PUBLIC OPINION: Only 1 of 3 Support the Death Penalty In Finland A fresh survey indicates that 29 % of Finns would approve of the death penalty as a punishment for certain crimes committed during peacetime. Whereas 36 % of men would support the death penalty, only 22 % of women found it acceptable. Almost 41 % of those aged 35 to 49 are in favour of capital punishment. (Helsingin Sanomat, Suomen Gallup: November 21, 2006)
Read More 3,317 reads
Texas Court Rejects Presidential Order in Death Penalty Case

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rebuffed President Bush's order that Texas courts review the cases of Mexican foreign nationals who were sentenced to death without the benefit of their rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  Writing for the court, Judge Michael Keasler, stated: "We hold that the President has exceeded his constitutional authority by intruding into the independent powers of the judiciary."  Judge Sharon Keller concurred, writing: "this unprecedented, unnnecessary, and intrusive exercise of power over the Texas court system cannot be supported by the foreign policy authority conferred on him by the United States Constitution."

In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that 51 Mexican citizens who were on death row in the U.S. were entitled to a review of their convictions and sentences in light of the fact that they were not informed of their right to speak to their consular officials at the time of their arrest, as guaranteed under the Vienna Convention.  While one of these cases, that of Jose Ernesto Medellin, was making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, President Bush issued a memorandum to the Justice Department ordering that state courts abide by the decision of the International Court.  The U.S. State Department also announced that, for future cases, the U.S. was withdrawing from the agreement that gave the International Court jurisdiction in the case of the 51 Mexican citizens.

Read More 4,992 reads
PUBLIC OPINION: Mexicans divided over Capital Punishment
Mexican adults are split on whether the death penalty should be used in their country, according to a poll by Parametría. 44 % of respondents disapprove of the death penalty, while 38 % are in favour of it. 55 % of respondents think allowing the death penalty would help to reduce the level of insecurity in Mexico, up 5 points since May 2004. (Angus Reid Global Monitor: November 5, 2006)
Read More 2,581 reads
From The United Nations

Message from Mary Robinson: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the Press Conference Organized by the Death Penalty Information Center
New York City, USA
Tuesday, 12 October 1999

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I regret that I am not able to be with you today to share this important event. I am confident that today’s discussion will be fruitful and contribute to the continuing international effort aimed at limiting, and one day, eliminating the use of the death penalty throughout the world.

More than half of the nations of the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, and I welcome the fact that more and more countries are joining this trend, by either restricting the number of offences punishable by death or abolishing the death penalty altogether. At the same time, I deeply regret that in the last years a number of states have increased the use of the death penalty or resumed executions after a period of de facto moratorium. While working towards the ultimate goal — a universal ban on capital punishment — we must also ensure that the existing limitations and restrictions on the use of the death penalty are fully respected by those who still retain this practice.

I have on several occasions expressed my particular opposition to the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders. The Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly stipulates that capital punishment shall not be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age. The Convention has been ratified by almost every State, but not by the United States. The overwhelming and growing international consensus that the death penalty should not apply to juvenile offenders, stems from the recognition that young persons lack maturity and judgement and, therefore, cannot be expected to be fully responsible for their actions. More importantly, it reflects the firm belief that young persons are more susceptible to change, and thus have a greater potential for rehabilitation than adults.

While the death penalty is yet to be banned under international law, the trend towards this goal is obvious. The adoption in 1989 of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty was a clear recognition by the international community of the need to eliminate the use of capital punishment, totally and globally. The Protocol has already been ratified by 95 countries. On the regional level both the European and the American conventions on human rights have special protocols for the abolition of the death penalty. The desirability of the total abolition of the capital punishment has also been reaffirmed on repeated occasions by various United Nation bodies and organs. Already in 1971 the General Assembly called on States to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Last spring during its 55th session, the Commission on Human Rights passed for the third consecutive year a resolution calling for restrictions on the use of the death penalty. The Commission urged all States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty The resolution also called on retentionist States to comply fully with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child with regard to the death penalty.

