International News and Developments: 2003
Nobel Laureates Oppose Death Penalty, Decry Execution of Juvenile Offenders
A gathering of Nobel Laureates in Rome concluded with a common statement calling for abolition of the death penalty and specifically decrying the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The statement noted "the death penalty is a particularly cruel and unusual punishment that should be abolished. It is especially unconscionable when imposed on children." Among those in attendance at the summit were Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israel Prime Minister Simon Peres, the Dalai Lama, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Lech Walesa, Betty Williams, Jody Williams, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, and a number of organizations that participated in the summit. (Fourth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, November 30, 2003) Read more about the summit. See Juvenile Death Penalty and New Voices.
British Human Rights Report Addresses U.S. Death Penalty
The United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Human Rights Annual Report 2003 includes a review of Britain's official actions to address concerns about the application of the death penalty in the United States. In addition to an outline of the U.K.'s reaction to significant death penalty developments in the U.S., the report highlights the sharp difference between British and U.S. capital punishment policies. It states:
The UK Government opposes the death penalty and its use on British nationals everywhere. The UK and the US share many of the same objectives for human rights and democracy around the world, but we fundamentally disagree over the use of the death penalty. The UK makes representations against the death penalty, at whatever stage we judge the most appropriate and effective, on behalf of British nationals on death row or those facing a possible death sentence, and in cases where we believe that the use of the death penalty falls short of UN minimum standards. (U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2003).
British Privy Council Declares the Automatic Death Penalty in Trinidad and Tobago Unconstitutional
The British Privy Council, which is composed of law lords serving as the final appeals court in many of Britain's former colonies, has ruled that the automatic death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago was inconsistent with their international obligations. Despite the ruling, the automatic death penalty seems popular in the region, and some argue that it should be the country's parliament to decide on punishments. However, the judgement simply means that the death penalty is still the maximum penalty, but would no longer be mandatory, reserved for more serious killings. (The Guardian (London), November 21, 2003)
Justice O'Connor Stresses Importance of International Law
During a speech hosted by the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stressed the importance of international law for American courts and the need for the United States to create a more favorable impression abroad. She cited recent Supreme Court cases, including the Court's ruling to ban the execution of those with mental retardation, that illustrate the increased willingness of U.S. courts to take international law into account. "I suspect that over time we will rely increasingly, or take notice at least increasingly, on international and foreign courts in examining domestic issues." O'Connor noted that doing so "may not only enrich our own country's decisions, I think it may create that all important good impression." (World Net Daily, October 31, 2003)
Kenya to Abolish Capital Punishment
Kenyan government officials are working to abolish the nation's death penalty and replace the punishment with life in prison. The recommendation is currently under review by Kenya's constitutional review conference, a body comprised of members of parliament, professional bodies and religious and civic leaders. Kenya has not had an execution since 1987, but 2,618 people remain on the nation's death row. Kenya's assistant minister for home affairs, Wilfred Machage, noted, "The practice has been used worldwide in the past but latest trends show that it is an abuse of an individual's right to life and it is not part of the measures that can help a convict fit in society because they will be dead." (ITV.com, October 15, 2003)
Foreign Service Journal Examines the Impact of World Opinion on the U.S. Death Penalty
The October 2003 edition of the Foreign Service Journal contains a series of articles examining world opinion on the death penalty and its effect on U.S. policies. The articles, including one by DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter, feature information on international treaties, the experiences of former U.S. foreign diplomats, and the effect of the international movement away from the death penalty on the U.S.'s position as a leader in human rights. Among the other contributing writers are Harold Hongju Koh, Thomas R. Pickering, Paul Rosenszweig, Greg Kane, and Paul Blackburn. (Foreign Service Journal, October 2003) For a copy of Richard Dieter's article, contact DPIC.
International News: World Day Against the Death Penalty
An International coalition of non-governmental organizations will sponsor a World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10th, 2003. The coalition will host local events throughout the world to draw attention to their concerns about capital punishment. Among the events scheduled are debates, concerts, and lectures. The coalition will also host an Internet event urging repeal of the death penalty in all countries that maintain the practice, including the United States. (World Coalition Against the Death Penalty Press Release, September 10, 2003) Read the press in English, French, Spanish.
U.S. Will Not Seek Death Penalty Against Two British Nationals
Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II has assured British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty against two British citizens facing trial on terrorism charges before military tribunals. The two men, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, are among the 680 prisoners from 42 countries being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with the campaign against terrorism. Prior to Blair's recent visit to Washington, during which he raised the issue with President Bush, the Prime Minister had pushed for the U.S. to extradite the two men to Britain. If that option were not available, he requested assurance of fair trials free of the prospect of a death sentence, which Britain bans. The agreement has raised questions of fairness among those international leaders representing other citizens who are expected to face military tribunals in the future. "We believe that whatever is being done has to be done on a non-discriminatory basis. That's the rule of law. There should be a uniform set of procedures followed," said Asad Hayauddin, a press attache at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. (Washington Post, July 23, 2003)
Armenia Commutes All Death Sentences
Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, recently praised the decision of Armenian President Robert Kocharyan to commute all remaining death sentences in the nation to life in prison. "I am delighted that President Kocharyan has taken such a positive and commendable step forward. The death penalty is an affront to all notions of dignity and human rights, and has no place in the Europe of today," Schwimmer said. The President's decision to commute the death sentences is in line with Armenia's efforts to comply with standards set by the Council of Europe that forbid member nations from maintaining capital punishment. (The Council of Europe Press, August 2, 2003).
