The Death Penalty Blog

California Death Row Inmate Granted International Hearing

Posted by Chelsea Bond on October 24th, 2013
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Kevin Cooper, a death row inmate in California, has been granted a hearing regarding human rights violations with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which seeks to protect human rights and basic freedoms in the Americas. Cooper has been on death row in California for 29 years, and has always maintained his innocence.

Attorneys for Cooper stated that they are “hopeful that the Commission will issue a decision directing that the United States provide Mr. Cooper with a new trial in order to allow him to prove once and for all that he is innocent of these crimes.”

Death Penalty Focus has submitted a letter to the Commission in support of Kevin Cooper, which expresses our concern about the facts of this case, as well as our stance that the death penalty is never an appropriate sentence.

Send your own letter expressing support for a new trial for Kevin Cooper to the IACHR.

To: Honorable Commissioners of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights

 From: Mike Farrell, Chair of the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus Virginia Van Zandt, Interim Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus

Re: Kevin Cooper v. United States, Case No. 12.831

Dear Members of the Court,

We write representing the Board of Directors, staff and thousands of members/supporters of Death Penalty Focus, one of the premier abolition organizations in the United States, in support of your attention to the plight of Kevin Cooper.

While we do not pretend to be qualified to judge the legal questions surrounding Kevin Cooper’s case, our 25 years of work against the death penalty in California and across the nation have made us painfully aware of the glaring faults inherent in this inappropriate, ineffective system and the grievous errors committed in its implementation. California houses our nation’s, and possibly the world’s, largest death row, currently encaging 742 condemned men and women.

Because of a judicially imposed moratorium, there has not been an execution in California in 7 years. This moratorium, however, can end at any moment and, regardless of the state’s ability to carry out executions, the condemned struggle to subsist under conditions which a recent report by our Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says “clearly violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture.” This opinion, regarding both death row conditions and the death penalty itself, is shared by Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

As is the case with every killing state in the U.S., capital punishment’s use in California is primarily limited to racial minorities and those too poor to be able to afford an adequate defense. California has barely escaped killing six innocent men* who were tried, convicted, sentenced to death and spent years fearfully awaiting the executioner before finally being exonerated and freed.

But we did execute Thomas Thompson in 1998, a man Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a long-time veteran of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, described (New York University Law Journal) as “the first person in the Nation ever to be executed on the basis of a trial that an un-refuted decision of a United States Court of Appeals had held to be unconstitutional.”

While unable to argue the legal aspects of Kevin Cooper’s defense, we are keenly aware of the compelling 100-page dissent in a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in his case in which Judge William A. Fletcher stated that Mr. Cooper was “probably” innocent. Four other judges joined his opinion, stating that “California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

We commend your careful attention to this troubling case.

Respectfully Yours,

Mike Farrell
Chair, Board of Directors

Virginia Van Zandt
Interim Executive Director

* California death row exonerees: Troy Lee Jones, Lee Perry Farmer, Jerry Bigelow, Patrick Croy, Shujaa Graham, Oscar Lee Morris

Click here for a PDF version.

For more information about the troubling aspects of the investigation, see the declaration by Tom Parker, former Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.




Sen. Leahy introduces Consular Notification Compliance Act

Posted by James Brockway on June 23rd, 2011

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced an important new bill that will protect the rights of foreign nationals accused of capital crimes.  The proposed legislation, titled the Consular Notification Compliance Act (CNCA), will give federal courts jurisdiction to review cases of death row inmates who were not afforded access to their country of origin’s consulate after their arrest, a right which they are guaranteed under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which the U.S. has been a signatory since 1969.  The CNCA would also take steps to ensure that Court’s mandate that individuals are provided with consular access in future cases.  There are currently 133 foreign nationals on death rows in the U.S., only 53 of whom received proper notification.

What might at first glance appear to be a matter of arcane bureaucratic procedure has become a pressing issue, as Texas is scheduled to execute one of the men desperately in need of protection by the CNCA at the beginning of next month.  Humberto Leal Jr., a Mexican citizen, was sentenced to death for the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda.  Mr. Leal was not informed of his right to consular assistance until well after the legal proceedings against him had begun, and was consequently shackled with an unprepared public defender who was unable to challenge the numerous flaws in the scientific evidence and inconsistent testimony that was at the core of the prosecution’s case.  What makes his turn of events all the more tragic is that, according to Sandra Babcock, a Northwestern University Law Professor who is defending Mr. Leal on appeal, “this was an eminently defendable case, and I don’t think it would have been a capital case if he’d had decent trial counsel.”

While Mr. Leal’s travails have received the most public attention, he is far from alone in his predicament.  In 2004, Mexico brought a complaint against Texas in the International Court of Justice, alleging the more than 50 of its citizens were awaiting execution despite never having been informed of their Vienna Convention rights.  The ICJ ruled in Mexico’s favor, and ordered review of the cases in question.  Then-President George W. Bush wrote a presidential memorandum urging states to comply with the decision, but Texas insisted on going its own way, arguing that neither the international court nor the U.S. President had the authority to interfere in what they characterized as a state matter.  The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed, issuing a ruling in Medellin v. Texas that held that the treaty was unable to compel judicial review absent further legislative action by the congress.  Senator Leahy’s proposed bill would do just that.