Over the last year, I have on several occasions made representations to the Government of the United States in regard to persons who were facing imminent execution, and whose death sentences I felt ran counter to internationally agreed human rights standards and principles

My mandate to work for the universal enjoyment of human rights makes me feel particularly responsible to fully and actively support national and international initiatives aimed at a total and universal abolition of capital punishment.

Read More 14,052 reads
United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium on Executions April 1999   [Preliminary unedited version]   Question of the death penalty   Commission on Human Rights resolution 1999/61  

The Commission on Human Rights,

Recalling article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of everyone to life, article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles 6 and 37 (a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,

Recalling also General Assembly resolutions 2857 (XXVI) of 20 December 1971 and 32/61 of 8 December 1977 on capital punishment, as well as resolution 44/128 of 15 December 1989, in which the Assembly adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty,

Recalling further Economic and Social Council resolutions 1574 (L) of 20 May 1971, 1745 (LIV) of 16 May 1973, 1930 (LVIII) of 6 May 1975, 1984/50 of 25 May 1984, 1985/33 of 29 May 1985, 1989/64 of 24 May 1989, 1990/29 of 24 May 1990, 1990/51 of 24 July 1990 and 1996/15 of 23 July 1996,

Recalling its resolution 1998/8 of 3 April 1998 in which it expressed its conviction that abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights,

Welcoming the exclusion of capital punishment from the penalties that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court are authorized to impose,

Commending those countries which have recently abolished the death penalty,

Welcoming the fact that many countries, while still keeping the death penalty in their penal legislation, are applying a moratorium on executions,

Referring to the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (E/CN.4/1999/39 and Add.1), with respect to the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, set out in the annex to Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984,

Deeply concerned that several countries impose the death penalty in disregard of the limitations provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,

Concerned also that several countries, in imposing the death penalty, do not take into account the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty,

1. Welcomes the report of the Secretary-General containing information on changes in law and practice concerning the death penalty worldwide (E/CN.4/1999/52 and Corr.1 and Add.1) and further positive developments reflected in that report;

2. Calls upon all States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that have not yet done so to consider acceding to or ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;

3. Urges all States that still maintain the death penalty:

(a) To comply fully with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, notably not to impose the death penalty for any but the most serious crimes and only pursuant to a final judgement rendered by an independent and impartial competent court, not to impose it for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age, to exclude pregnant women from capital punishment and to ensure the right to a fair trial and the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence;

(b) To ensure that the notion of "most serious crimes" does not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal or extremely grave consequences and that the death penalty is not imposed for non-violent financial crimes or for non-violent religious practice or expression of conscience;

(c) Not to enter any new reservations under article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which may be contrary to the object and the purpose of the Covenant and to withdraw any such existing reservations, given that article 6 of the Covenant enshrines the minimum rules for the protection of the right to life and the generally accepted standards in this area;

(d) To observe the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, set out in the annex to Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50, and to comply fully with their international obligations, in particular with those under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations;

(e) Not to impose the death penalty on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder or to execute any such person;

(f) Not to execute any person as long as any related legal procedure, at international or at national level, is pending;

4. Calls upon all States that still maintain the death penalty:

(a) Progressively to restrict the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed;

(b) To establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty;

(c) To make available to the public information with regard to the imposition of the death penalty;

5. Requests States that have received a request for extradition on a capital charge to reserve explicitly the right to refuse extradition in the absence of effective assurances from relevant authorities of the requesting State that capital punishment will not be carried out;

6. Requests the Secretary-General to submit his sixth quinquennial report on capital punishment and implementation of the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, due in 2000 in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1995/57 of 28 July 1995, to the Commission at its fifty-sixth session;

7. Decides to continue consideration of the matter at its fifty-sixth session under the same agenda item.

58th meeting 28 April 1999 [Adopted by a roll-call vote of 30 votes to 11, with 12 abstentions. See chap. XVII.]

Read More 14,807 reads
International Leadership Conference on Human Rights and the Death Penalty

Tokyo, Japan
December 6-7, 2005

Next we would like to welcome, Mr. Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

I would like to thank the European Commission, the American Bar Association and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations for inviting me to speak about the death penalty in the United States. I first want to say that our Japanese hosts have been especially gracious--I immediately felt welcomed here, and I want to thank you for that.

