European Parliament President Calls for End to Capital Punishment

During a recent meeting of the European Union's full assembly, European Parliament president Josep Borrell called on the 76 countries around the world that continue to retain the death penalty to discontinue use of capital punishment. He noted that the United States is the only democratic state that makes "widespread use" of the death penalty and that the European Union has a duty to convince Americans to end the practice.

"Most unfortunately, in the U.S. the 1000th execution was carried out. The fact that it almost coincided with Human Rights Day makes this fact particularly poignant," Borrell told the assembly. "But there is a glimmer of hope. U.S. society is changing its views on the death penalty." Borrell then added, "For us in Europe, the right to life is an inalienable right. No one ever loses their right to life, no matter what they have done."

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INTERNATIONAL: World Day Against the Death Penalty

October 10th was World Day Against the Death Penalty, an occassion that Amnesty International used to urge abolition of the death penalty in all African states. Amnesty officials noted that recent developments show a trend toward death penalty abolition among African countries, and they stated that the majority of the continent's nations have abandoned using capital punishment. Senegal abolished the death penalty for all crimes in December 2004 and Liberia in September 2005. In March 2005, Kenyan officials announced that they are committed to ending the death penalty and are taking steps to commute all death sentences to life in prison without parole. Benin and Morocco have halted executions, and the Ugandan Constitutional Court recently ended the death penalty for certain crimes. In all, 13 of Africa's 53 states have permanently abolished the death penalty and another 20 countries no longer carry out executions. During World Day events hosted by Amnesty International around the globe, people signed a petition against capital punishment that will be presented to heads of state in Africa.

The World Day Against the Death Penalty is organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a group of 38 human rights organizations, local and regional authorities, bar associations, and trade unions.

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INTERNATIONAL RESOURCE: "Amicus Journal" Highlights Death Penalty Developments

The Amicus Journal discusses death penalty issues from around the world.  The latest edition contains articles on the "teamwork" approach used by capital defense attorneys in Virginia, Africa's progress in abandoning the death penalty, and a feature on the experience of being a lawyer on the front lines of capital litigation in the U.S. The publication also examines the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases of Medellin  v. Dretke and Miller-El v. Dretke.  (13 Amicus Journal (2005), published in London by the Andrew Lee Jones Fund). See Resources. 

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NEW RESOURCE: Foreign Nationals on U.S. Death Rows

The latest edition of the Consular Rights in America newsletter is now available.  The newsletter discusses legal and political developments concerning citizens of other countries who are in prison or on death row in the U.S.  Issue 29 contains excerpts from the Texas Lawyer of recent arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas.  This case has already been the subject of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Court of Justice, and of a presidential decision.  The newsletter also discusses the decision of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals regarding Osbaldo Torres, a former death row inmate also from Mexico.  The newsletter is published by Mark Warren of Human Rights Research. 

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INNOCENCE: It Happens in China, Too

Qin Yanhong was convicted of rape and murder in China in 1999.  A panel of judges sentenced him to death.  His conviction was the result of a confession that followed days of torture and interrorgation by police, despite the fact that such tactics are forbidden under Chinese law.  The senior detective on the case expressed absolute confidence in the conviction and even offered to accept the punishment if it was proven wrong.  In 2001, another man walked into a nearby police station and confessed to a spate of killings and described the murder that Mr. Qin had been accused of in perfect detail.  Even then, officials tried to cover up the new revelations and keep Mr. Qin on death row until a reporter heard about the confession by the serial killer.  Qin was finally freed in 2002.  In 2005 alone, there have been about 12 similar reversals of convictions, including a number for murder. 

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Taiwan President Promises to Abolish the Death Penalty

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has vowed to abolish the death penalty so that his country can become a nation founded on the basis of human rights. In making his announcement, Chen noted, "Abolishing the death penalty has become a world trend. Almost every year there is one country abolishing the death penalty. . . . Since I became president in 2000, Taiwan launched the campaign to abolish the death penalty by reducing the handing down and execution of capital punishment, and by making it harder for inmates to receive parole and forcing them to pay more compensation to victims." The number of executions carried out in Taiwan has declined from 32 in 1998 to 17 in 2000 to one so far this year.

