Presse, 11/6/01) With Yugoslavia's abolition, the total number of countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice is 109, and the number of retentionist countries is 86. See Amnesty International's list of abolitionist and retentionist countries.
Kofi Annan Wins Nobel Peace Prize
This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations and its Secretary General, Kofi Annan. The Nobel citation specifically lauded Mr. Annan, stating, "While clearly underlining the United Nations' traditional responsibility for peace and security, he has also emphasized its obligations with regard to human rights." (New York Times, 10/13/01)
Last December, when Annan received 3.2 million signatures of people seeking an end to executions he stated, "The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree." (Washington Post, 12/9/00)
Turkish Parliament Votes to Limit Death Penalty
On September 25, the Turkish Parliament voted to limit the death penalty to only times of war or in cases involving terrorism. The Parliament's 368 to 65 vote in favor of limiting the death penalty brings Turkey closer to meeting membership requirements of the European Union. (Associated Press, 9/26/01)
British Government To Challenge U.S. Use of the Death Penalty
The Foreign Office of the British Government is mounting a legal challenge against the U.S. in order to stop the executions of death row inmates Tracy Housel, on death row in Georgia, and Jackie Elliott, on death row in Texas. Both inmates have dual U.S. and British nationality, and the Foreign Office stated that it has serious concerns about the trials of both men and the quality of evidence used to convict them. Britain is considering taking the cases to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said government policy was to express Britain's "strong opposition to the death penalty and its imposition on British nationals." (The Independent 9/11/01) See also, foreign nationals
UN Committee Reports Racism in U.S. Death Penalty; Urges Moratorium
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released preliminary conclusions regarding U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The committee noted "a disturbing correlation between race, both of the victim and the defendant, and the imposition of the death penalty" in America. The committee called on the U.S. to ensure that no death penalty was imposed as a result of racial bias, "perhaps by pronouncing a moratorium." In submitting a report on its compliance with the treaty, the U.S. acknowledged that more still needed to be done to ensure protection against discrimination. (Reuters, 8/14/01)
The World Court Rules U.S. Violated Vienna Convention
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down a ruling in favor of Germany, which sued the United States in the World Court for violating international laws and treaties by executing two German foreign nationals, Walter and Karl LaGrand, in Arizona in 1999. The Court, in a 14-1 decision, held that the U.S. breached its obligation under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by denying the brothers the right to consular notification and by not informing German authorities of the brothers' arrests and convictions until 10 years after they occurred. The Court also held, for the first time in its history, that orders by the Court indicating provisional measures are legally binding, and criticized Arizona prosecutors for ignoring an order by the ICJ to stay the execution of Karl LaGrand.
In the June 27 ruling, the Court noted that the U.S. has agreed to carry out programs to ensure future compliance with the Vienna Convention. (Associated Press, 6/27/01 and ICJ Press Re, 6/27/01) Read the ICJ's Press Release and the Court's decision. See also, Foreign Nationals.
Colosseum Lights Up for Chile
The Colosseum in Rome was lit up on June 19 to celebrate Chile's abolition of the death penalty. The historic arena has become the international symbol of opposition to the death penalty and, as part of an international campaign against capital punishment, is bathed in golden light whenever a country abolishes the death penalty or whenever a death row inmates has his or her sentence commuted. Sponsors of the Colosseum campaign include the Vatican, the United Nations, the city of Rome, Amnesty International, Hands off Cain, and the Community of Sant' Egidio. This week's golden illumination marks the first time this year the Colosseum has been lit - the arena was lit up 14 times last year. (Associated Press, 6/19/01)
Use of Death Penalty Threatens U.S. Observer Status in Council of Europe
The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the continent's largest human rights organization, passed a resolution saying that the United States and Japan should have their observer status revoked unless they make "significant progress" toward abolishing the death penalty by 2003. The U.S has enjoyed observer status in the Council since 1996. Abolition of the death penalty has been a condition of membership since 1994. The resolution was voted on by the Council's 43-nation assembly during the World Congress Against the Death Penalty, a three-day conference in Strasbourg, France (see below). The resolution also called for an immediate halt to all executions and better living conditions for death row inmates. (Associated Press, 6/26/01)
Council of Europe Leader Denounces U.S. Death Penalty
At the first World Congress Against the Death Penalty, Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, denounced the United States' use of capital punishment. As head of the Council, Schwimmer said the death penalty in the U.S. was ineffectual against crime and a morally wrong choice that has put innocent people on death row. In his opening remarks, Schwimmer cited the case of Joaquin Jose Martinez, a Spanish national who was recently acquitted after spending over 3 three years on Florida's death row. The Congress, a three-day conference in Strasbourg, France, was organized by the 43-member Council of Europe, the continent's largest human rights organization. (Associated Press, 6/21/01)
Nearly 1,300 Executions Reported This Year
Since January 2001, there have been 1,290 executions around the world, according to Hands Off Cain. The group noted that the United States is historically among the nations with the most executions. So far this year, China tops the list, with more than 1,100 executions this year and 500 in April alone. China led execution in 2000 as well, trailed by Iraq with at least 400 executions, Iran with at least 153, and Saudi Arabia with 121 executions. Last year, the United States ranked fifth in the world with 85 executions. (Australian Associated Press, 6/19/01) This year the U.S. has executed 37 inmates, including two federal prisoners.