Today we are addressing the cultural aspects of the death penalty, and the United States is certainly a complex culture, made up of many different strands. It is difficult to define exactly what motivates the death penalty in our society, or why this punishment for crime is given a special importance by many people. What I would like to talk about today are some of the facts that illustrate a dramatic change in the death penalty (and perhaps even in our culture) that has been occurring over the past few years.

To understand this change, it is helpful to review the recent history of the death penalty. Ten years ago, in the mid-1990s, the death penalty in the United States was finally "succeeding" at what it had been formulated to do. The death penalty had been stopped by the United States Supreme Court in 1972 because it was being arbitrarily applied. Many states, wishing to preserve the death penalty, then re-wrote their laws to meet the Court's requirements. The new laws were supposed to be carefully channeled so that only the worst offenders would be eligible for the death penalty, thereby eliminating its arbitrary quality. The death penalty resumed in 1976, though executions did not escalate quickly. There was one execution in 1977. The process was slow, there were many appeals, and some state laws were overturned.

In the 1990s, the United States began to experience a death penalty similar to that of the 1930s when nearly 200 people a year were executed. The number of executions went steadily up, reaching almost 100 executions in 1999. The number of people on death row kept rising as more and more people were sentenced to death. New states, such as Kansas and New York, added the death penalty to their statutes. In 1994, the federal government, which affects all 50 states but which had not been a significant participant in the death penalty, expanded its capital punishment statute so that 60 offenses were eligible for the death penalty, instead of just one offense previously.

Much of the public wanted the death penalty applied more often and more quickly. Moreover, we had just experienced a terrible act of terrorism in 1995 by one of our own citizens in the Oklahoma City bombing. In the wake of that, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 to speed up the death penalty, and the number of executions continued to rise.

The death penalty was supported by 80% of the American public in the 1990s. But surprisingly, a dramatic period of change began around the time of the new millennium. This would seem to be a very unlikely time for the death penalty to change in the U.S., given the cultural events taking place. In 2000, the U.S. elected a president, George Bush, who as governor of Texas presided over the most executions of any modern governor, 152 executions. He was not elected because of those executions or because of his death penalty position, but the election certainly symbolized that the U.S. was a country that had no problem with the death penalty.

We also experienced another act of terrorism in 2001--the attacks in New York and Washington, DC. These actions created a tremendous anger and resulted in many proposals to expand the death penalty. But despite these events, and despite the rise in the executions in the 1990s, the increase in the size of death row, the high level of public support for the death penalty and its affirmation through the electoral process, the death penalty has been in a sharp decline since 2000. Executions are down about 40%. Last year there were 59 executions compared to almost 100 in the 1999. The number of death sentences--and I think this is the most important measure of the death penalty because new sentences mean more executions and a larger death row--are down by over 60% since 1999. There were 300 death sentences a year throughout the 1990s. Last year there were 125 death sentences. That may sound like a lot, but it is far less than it had been.

This year, we are projecting that the number of sentences will remain low, the lowest they have been in 30 years since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States. Not all of the change is positive and in one direction. But the change is significant, and I think it is attributable to two causes: first, and Mr. Greco of the ABA pointed this out earlier, as the number of executions rose, lawyers from bar associations and law firms, journalism students, and concerned individuals from around the country started looking at these cases more closely, especially as executions neared. What they found in case after case was that the defendant had been wrongly convicted.

Thirteen people in Illinois, alone, were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, many of them having come close to execution. One of them, Anthony Porter, had his case investigated by journalism students. They happened to review this case because their class met at a time when he had received a stay of execution based on his mental capacity, not because of his possible innocence. This was not an instance of the criminal justice system working well. This case illustrated how independent influences from outside the justice system could expose the problems in the death penalty. The students discovered that Porter could not have committed the crime that put him on death row. They found the actual perpetrator who confessed to the crime. Porter was freed, and the public was shocked at how a near tragedy was averted.

