European Commission Announces Tight Controls on Exportation of Lethal Injection Drugs

On December 20, the European Commission announced tough new restrictions on the export of drugs that could be used for executions in the United States. The EC added pentobarbital and sodium thiopental - two drugs on which almost all American executions currently depend - to its list of restricted products that are tightly controlled on the grounds that they may be used for cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. "The decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide," said the Commission's vice-president, Catherine Ashton.  The United Kingdom's Business Secretary, Vince Cable, welcomed the new regulations, saying, "We have led the way by introducing national controls on the export to the United States of certain drugs, which could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. However we have always stated our clear preference for action at EU level and I am pleased that, following our initiative, these steps are now being taken." Last year, the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, Inc., announced it would no longer produce the drug.  In 2011, Lundbeck, Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, made efforts to block the sale of its product to any penal institution in the United States. All U.S. executions in 2011 were conducted by lethal injection.

Read More 8,456 reads
NEW RESOURCES: DPIC's Latest Podcast Explores the Impact of International Law and Opinion on the U.S. Death Penalty

The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available for listening or downloading. This podcast - the 17th in the series - discusses international views on the death penalty and how those views might affect capital punishment in the United States. The podcast includes discussions about the role of international pharmaceutical companies in lethal injections being carried out in the United States, and the consideration of international opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in rulings related to the death penalty.  Click here to listen to this latest podcast.

Read More 5,744 reads
TIME ON DEATH ROW: Justice Breyer Points to Constitutional Problems

For some Supreme Court Justices and international courts, the extensive time that many inmates spend on U.S. death rows has raised concerns about cruel and unusual punishment.  In a recent dissent regarding the execution of Manuel Valle in Florida, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that Valle should not be executed because the 33 years he already spent on death row amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment.  In an earlier dissent in 1999, Justice Breyer noted that the Constitution did not foresee such delays, “Our Constitution was written at a time when delay between sentencing and execution could be measured in days or weeks, not decades.”  Justice Breyer’s concerns are in line with leading international legal opinion regarding the debilitating isolation common to death row.  Foreign courts have ruled that living for decades while facing execution is a form of psychological torment.  Sarah H. Cleveland, a Columbia law professor and former State Department official, said, “Although concerns about the human impact of excessive time spent on death row have received little attention in this country, the ‘death row phenomenon’ — including lengthy time on death row — has been recognized as inhuman punishment and illegal throughout Europe since the 1980s.”  In a 1993 opinion, the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council wrote, “There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he has been held under sentence of death for many years.” Justice Breyer concluded that a death penalty system that cannot be administered without long delays points to “the difficulty of reconciling the imposition of the death penalty as currently administered with procedures necessary to assure that the wrong person is not executed.”  While on the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens also expressed concerns about the cruelty of extended time on death row. 

Read More 9,143 reads
New Report: Foreign Drug Offenders Facing Death in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Kuwait
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Thursday, September 15, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011 (London, UK) – A survey of countries that enforce the death penalty for drug offences reveals that in many nations the majority or even entirety of those facing execution are foreigners.
In a follow-up to its survey on the death penalty for drug offences, Harm Reduction International reveals that in many of the 32 nations or territories that have capital drug laws in force, the vast majority of those executed or facing death are from abroad.  [SEE APPENDIX] 

Read More 16,223 reads
INTERNATIONAL RESOURCES: Death Penalty Lessons from Asia

The Asia-Pacific Journal, Japan Focus, recently featured an article entitled, “Death Penalty Lessons from Asia,” written by David T. Johnson and Franklin E. Zimring. The article is based in part on the authors' book, The Next Frontier: National Development, Political Change, and the Death Penalty in Asia.  Johnson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii.  Zimring is the William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.  The article takes an in-depth look at the practice of the death penalty in Asian jurisdictions over the last few decades. Drawing parallels with the death penalty movement in Europe, Johnson and Zimring present economic development, political change and public opinion as influential to the practice of capital punishment in Asian countries. Their book is based on 5 major case studies of capital punishment in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, and 7 shorter case studies of capital punishment in North Korea, Hong Kong and Macao, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and India. 

