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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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INTERNATIONAL RESOURCE: "A Rare and Arbitrary Fate" - the Death Penalty in Trinidad & Tobago

A new study on the use of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago has been published by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal.  The authors closely examine prosecutions under the country's mandatory death penalty statute, which requires imposition of a death sentence whenever a defendant is found guilty of murder.  The study found that, despite a high number of killings, relatively few people were convicted of murder, and not necessarily those who committed the most heinous crimes.

The authors note that witness intimidation may be a factor in the scarcity of convictions and that this reluctance to testify is heightened by the prospect of an automatic death sentence upon conviction.  "In England and Wales and Canada," the study notes, "murder convictions were much easier to obtain after capital punishment was abolished."

Other conclusions of the study include:

The fact that only five per cent of murders recorded by the police between 1998 and 2002 had by the end of 2002 resulted in a conviction for murder . . . indicates how unlikely that penalty is to be as an effective deterrent to all types of murder.

It is ironic that the very type of murder which is perhaps least likely to be the result of carefully planned crime [namely domestic murders] is the type of killing most likely to end up with a conviction for murder.

[B]ecause the system as it operates produces a pattern of murder convictions biased toward certain types of unlawful killing, those who are of East-Indian descent who kill East-Indian victims are far more likely to be sentenced to death than persons of African descent who kill African victims.

("A Rare and Arbitrary Fate: Conviction for Murder, the Mandatory Death Penalty and the Reality of Homicide in Trinidad and Tobago," Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford 2006; A Report to the Death Penalty Project).  See Arbitrariness and International.

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INTERNATIONAL: Worldwide Organizations to Focus on the Death Penalty October 10

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty was created in Rome on May 12, 2002, and consists of 52 organizations throughout the world: NGOs, attorneys' associations, trade unions, local communities, and other organizations (including many that are active in the U.S.) challenging capital punishment.  The Coalition has chosen October 10, 2006 as the day to put particular focus on problems with the death penalty around the world.

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INTERNATIONAL SECOND THOUGHTS: Great Britain Moves to Pardon 300 Soldiers Executed During War

The British Government plans to seek Parliamentary approval of a pardon for more than 300 soldiers executed for military offenses during World War I.  The announcement came just after a pardon was revealed for Private Harry Farr, who was executed at age 25 for refusing to fight.

Defense Secretary Des Browne said:

"I believe a group pardon, approved by Parliament, is the best way to deal with this. After 90 years, the evidence just doesn't exist to assess all the cases individually.

"I do not want to second guess the decisions made by commanders in the field, who were doing their best to apply the rules and standards of the time.

"But the circumstances were terrible, and I believe it is better to acknowledge that injustices were clearly done in some cases, even if we cannot say which - and to acknowledge that all these men were victims of war."

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U.N. Human Rights Committee Urges U.S to Place Moratorium on Death Penalty

Citing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations panel recommended that the United States impose a moratorium on executions.  The report, issued on July 28 by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, stated the panel was "concerned by studies according to which the death penalty may be imposed disproportionately on ethnic minorities as well as on low-income groups, a problem which does not seem to be fully acknowledged."

The panel, made up of 18 independent experts who review the practices of 156 countries who have ratified the covenant, urged the U.S. to limit the number of crimes that carry a penalty of death to the most serious crimes. It also requested that the federal government assess the extent that death sentences are handed down disproportionately on minorities and poor people.

The U.S. mission issued a statement in response to the report, but did not specifically mention the committee's proposals relating to capital punishment.

Criticism by the panel brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992 with a number of reservations, including provisions on the death penalty.

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NEW RESOURCE: Amicus Journal Features Articles on International Death Penalty Developments

The latest edition of the Amicus Journal is now available and features articles related to death penalty topics such as gender bias and jurors, as well as information on international capital punishment developments in the Caribbean and Africa.  The journal features a story on the Middle Temple Library's Capital Punishment Collection in Great Britain, an archive of textbooks, case-preparation aides, film documentaries, and other primary sources on the death penalty.  The Amicus Journal highlights death penalty developments from around the world in an effort to broaden readers' understanding of capital punishment.

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Philippine Senate and House Vote Overwhelmingly to Abolish Death Penalty

On June 6, the Philippine Senate voted with no negative votes to abolish the death penalty.  Even senators who supported the death penalty voted for abolition.  Life without parole sentences or 40 years in prison will be substituted for execution, depending on the offense.   President Arroyo is strongly in favor of the effort to end the death penalty.  Under the bill, all death sentences will be commuted to life sentences.

One of the senators who was hesitant about ending capital punishment, Sen. Richard Gordon, nevertheless said, "It is so easy to kill a person to bring him to justice, but the lifetime suffering of a nation when it finds out that it has made a mistake is indelible."  Some of Gordon's family members had been murdered earlier.

On the same day, the Philippine House of Representatives voted 119-20 for a similar bill outlawing capital punishment.  The two bodies are expected to reconcile differences in their bills and President Arroyo is expected to sign the final version of the legislation.

The death penalty had been re-established in the Philippines in 1993.  There have been 7 executions since then.  Lethal injection was the method of  execution.  There are currently 1,022 inmates on death row.

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