In the late 1990s, the number of exonerations from death row continued to grow, and the issue of innocence received confirmation from another outside source. The advent of DNA testing, which emerged in the 1990s and became more sophisticated and prevalent in the late 1990s, confirmed that people, whom the courts and juries ensured us were guilty and deserving of death, were actually innocent.

DNA testing cast a new light on our criminal justice system. Even though the majority of the cases where inmates were freed from death row did not involve DNA testing, this scientific affirmation exposed deeper problems throughout the system. If DNA testing proved that in some cases the wrong person had been convicted and sentenced to death, then one had to be concerned about the many other cases in which no DNA evidence was available.

The second important contribution to the decline in the use of the death penalty that emerged in the 1990s was the introduction of the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. That has been a gradual process in the United States, and may not seem like progress from the perspective of those concerned about the high rate of incarceration in the U.S. But for the death penalty, it represents a critical alternative.

Jurors in death penalty cases are faced with the difficult task of possibly sentencing someone death, knowing that in 5 or 10 years new evidence might reveal that the wrong person was convicted. In the earlier years of the death penalty, the alternative to a death sentence was a life sentence in which the defendant might someday be released. A life-without-parole sentence has given jurors a middle ground between death and the possibility of release.

The number of death sentences has declined dramatically and the number of people serving life-without-parole sentences has increased. These two developments, innocence and life-without-parole, are changing the face of the death penalty in the United States.

As I mentioned earlier, however, all the change is not in one direction. The federal death penalty is expanding and there are efforts to broaden it even further. The federal death penalty is being aggressively pursued in the 12 states that do not have capital punishment. The number of people on the federal death row has gone up while the number of people on the states' death rows has declined.

Another disturbing development is happening in California. There are 640 people on death row in California. There have been 11 executions over the past 30 years. That is a system that is on the verge of spilling over its damn. In our system, you cannot stop executions indefinitely. Appeals do run out--there are no "endless appeals." Three executions are scheduled in California over the next few weeks. There could be many more, and that could reverse some of the trends I have been describing.

Finally, there are still many lawmakers who believe strongly in the death penalty and are still trying to accelerate executions. There is proposed legislation entitled the Streamlined Procedures Act, which would drastically curtail death penalty appeals. It currently takes an average of 10 years from sentencing to execution in the United States. Some legislators want to shorten this to 5 years. Of course, the danger with such a system is that some of the 122 innocent people who had been freed from death row would have been executed before the evidence emerged to free them. Those cases took an average of 9 years from sentencing until when the inmates were freed to develop the necessary evidence of innocence. If the executions had occurred after 5 years, many of them would be dead.

We will hear from one of these individuals, Kirk Bloodsworth, shortly. His case was the first case where DNA evidence freed a death row inmate in the United States. That case took many years to develop. If we cut the appeals process down from 10 years to 5 years, we run the risk of executing the typical innocent person instead of freeing him.

So there are clearly trends that counterbalance the decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S. Nevertheless, I believe that the drop in death sentences is the stronger trend because it has occurred not just this year, but consistently over the past 5 years. Moreover, there are other indications that the death penalty may be on the wane: New York recently rejected an effort to restore its death penalty after it was overturned in the courts. New York was the last state to adopt the death penalty in 1995, and now it has abandoned capital punishment. Texas, which leads the country in executions, just this year adopted the sentence of life without parole. I think we will start to see a decline in death sentences in Texas. Illinois has a moratorium on executions. New Jersey has a moratorium on executions. Many states are considering reforms of their death penalty system. I think the prospects for the future are positive, but there are many competing trends. Hopefully, the international movement away from capital punishment will buttress the turnaround on the death penalty that has been slowly emerging in the United States. Thank you.


Ronald Tabak from the United States: My question is for Mr. Dieter. The two speakers that spoke after you, one of them claimed that abolitionists in the United States are afraid to debate the subject, and the person after that, Mr. Hodgkinson, spoke about the danger of losing in legislatures what you have gained in litigation. I'd like you to comment on those statements in light of what happened in New York after the court decision there and what has happened regarding the mentally retarded and juveniles in the United States following enactment of legislation in various states. Thank you.


