INTERNATIONAL: United Nations Resolution Shows Increasing Support for International Moratorium

In November, a preliminary resolution was presented to the United Nations General Assembly for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty around the world. Panama, the European Union, Paraguay, Philippines, East Timor, Rwanda, Mozambique and Russia were among the resolution's sponsors. Other co-sponsors included nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The resolution received 107 votes in favor, 38 against and 36 abstentions. In 2007, a similar resolution was adopted by the General Assembly, receiving 104 "yes" votes, 54 "no" and 29 abstentions. The increase in the number of supportive votes and the decline in negative votes (from 54 to 38) are indicative of an international trend away from the death penalty. The United States joined China, India and other nations in voting against the resolution. In recent years, China has consistently had the greatest number of executions in the world, with the U.S. being among the top five countries in that category.  In 2009, the U.S. carried out 52 executions.  UPDATE: The final vote on the resolution occurred on Dec. 21, 2010: 109 countries voted for the resolution (+3 votes from prior resolution), 41 voted against (-5 votes), 35 abstained and 7 were absent. (World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Newsletter, January 2011).

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NEW FROM DPIC: Video Excerpts from the International Police Forum on the Death Penalty

On October 13, officials from the U.S. and Europe held what may have been the first ever international forum of law enforcement officers on the merits of the death penalty in reducing violent crime. The officers discussed whether capital punishment actually helps to keep citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. The panelists, who included current and former police officers from the U.S. land Europe, addressed issues such as deterrence, closure to victims’ families, and costs as compared to alternative sentences.  The panel was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. You can find resources regarding the forum and video clips of the presenters' remarks on DPIC's new webpage here.

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BOOKS: "Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective"

A new book by Andrew Hammel offers insights into the different perspectives on the death penalty in America and Europe. "Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective" examines three countries that do not have the death penalty (Germany, France and the United Kingdom), and analyzes how capital punishment was ended in those countries. Hammel ultimately believes that the governmental structure, culture, and political traditions in the U.S. make the European model of abolition unlikey to succeed here, though he also states that "important piecemeal victories" in limiting capital punishment are likely to continue in the U.S. Andrew Hammel is Assistant Professor for American Law at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany. He has worked as a lawyer with the Texas Defender Service, where he represented death row inmates in U.S. state and federal courts.

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High Court in Kenya Rules Hundreds of Death Sentences Unconstitutional

kenya flagOn July 30, the Court of Appeal in Kenya unanimously held that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional, violating the right to life and inflicting inhuman punishment since the law does not provide individuals the opportunity to present mitigating evidence.  As a result, hundreds of prisoners will be given new sentencing hearings at which they will be able to present reasons why they should be spared a death sentence.  New procedures will have to be adopted for conducting such hearings.  The old law required a death sentence as the only punishment for defendants convicted of murder.  The Court of Appeal also spoke strongly against extended incarceration on death row, stating that holding a person on death row for more than 3 years would be unconstitutional.

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NEW RESOURCES: "The State of the World's Human Rights"

Amnesty International recently released its annual report on international abuses and progress in the field of human rights: "The State of the World's Human Rights." The report covers January to December 2009 and addresses human rights issues in every country around the world. The report also highlights countries' involvement in international and regional human rights treaties. Among the nations in the Americas, the United States had the most active death penalty practices with over 100 new death sentences and 52 executions. Although death sentences were handed down in the Bahamas, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, no executions were carried out. The majority of North American and South American countries are abolitionist in law or in practice.

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NEW RESOURCES: The Death Penalty for Drug Offences - Global Overview 2010

The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) recently published a report on the use of the death penalty for drug crimes around the world. The report distinguishes between countries that have legislation allowing a death sentence for drug offenses and those that actually apply it in practice. According to the report, 32 jurisdictions retain the death penalty for drug offenses (out of the 58 countries that have the death penalty for any offense), at least 12 of which were known to have carried out an execution for such offenses in the last three years.  These countries include China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Viet Nam.  Additionally, 13 of the 32 jurisdictions use a mandatory death penalty for certain categories of drug offenses. Five of the 32 jurisdictions are abolitionist in practice, i.e. they have not carried out an execution in many years. The United States, whose federal law allows the death penalty for certain drug offenses even where a murder has not occurred, is considered a jurisdiction with only symbolic commitment to such a practice since this part of the federal death penalty law has not been applied to any defendant. Read full report here.

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INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Only 18 Countries Carried Out Executions in 2009

Amnesty International recently released its annual global report on the death penalty, covering executions and death sentences worldwide in 2009. The report states that more than 700 people were executed in 18 countries in 2009, and at least 2,000 people were sentenced to death. One hundred and seventy-nine (179) countries had no executions last year.  Countries with the highest number of executions were Iran (with at least 388 executions), Iraq (with at least 120 executions), Saudi Arabia (with at least 69), and the United States (with 52). These figures, however, do not include China's executions, where information regarding the death penalty remains a secret. According to the report, China remained the global leader with more executions than the rest of the world combined.  The number of people being executed around the world appears to be declining. For the first time, there were no reported executions in Europe and no executions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Mongolia for the first time in many years.  The U.S. was the only country in the Americas to carry out an execution. Burundi and Togo abolished the death penalty in 2009.  The United Nations General Assembly has called for a moratorium on all executions.  Click here to view the full report.

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INTERNATIONAL-NEW VOICES: Taiwan Justice Minister Resigns Rather Than Sign Death Warrants

Taiwan’s Minister of Justice, Wang Ching-feng, recently resigned from her post after expressing her strong opposition to the country’s death penalty. Since her position was essential to her beliefs but incompatible with those of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou and some members of her own political party, she decided not to continue in office. “I would rather step down than sign any death warrant," she said. “If these convicts can have an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, I would be very happy to be executed ... in their stead.”  Taiwan has had a de facto moratorium on executions for the last four years, with no executions since 2005.  A total of 49 executions were carried out between 2000 and 2005. Taiwan is among 62 countries around the world that still maintain the death penalty, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United States and Pakistan that account for over 90% of all executions worldwide.

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INTERNATIONAL: 4th World Congress on the Death Penalty Meets In Geneva

Over 1,000 human rights activists from over 100 countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty. Many participants hope to achieve a moratorium on the imposition and execution of the death penalty around the world. At present, 56 states and territories still have the death penalty, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and the United States.  In 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. In recent years, the number of  countries that have repealed capital punishment has been accelerating. The World Congress issued a resolution on February 26, calling for a series of steps toward ending the death penalty: "We call, from the host city of international organizations and a symbol of peace . . .[for] the universal abolition of capital punishment."

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Death Penalty to be Put on Trial in London

Amicus, an organization based in the United Kingdom that assists in the legal representation of those awaiting capital trials in the United States, will be hosting a mock trial at the Emmanuel Centre (pictured) in Westminster, London on Tuesday, March 2, beginning at 6:30 PM.  The question is whether the death penalty in the U.S. perverts the course of justice.  The trial will be presided over by Lord Woolf, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, and Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC, and will feature prominent death penalty experts including Prof. Paul Cassell (former federal prosecutor and former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia), Prof. Robert Blecker (NY Law School) and Kent Scheidegger (Criminal Justice Legal Fdn.) defending the death penalty, and Prof. Julian Killingley (Birmingham City Univ.), Rev. Cathy Harrington (Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation), and Nick Trenticosta (Center for Equal Justice) prosecuting the death penalty.  The program hopes to raise awareness of issues surrounding the application of the death penalty in the United States.  Click here for more details about his event.

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