RESOURCES: New Website and Database Launched

The Death Penalty Project launched a new Web site on December 10 that includes a legal resource database with a comprehensive list of international legal authorities and case law, some dating back to the 19th century, and detailed head notes for those seeking jurisprudence on criminal, constitutional, and international points of law.  Users can search for case references by subject matter and a sophisticated case index.

The site is located at The Death Penalty Project is an international human rights organization that provides free legal representation to the many individuals facing the death penalty in the Caribbean and Africa, and works to ensure compliance with regional and international human rights standards.

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BOOKS: Against the Death Penalty: International Initiatives and Implications

A new book, Against the Death Penalty: International Initiatives and Implications, features leading scholars on the death penalty and their analysis of both the promotion and demise of the punishment around the world. It considers the current efforts to restrict the death penalty within the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the African Commission, and the Commonwealth Caribbean. It also investigates perspectives and questions for retentionist countries with a focus on the United States, China, Korea, and Taiwan.  Among the authors in this compendium are Roger Hood, William Schabas, Peter Hodgkinson, and DPIC's Executive Director, Richard Dieter.

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DPIC Materials in Multiple Languages

Select pages of DPIC’s Web site are now available in Spanish, German and French. DPIC’s Death Penalty Fact Sheet and other information are in Spanish. DPIC's Innocence List Case Descriptions are availabile in German. DPIC’s 1998 Report The Death Penalty in Black & White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides is available in French.

Spanish- Hechos Sobre la Pena de Muerte.

German- Unschuldige und ihre Faelle In Kuerze.

French- Le Peine de Mort en Noir et Blanc: Qui Vit, Qui Meurt, Qui Decide.

See also Special from DPIC.

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International Organizations and Countries Mark Day Against the Death Penalty

As many countries prepare to mark the international World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10, recent trends indicate that the world is shifting away from capital punishment. According to a report published by Reprieve, an organization that represents death row prisoners around the world, 91 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes by the end of 2007, followed by three more so far in 2008. Even in Central Asia where executions are part of a long tradition, several countries have restricted or placed moratoriums on the use of the death penalty. In Africa, Rwanda abolished its death penalty in the past year while several other African nations have taken steps toward abolition. Overall, 137 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while 60 countries continue to utilize capital punishment. Almost all state executions in 2007 were carried out by only five nations – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. At least 1,252 executions took place in 24 countries over the course of the year, 88% of them in the five nations listed above.

As a continent, Asia continues to lead the world in the greatest number of executions, the bulk of them occurring in China. Several nations, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Sudan, allow the death penalty for crimes not involving murder, such as adultery and consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex. Additionally, both Iran and Saudi Arabia executed juveniles in 2007. In Europe, where the European Union does not allow membership to any country with capital punishment, Belarus is the only nation that has retained the death penalty.

Since 2003, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to carry out executions. However, 2007 saw the lowest number of executions in over a decade and death sentences continue to drop across the nation.

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International Law Experts Question Supreme Court Decision in Medellin Case

Notable international law experts cited in a recent article in the Washington Lawyer criticized the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision on whether an international treaty was binding on Texas in the case of death row inmate Jose Medellin. Carolyn Lamm, an attorney at White & Case specializing in international dispute resolution, stated that "[T]he failure to compel our state court organs to comply with the decision of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] is regrettable, and the dissenting opinion that the language was self-executing is correct.” In August 2008, Texas executed Medellin despite the judgment of the ICJ that his rights and those of 50 other foreign nationals on death row were violated under the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations due to a failure to inform the inmates of their right to contact their country’s consulate for assistance upon arrest.