All right. Thank you for that question. Of course, the United States strongly embraces democracy and so it is hard to have lasting change unless the people endorse it. There may be decisions from our Supreme Court and laws from our legislatures, but ultimately, if the people are not behind them, such changes are not going to stand, and that is certainly true regarding the death penalty. The death penalty was stopped in 1972 by the Supreme Court, but that moratorium did not last because most people wanted the death penalty. So, at least from the perspective of the United States, I think that what Ron Tabak is hinting at is essential.

There has to be debate among the people if death penalty changes are to last. With respect to outlawing the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded, there first had to be local legislative discussion in many states. If the Supreme Court acted alone, I doubt that the incremental steps that we have been making in limiting the death penalty would be secure. It is not enough simply to have a pronouncement from a judicial body.

Fortunately, I think this local debate about death penalty issues is happening. Lawyers are not the only ones involved in these discussions; there are activists and church groups. The Catholic Church, for example, has been very involved in this issue, and other religious groups are echoing the same sentiments. Many are saying that the death penalty is a culture-of-life issue, and so conservative people are changing their minds on the death penalty, too.

Formerly, liberals were against the death penalty and conservatives were for it. That is rapidly changing. There is openness to dealing with the death penalty on a bipartisan level. For example, I think the country as a whole is accepting of the Supreme Court's decision to eliminate the mentally retarded from the death penalty. That decision is not going to be taken back. I think they are accepting of the decision to exempt juveniles from the death penalty, because of the preparation of groups that paved the way. One example of taking an issue beyond theory and the law is the work of the photographer Toshi Kazama, who is here today and who has personalized the issue of juveniles through his pictures.

I hope that addresses some of the points you raised.


I would like to add a brief comment about life-without-parole sentences, which Marc Mauer will be speaking more about later. The use of these sentences has grown independent of the death penalty. This sentence has emerged from the correctional system—it is invoked for repeat offenders under what we call our "three strikes law." We have life without parole separate from the crisis with the death penalty.

Now that the death penalty is on the defensive in the U.S., life without parole has emerged as the only acceptable alternative to most of the American public. I believe that if the death penalty were struck down, we would also see a reduction in life-without-parole sentences. Because life without parole would then be the most extreme sentence, it would be used for a narrower group of cases. Right now, 1% of the people who commit murder receive the death penalty – a large share of the remaining 99% is receiving life-without-parole sentences. If the death penalty was ended, I think we would still see some defendants, perhaps the "worst" offenders, receiving life without parole. But the majority would receive life with possible consideration of parole. That is perhaps an optimistic view, but I could see it happening.

Read More 8,463 reads
New Voices - International

Attorney General Wants to Avoid "Martyrdom" for Guantanamo Prisoners

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey (pictured) said that he hopes that the Guantanamo prisoners accused of terrorism do not receive the death penalty in the upcoming Military Commission trials because it would give them the martyrdom that they want.  In a recent talk to British economic students, Mukasey said he supports the death penalty, but, "In a way I kind of hope from a personal standpoint ... I kind of hope they don't get it. Because many of them want to be martyrs ....”

Prosecuting attorneys for the military have asked to seek the death penalty for 6 prisoners in Guantanamo accused of terrorism. The Department of Defense has not yet announced whether they will approve the military commission trials as capital cases.

(“Mukasey: Avoid death, martyrdom for 9/11 accused,” by Terry Frieden,, March 14, 2008). See New Voices and Federal Death Penalty.

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) See Juvenile Death Penalty and International Death Penalty.