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European Union Criticizes Resumption of Executions in Iraq

As Iraq resumed carrying out the death penalty with the execution of three nationals on September 1, the European Union (EU) expressed its hope that Iraq would abandon capital punishment. In a statement released after the executions, the EU noted, "The EU is of the view that the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent and any miscarriage of justice, which might arise in any legal system, would be irreversible. The EU therefore regrets that the government of Iraq has elected to implement the death penalty in these cases. ...The EU is strongly opposed to the death penalty and condemns its use. While recognizing the sovereign right of the government of Iraq to decide on judicial sentencing, we strongly urge that the death penalty should be abolished."

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NEW RESOURCE: "The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment"

The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment, a new book edited by professor Austin Sarat of Amherst College and lecturer Christian Boulanger of the Free University in Berlin, examines the complicated dynamics of the death penalty in eleven nations to determine what role capital punishment plays in defining a country's political and cultural identity. The editors note that a nation's values and cultural history influence its relationship with capital punishment. The book includes examinations of the death penalty in Mexico, the United States, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, India, Israel, Palestine, Japan, China, Singapore, and South Korea. The editors conclude: "What is clear is that the death penalty lives many different lives and dies many different deaths. Like globalization in general, the globalization of the discourses on state killing should not blind us to the very local nature of punishment. There might be universal reasons against capital punishment. . .but the struggle against the penalty of death must be fought again and again in each different culture in ways that acknowledge and respect capital punishment's distinctive cultural lives." (Stanford University Press, 2005) See International Death Penalty and Books

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NEW RESOURCE: The Death Penalty's Impact on U.S. Foreign Relations

A new law review article by international death penalty expert Mark Warren concludes that the retention of capital punishment in the United States distances the nation from its closest allies "in ways both symbolic and tangible, and the costs of that isolation are rising steadily." Warren's article, Death, Dissent, and Diplomacy: The U.S. Death Penalty as an Obstacle to Foreign Relations, examines a broad range of concerns, including treaty compliance and global security. Warren notes that in recent years, world leaders have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and that the U.S. now finds itself on the wrong side of a fundamental human rights issue. Warren notes that some recent Supreme Court decisions narrowing the scope of the death penalty, as well as state efforts to identify flaws in the system, are steps in the right direction.

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UN Report Shows Declining Use of the Death Penalty Worldwide UN Report Shows Declining Use of the Death Penalty Worldwide

A report from the Secretary-General to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on the status of the death penalty worldwide shows a declining use of capital punishment:

The report shows an encouraging trend towards abolition and restriction of the use of capital punishment in most countries. It also shows that much remains to be done in the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of persons facing the death penalty in those countries that retain it.

(Executive Summary).

Over the 5 year period of the survey, 17 fewer countries retained the use of the death penalty.

Status of the death penalty at the beginning and end of the five-year survey period, 1999-2003
Status of countries

I. Completely abolitionist
II. Abolitionist for ordinary crimes
III. Retentionist—de facto abolitionist (i.e., no executions in 10 years or an official hold on executions as a prelude to abolition)
IV. Retentionist

                       I.         II.         III.         IV.
1/1/99          70        11          34          79
12/31/03      80        12          41          62

The report also lists the number of executions by country during 1999-2003 (5 leading countries in bold):

Afghanistan 78
Belarus 37-52
China 6,687
Dem. Rep. Congo 350
Egypt 59+
Iran 604+
Japan 13
Jordan 52+
Nigeria 4
Pakistan 48+
Saudi Arabia 403+
Singapore 138
Sudan 53+
Taiwan 67
Tajikistan 35+
Thailand 43
Uganda 33
USA 385
Uzbekistan 35+
Viet Nam 128+
Yemen 144+
Zimbabwe 3
(Capital punishment and implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, Report of the Secretary-General to Economic and Social Council, E/2005/3, Session July 29, 2005).

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