Read More 8,111 reads
STUDIES: Amnesty International's Report on the U.S. Death Penalty After 35 Years

A report released by Amnesty International in July looks at recent developments in the lethal injection controversy in the U.S. and provides an overview of the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. Amnesty's report, entitled "An Embarrassment of Hitches: Reflections on the Death Penalty, 35 Years After Gregg v. Georgia, As States Scramble for Lethal Injection Drugs," begins with a discussion of a lawsuit filed by attorneys for Arizona death row inmate Donald Beaty against federal authorities for allowing the importation of sodium thiopental from international sources in violation of federal law. The Arizona Department of Corrections announced the evening before Beaty's execution that they would switch to pentobarbital in order to avoid legal questions about the use of sodium thiopental, which they had obtained from overseas. The report concludes, "The USA’s international isolation on the death penalty has become more and more acute. It is even impacting the scramble by authorities in the USA as they try to fix their lethal injection protocols to take account of the shortage of one of the ingredients they had become used to employing in their death chambers. The USA now faces not just opposition from other governments to its continuing use of the death penalty, but also from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture drugs for patient care – not for killing prisoners." Read full report.

Read More 8,529 reads
Pharmaceutical Company Restricts Access to Drug Used in U.S. Executions

A pharmaceutical company that manufactures pentobarbital (distributed under the brand name Nembutal) has announced that it will significantly restrict its distribution system to prevent the drug's use in lethal injections in the United States. Lundbeck Inc. announced in a statement that it “adamantly opposes the distressing misuse of our product in capital punishment.” Lundbeck will review orders before providing clearance for shipping pentobarbital and will deny orders from prisons located in states currently carrying out executions. Purchasers must also provide a written agreement that they will not redistribute the drug. Lundbeck's Chief Executive Ulf Wiinberg added, "After much consideration, we have determined that a restricted distribution system is the most meaningful means through which we can restrict the misuse of Nembutal. While the company has never sold the product directly to prisons and therefore can’t make guarantees, we are confident that our new distribution program will play a substantial role in restricting prisons’ access to Nembutal for misuse as part of lethal injection."  Almost all the states with the death penalty are currently using or intended to use pentobarbital in their executions.  This decision by Lundbeck may require a major change in the execution protocols of states and the federal government.

Read More 9,111 reads
FOREIGN NATIONALS: Obama Administration and U.N. High Commissioner Seek Relief for Texas Death Row Inmate

On July 1, the Administration of President Barack Obama joined former government officials and national organizations intervening in the case of Texas death row inmate Humberto Leal Garcia. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Leal's execution scheduled for July 7. The Solicitor General wrote that Leal's execution "would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international-law obligation to afford (Leal) review and reconsideration of his claim that his conviction and sentence were prejudiced by Texas authorities' failure to provide consular notification and assistance under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations."  In a 30-page brief, the Administration also stated that complying with obligations to "notify consuls in such cases would serve U.S. interests as well as those of the condemned man," including "protecting Americans abroad, fostering cooperation with foreign nations, and demonstrating respect for the international rule of law."  The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also written a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking the governor to commute Leal's sentence to life in prison.

Read More 7,258 reads
NEW VOICES: Journalist Who Was Arrested Abroad Emphasizes Importance of Consular Access

Journalist Euna Lee (pictured), who was imprisoned in North Korea along with her colleague, Laura Ling, recently wrote an op-ed  in the Washington Post on the importance of consular access for individuals arrested outside their home countries. Lee was reporting for Current TV when she and Ling were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Only when the Swedish ambassador, who represented U.S. interests in North Korea, reminded Korean officials of their responsibilty to uphold the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was Lee able to communicate with the U.S. government. As an execution of a foreign national approaches in Texas, Congress is currently considering legislation that would ensure judicial review of death penalty cases in which foreign nationals in the U.S. were denied access to their consulates. According to Lee, "This legislation is not only a matter of honoring our obligations to such inmates.  There are still many American journalists, aid workers, missionaries, members of the military and tourists detained in foreign countries. For all of them, and for their fearful families at home, there is nothing more important than upholding the reciprocal right to consular protection." 

Read More 7,938 reads
NEW RESOURCES: International Death Penalty Documentary

The International Academic Network for the Abolition of Capital Punishment has recently released "Still Killing," a documentary filmed during the International Colloquium on the Abolition or Moratoria of the Death Penalty (held at the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, Madrid, Spain) and the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty (in Geneva). The film includes testimony and opinions of professors, researchers, and other experts on the death penalty. The film is intended to be a teaching and training resource, and is accompanied by a discussion guide and two additional DVDs that contain interviews that were the basis of the documentary.  The film was directed by Adan Nieto, Manuel Maroto and Marta Munoz.

Read More 7,009 reads