Australian Judge and Parent of Bombing Victim Rejects Death Penalty

Brian Deegan, a magistrate in South Australia who lost his son in the October 2002 Sari nightclub bombing in Bali, recently stated that he believes the terrorists who commited that crime should not receive the death penalty, but should be sentenced to a term of life in prison without parole. In an opinion piece in The Australian, Deegan noted:

The Bali bombers who murdered my son last October are evil extremists, but they don't deserve the death penalty.
. . .
Indeed, I have no problem with the idea that he [Amrozi] and his accomplices should remain in prison for the rest of their lives. But the prospect of their judicial murder is something I want no part of.
. . .
As a measure employed to dissuade potential criminals, the death penalty has been an abject failure. This is borne out by statistics that point to the commensurate rise of murders and executions in countries where capital punishment is awarded.
The argument in favour of executions remains difficult to reconcile with the universal revulsion generated by periods in history when society thought nothing of hanging a child or burning a witch. We read with disgust, or perhaps with guilt, of the stoning of adulterers, the removal of a thief's hand or the decapitation of a blasphemer. Yet we find it palatable to break a man's neck, to poison his veins or to electrocute him.
The suggestion that Amrozi and his fellow evildoers should face an Indonesian firing squad is unconscionable because that would make the punishment as barbaric as the crime. What the Bali bombers did to my child and to the hundreds of others defies description. But the October 12, 2002, terrorist attacks do not give anyone the right to repeat such a vile act.

(The Australian, July 9, 2003).

Business Leaders Criticize U.S. International Record

(Latin America Advisor, August 27, 2002).

  • James R. Jones, Co-chair of Manatt Jones Global Strategies LLC: "The U.S. government needs to enforce the right of immigrants and other foreign visitors to contact their native country's consular offices at times of arrest much better than we do presently. . . . [W]e should do it for the benefit of U.S. citizens traveling abroad who should expect the same legal rights."
  • Tony Smith, Partner at Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard: "The U.S. record is terrible . . . . Clearly, Americans are at risk, as more and more travel and do business in foreign countries."
  • Robert C. Helander, Managing Partner of InterConsult LLP: "Observing a suspect's Miranda rights is not sufficient in the case of a foreign national from a country with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations . . . [T]here needs to be better training and communication between the federal authorities and the local and state levels of policing."

Mexican President Vincente Fox Says Human Rights is a Key Issue for Mexico

Mexican President Vicente Fox (pictured) recently discussed his decision to cancel a late August visit to Texas after the state's execution of a Mexican citizen. Fox noted:

"When you have commitments, when you believe in values, you live by them. Human rights is a key issue for this government. Precisely because in the past, and with past governments, there was no respect for human rights. . . . We've been promoting the respect for human rights in Mexico and out of Mexico. To be coherent, we did have to take the position we took."

The canceled visit would have taken Fox to four Texas cities and to Crawford, TX, where he had planned to meet with President Bush.

(Houston Chronicle, August 21, 2002). See also, Foreign Nationals.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh, who led two U.S. delegations to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, commenting on the U.S.'s loss of its seat on the Commission:

"Last week's vote is a wake-up call that the era of automatic global deference to U.S. leadership on human rights is over. Our belief in our global exceptionalism has too often led us to vote alone at the commission, falsely assuming that such isolationism has no costs. In the session just past, we stood alone or nearly alone in refusing to support resolutions supporting lower-cost access to HIV/AIDS drugs, acknowledging a human right to adequate food, condemning disappearances and calling for a moratorium on the death penalty."

(Washington Post, 5/8/01)

Death Penalty for Terrorists?

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Jessica Stern, who served on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995, warned of the danger in executing terrorists:

"As a nation, we have decided that terrorism that results in loss of life should face the possibility of the death penalty. But is this wise?
. . .
[E]xecutions play right into the hands of our adversaries. We turn criminals into martyrs, invite retaliatory strikes and enhance the public relations and fund-raising strategies of our enemies.
. . .
[O]ther countries with far more experience in counterterrorism have concluded that imprisoning terrorists is the better option in the long run.
. . .
Our most powerful weapon against terrorists is our commitment to the rule of law. We must use the courts to make clear that terrorism is a criminal act, not jihad, not heroism, not holy war. And then, we must not make martyrs out of murderers."

(New York Times, 2/28/01) Read the complete op-ed.