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Execution of Foreign Nationals Raises Legal Concerns

In a 5-4 vote on August 5, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution for Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen, who was then executed in Texas that night. On August 7, Heliberto Chi, an Honduran citizen, was also executed in Texas. Medellin's case had come before the Supreme Court on two previous occasions because the International Court of Justice had ruled that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by not informing him and other foreign nationals of their rights under that treaty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, without further action by Congress, Texas was not bound to hold up the execution, despite the treaty violation. In the most recent majority opinion rejecting Medellin's stay, the Court said that the prospect of Congress acting soon on this issue was remote. The four Justices who dissented from the denial of the stay each wrote separately about their concerns. Excerpts from some of their opinions follow:

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NEW VOICES: Request for Texas to Honor Treaty for Safety of U.S. Citizens Abroad

An op-ed by Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis and law professor Craig Jackson argues that Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons should follow the International Court of Justice’s order to stay the executions of Mexican citizens in Texas. They believe the World Court’s decision was the “right thing to do” and Gov. Perry “would do well to consider how defiance of the World Court ruling will affect the safety of Americans abroad who rely on the same treaty protections that Texas violated in these cases.” The World Court held that the U.S. was in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which states that law enforcement officials should ensure that arrests of foreigners be quickly reported to their nations’ consulates. The reason the U.S. entered into that treaty was to ensure that American citizens would have access to American consular officials if arrested abroad.

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International Court of Justice Orders US to Stay 5 executions

World Court

The International Court of Justice has granted Mexico’s request for an order to stay the execution of five Mexican citizens on death row in the U.S. Mexico had requested the U.N.'s highest court, commonly referred to as the World Court, to intervene because the United States has failed to comply with an earlier ICJ judgment ordering a hearing to review the trials of the Mexican citizens. The World Court ruled in 2004 that the U.S. violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations because it had not provided the Mexican inmates access to their home country’s consular officials prior to their trials.

The ICJ held that the convictions and death sentences of 51 death row inmates required further review. President Bush acknowledged the judgment of the ICJ and ordered state courts to review the cases. Texas, however, refused, and the issue of the President's power went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jose Medellin, one of the death row inmates in Texas and a Mexican citizen, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to enforce the ICJ's ruling and the President's memorandum. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal on March 25, 2008, stating that Bush had overstepped his authority. The majority opinion stated that the Constitution, “allows the President to execute the laws, not make them.”

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European Union Reasserts Its Opposition to the Death Penalty in All Countries and All Cases

On June 16, 2008, the Council of the European Union (EU) meeting in Luxembourg released a statement on General Affairs and External Relations. The document contained a restatement of its 1998 Human Rights Guideline on the death penalty. The Council, consisting of almost all Foreign Ministers in the EU, stated that it “reaffirms that working towards universal abolition of the death penalty constitutes an integral objective of the EU’s human rights policy.” The Council reasserted the “opposition of the European Union to the death penalty in all cases and in all circumstances. The abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.”

The Council commended the “considerable progress [that] has been made worldwide towards the abolition of the death penalty” in the past 10 years. They added, “The adoption by the UN General Assembly last year of a cross-regional initiative calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty is a significant achievement in this regard. At the same time, the Council, “regrets that a number of States still maintain the death penalty. We call on all these states to abolish the death penalty; if necessary with the immediate establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to abolishing it.”

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NEW RESOURCES: Why Some Countries Have the Death Penalty and Others Do Not

A new study has been released that explores the correlations between countries’ legal, political, and religious systems and their use of the death penalty. Professors David Greenberg from New York University and Valerie West of John Jay College examined data from 193 nations to test why some countries regularly use capital punishment while others have abandoned it altogether. They found, “In part, a country’s death penalty status is linked to its general punitiveness towards criminals. Countries that imprison more convicted criminals are also more likely to kill them.” Interestingly, the data showed that “a country’s population has no significant direct or indirect effect on its death penalty status. Nor does its homicide rate. Countries with fewer political rights are more likely to have the death penalty.” The link between political rights and abolition of the death penalty was illustrated by the fact that countries with higher literacy rates and developed economies were least likely to have the death penalty. Catholicism also showed a strong influence over the use of capital punishment in the study, showing a reduction of the death penalty where there was a large presence of Catholics. Greenberg and West point out, "There are exceptions to these generalizations. Retentionist societies are not all cut from the same cloth, nor are all abolitionist societies."

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