Japanese Legislative Group Proposes Halt to Executions, Study
The Diet Members' League for Abolition of the Death Penalty, a parliamentary group of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, has drafted legislation to replace the death penalty with life in prison. In addition, the bill would establish panels in both Houses of the Diet to study capital punishment. The bill does not propose an immediate abandonment of capital punishment, but instead imposes a four-year moratorium on executions. During this time, the parliamentary panels would be charged with reaching a consensus on the abolition of capital punishment in three years.
In 2001, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution that threatened to review the observer status of Japan and the United States if the two countries failed to take steps toward abolishing the death penalty. (Japan Times, June 23, 2003)
ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW: Saudi Executioner Says He Leads "Normal Life"
Although he beheads up to seven people a day, Saudi Arabia's leading executioner, 42-year-old Muhammad Saad Al-Beshi, says that he leads a normal life and is carrying out God's will. Using a sword given to him as a gift by the government, Al-Beshi has performed public executions since 1998 and has since trained his son, Musaed, to also become an executioner. "An executioner's life, of course, is not all killing. Sometimes it can be amputation of hands and legs. I use a special sharp knife, not a sword. When I cut off a hand I cut it from the joint. If it is a leg the authorities specify where it is to be taken off, so I follow that," Al-Beshi says. Although the majority of executions are eventually carried out, Al-Beshi must first go to the victim's family to ask forgiveness for the criminal, who may then be spared the sword. He states, "I always have that hope, until the very last minute, and I pray to God to give the criminal a new lease of life. I always keep that hope alive." A self-described family man, Al-Beshi says that his profession does not keep him from leading a normal life among family and friends and that he sleeps very well at night. He notes, "They aren't afraid of me when I come back from an execution. Sometimes they help me clean my sword." (Arab News, June 5, 2003). See "Witness to an Execution" for the perspective of those involved in U.S. executions.
Armenia Abolishes Death Penalty
Armenian lawmakers recently voted to adopt a criminal code that abolishes the death penalty. The decision to eliminate capital punishment brings Armenia into compliance with its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. Under the new law, enacted six years after the nation declared a moratorium on executions, the death penalty will be replaced with life imprisonment. (Associated Press, April 19, 2003)
China, Iran and U.S. are World's Top Executioners
A recent report issued by Amnesty International states that the United States, China and Iran carried out 80% of all known executions in 2002. According to the report, issued in Geneva as members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights met for a six week session, China had the most executions with 1,060, Iran had the second highest number with 113, and the United States had the third-highest number with 71 executions. Amnesty noted that the true number of people executed in China was believed to be much higher. To date, 111 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, but it is still imposed in 83 countries. Read the report. (Reuters, April 11, 2003)
Great Britain Rules Out Death Penalty Extradition to U.S.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett recently promised that Great Britain will not extradite people to the United States if they might face the death penalty. The announcement came shortly after Blunkett and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed a new extradition treaty between the two nations. The new agreement was designed to bring the U.K.'s extradition policies with the U.S. more in line with arrangements made with other European countries. During talks regarding the new agreement, Blunkett said that Ashcroft guaranteed that no person extradited from the U.K. would face death penalty charges and that no new capital charges would be filed following the individual's arrival in the U.S. (BBC News, April 5, 2003)
European Court Rules Death Penalty "Unacceptable Form of Punishment"
A European Court ruling found that Turkey's imposition of the death penalty on defendant Abdullah Ocalan violated the European Convention on Human Rights' ban on inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court held that capital sentences are now regarded as "an unacceptable form of punishment" which can "no longer be seen as having any legitimate place in a democratic society." (Kurdish Media, March 12, 2003) In August 2002, Turkey's parliament approved a package of rights, including abolishing the death penalty, in an effort aimed at increasing its chances of joining the European Union. The legislation will replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole, although capital punishment will remain on the books during times of war.
International Opposition to Death Penalty Continues to Grow
The Zenit News Agency recently reported on a series of official state actions curtailing the death penalty around the world:
- Turkey abolished the death penalty in an effort to meet with European Union qualifications.
- Montenegro and Serbia abolished the death penalty to clear the way for entry into the Council of Europe.
- The President of Kazakhstan said that the nation should seriously consider halting executions and abolishing capital punishment altogether.
- Turkmenistan abolished capital punishment.
- Kyrgyzstan extended its moratorium on the death penalty for an additional year.
- South Korea has not carried out an execution since 1998.
- Taiwan, which has carried out nearly 300 executions over the past decade, said that it wants an end to executions.
- Blas Ople, Foreign Affairs Secretary in the Philippines, said that the nation will suspend all executions while its Congress continues to debate the merits of the death penalty.
(Zenit News Agency, February 8, 2003). See International Death Penalty.