International Perspective

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Felix G. Rohatyn, the former U.S. Ambassador to France from 1997 to 2000, and current counselor of the Council on Foreign Relations expressed his concern about America's use of the death penalty:

"During my nearly four years in France, no single issue evoked as much passion and as much protest as executions in the United States. Repeated protests in front of the embassy in Paris, protests at our consulates and, just recently, a petition signed by 500,000 French men and women delivered to our embassy in Paris were part of a constant refrain. My colleague in Germany, Ambassador John Kornblum, had indicated to me that he was challenged as frequently in Germany on this issue as I was in France.
. . .
[T]he United States is seen as executing people who have not had appropriate legal assistance, people who may be innocent, people who are mentally retarded as well as minors. We are viewed as executing disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people, and there is no compelling statistical evidence that the death penalty is a greater deterrent to potential criminals than other forms of punishment.
Some 300 million of our closest allies think capital punishment is cruel and unusual and it might be worthwhile to give it some further thought."

(Washington Post, 2/20/01) Read the complete op-ed. See also, International Death Penalty.

Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Urges Americans to Rethink Capital Punishment

In an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Walter Schwimmer, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, wrote:

"The maintenance of the death penalty in the United States is becoming more and more anachronistic. International organizations like the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union have issued calls for a moratorium on executions. There is a clear trend toward abolition, often preceded by the institution of a moratorium.
. . .
"The time has come for Americans to stop and think. Fortunately, this is precisely what a growing number of them seem to be doing. A recent report by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington refers to polls that confirm that public support for the death penalty is declining. The report speaks of a broad change in the way Americans view capital punishment. More voices are being heard and initiatives taken in favor of a moratorium on executions.
"This movement deserves full support. Establishing moratoriums on executions in Europe has not been an easy process, and there is no reason to think that it will be any easier in the United States. But I have no doubt that willingness to consider the facts can only lead to the conclusion that this madness must end."

(International Herald Tribune, 1/25/01) See also, DPIC's 2000 Year End Report.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, upon receiving 3.2 million signatures of people seeking an end to executions presented to him by Sister Helen Prejean:

"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).

 Return to New Voices

Read More 9,895 reads
INTERNATIONAL: China Moves to Sharply Restrict Use of Death Penalty

China has adopted new rules that will require all death sentences to be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court, the country's highest court.  In the past, China has been consistently listed as the leading country in the world in carrying out executions.  The current reforms are a response to domestic and international criticism that cited China's widespread and arbitrary use of the death penalty.  In addition, Chinese courts have been embarrassed in recent years when a number of people who had been executed were later shown to be innocent.  The New China News Agency said the changes are "believed to be the most important reform of capital punishment in more than two decades."  Death sentences may drop by 30%, according to the state news media.

Read More 4,038 reads
INTERNATIONAL: World Day Against the Death Penalty Marked Throughout Europe

At a joint press conference held by the European Commission (EC) and the Council of Europe, Vice-President Franco Frattini of the EC stated that "the administration of State killing via the judicial system serves no useful purpose in preventing crime but can have a brutalising effect on societies that inflict it".

Their press release marking this occasion noted that considerable progress has been made towards abolishing the death penalty:

There [has] been constant progress towards worldwide abolition. There are at present 128 countries that are abolitionist in law and practice. Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Philippines, Bhutan, Samoa) and Europe and Central Asia (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Turkmenistan). In 2005, countries having abolished death penalty were 86, while in 1977, only 16 countries were abolitionist.

Read More 3,861 reads
Rwanda Likely to End Death Penalty to Bring Closure to War

The Justice Minister of Rwanda, Tharcisse Karugarama, announced that the country will likely pass a law by December 2006 ending capital punishment.  This move would allow Rwanda to try suspects charged with atrocities in the 1994 war who are currently in countries that refuse to extradite prisoners if they face the death penalty.  Karugarama said that abolition was necessary in order to achieve a sense of closure.  Unless the country abolishes the death penalty, countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland will not extradite suspects to be tried in Rwanda's national courts.  Only the U.S. has extradited a suspect to Rwanda.  Suspects held under United Nations auspices also cannot be sent to Rwanda if the death penalty is to be sought.

Read More 3,587 reads