Ireland Removes Death Penalty From Constitution
A referendum to remove capital punishment from Ireland's Constitution was approved on June 8, 2001. The death penalty has not been carried out in Ireland for almost 50 years and was statutorily abolished in 1990. (Irish Times, 6/8/01)
South Africa High Court Finds Extradition Unconstitutional
The South African Constitutional Court recently ruled that the South African government illegally handed over Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, one of the four men convicted for the 1998 bombing of two American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. South Africa's constitution does not permit the death penalty and the Court held that the government violated Mohamed's constitutional rights by extraditing Mohamed without first obtaining assurances from US authorities that he would not be subject to the death penalty if convicted. "The fact that Mohamed is now facing the possibility of a death sentence is the direct result of the failure of the South African authorities not to secure such an undertaking," said Judge Arthur Chaskalson, the Court's president. Another suspect, who will be tried later this year, will not face capital prosecution because the German government secured assurances from the U.S. that if it extradited Mamdouh Mahmud Salim to the U.S., he would not be subject to the death penalty. (Associated Press, 5/28/01)
U.N. Commission Urges Worldwide Death Penalty Moratorium
The United Nations Human Rights Commission approved a European Union motion asking countries to halt executions as a step toward the eventual abolition of the death penalty. The motion, which also called for the prohibition of executing juvenile offenders, was opposed by the United States and seventeen other member states. (Reuters, 4/25/01) Read the United Nations' press release.
Use of the Death Penalty Could Result in Withdrawal of U.S.'s Observer Status with the Council of Europe
Renate Wohlwend, the Council of Europe's special rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty, recently visited the United States in an effort to gather information for a report she will give to the Council's legal affairs committee in May. Due to the United States' continued use of capital punishment, Wohlwend could recommend that the U.S. be expelled from its observer status with the Council of Europe, a status it has enjoyed since 1996. The Committee will make a final decision on Wohlwend's recommendation this summer.
Wohlwend also visited Japan, the only other nation with observer status that applies the death penalty, a practice that is effectively outlawed by all 43 member states of the Council of Europe. ((London) Daily Telegraph, 4/10/01)
Philippine President Stops Executions
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has essentially declared a moratorium on executions during her 3-year term as the President of the Philippines. Arroyo is using her power to commute death sentences for everyone scheduled for execution. Although she has not specifically said she is against the death penalty, chief aide Renato de Villa said "her recommendations for those due for execution speak for themselves." (Agence France Presse, 4/4/01)
Chile Abolishes the Death Penalty
A bill to abolish Chile's death penalty was passed by the country's House of Congress on April 3, 2001. The bill, which was already approved by the Senate, eliminates the death penalty and mandates that those convicted of major crimes serve at least 40 years in prison. "This is a historic day, because we have reached something that was unthinkable just a few years ago," said Justice Minister Jose Antoino Gomez. "We have removed from our codes an irrational and inhuman law." Although Chile has had the death penalty since the 19th century, the punishment was rarely enforced. (Associated Press, 4/4/01)
Canada Supreme Court Holds No Extradition to the U.S. if the Death Penalty will be Sought
The Canadian Supreme Court held 9-0 that two Canadian men wanted on murder charges in the U.S. cannot be extradited for trial without assurances that the men will not face the death penalty. "[S]uch assurances," the Court held, "are constitutionally required in all but exceptional cases." The men, Atif Rafay and Glen Sebastian Burns, are wanted in Washington state for the murder of Rafay's father, mother, and sister. (Canadian Press, 2/15/01).