If enacted, the CNCA would not only serve as a meaningful demonstration of the U.S.’s commitment to the rights of foreign prisoners and the larger framework of international law more generally, but would also provide immediate safety benefits to the millions of Americans living abroad.  Just last year, 6,600 U.S. citizens were arrested in foreign countries, and in many instances access to our Consulate was the key to their receiving adequate legal representation.  The longer we continue to flaunt our obligations under the Vienna Convention, the more likely it is that other nations will feel compelled to treat American nationals the same way.

While Senator Leahy has taken an important first step towards putting an end to injustices like those suffered by Humberto Leal, he could still be executed on July 7th before the CNCA advances.  Please take a moment to tell Governor Rick Perry that the execution should not proceed.




Humberto Leal's Execution Would be a Flagrant Violation of International Law

Posted by Stefanie on June 15th, 2011

Humberto Leal Jr. is slated to be executed by the state of Texas on July 7th.  His death will represent a grave miscarriage of justice as he received his sentence in clear violation of international law, which mandates that foreign nationals, like Mr. Leal, must be advised of their right to consular assistance after they have been arrested and charged.  

The absence of such consultation has had particularly devastating consequences for Mr. Leal, as he received grossly inadequate representation and could be executed for a crime that he may not have committed.

Read the rest of this post on Care2.

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Taiwan and the Asian Death Penalty Debate

Posted by Sheila Michell, Guest Blogger from the UK on April 26th, 2011

In a recent Wall Street Journal blog article, Paul Mozur does some interesting and important reporting on recent developments in Taiwan regarding a wrongful execution which could have significant ramifications for the debate about the death penalty in Asia generally.  His piece referred to an original report in the Dui Hua Journal which covered a case concerning the wrongful execution of a soldier accused of murdering a child in 1996.  Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou issued a public apology for this miscarriage of justice, though his pronouncement was rendered somewhat hollow by following it up with the execution of five convicts.   The wrongful execution gained a great deal of media coverage, and incited criticism from the EU and international human rights groups.  This outrage is important and justified, and I share Mr. Mozur and the Dui Hua Journal editors’ belief that this case will be influential in changing Asian countries’ positions on the death penalty.  To see why, it helps to look at signs of movement on the death penalty at a government level over the last fifteen months or so in the key countries of South Korea, Japan and China as well as Taiwan.   

As Dui Hua reports, South Korea is mercifully "abolitionist in practice", with no executions since 1997 (although there have been rumblings of rebuilding the death chamber).  Fortunately, the nation currently has only 61 death row inmates despite the 110 different crimes for which convicts are death eligible.  While the majority of Koreans still favor the death penalty, their level of support decreases dramatically when asked to compare it against life without the possibility of parole.  The South Korean government also seems to be turning against capital punishment, as a 2010 high court ruling upheld the death sentence by a slim 5-4 vote, down from a 7-2 affirmation of the policy’s constitutionality in 1996.

The situation in Japan has certain similarities to the drama unfolding in Taiwan, as both countries, despite large public support for the death penalty have recently had Justice Ministers who strongly opposed the punishment.  Taiwanese Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng was such an outspoken critic that she was forced to resign her post in March 2010 after she said she would rather "go to hell" than authorize an execution.  Unfortunately, Ms. Wang’s courageous statement has engendered a backlash which has resulted in the execution of 10 prisoners in the last 12 months, leaving 40 on the Row. In spite of these recent executions, anti-death penalty momentum still exists within the Taiwanese government where politicians have begun to call for replacing the death sentence with a “special life sentence” (without the possibility of parole).  

In Japan, where there are 107 prisoners on death row, Ms. Keiko Chiba was the Justice Minister.  She played her cards differently from Ms. Wang when she authorized the execution of two inmates last May.  She then set up a committee to investigate the death penalty and also insisted that the death chamber should be opened to the press before she was voted out of office.  The present Justice Minister, Satsuki Eda is himself an opponent of capital punishment and has endorsed the study on the death penalty, though he is undecided as to whether or not he would sign any death warrants.

Even China, which executes more people than any other country, has started to recognize the possibility of error in capital cases and has begun instituting reforms.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has recently issued specific rules stating that illegally obtained evidence cannot be used in death penalty trials and that death sentences should only be rendered if sufficient evidence has been legally obtained.  As Zhao Bingzhi, head of the criminal law research committee under the China Law Society, puts it, these new rules will “…be conducive to reducing the number of executions and handling death penalty cases in a just and objective manner."    

Meanwhile, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) has banned the death penalty for all but the worst offenders who over the age of seventy five.  The NPC has also further limited the death penalty’s scope by eliminating its imposition as punishment for thirteen nonviolent crimes which include tax avoidance and the smuggling of cultural relics and precious metals out of the country.  These moves, while undoubtedly steps in the right direction, are at least partially motivated by a desire to shield China’s human rights policies from excessive scrutiny as shown by the fact these crimes have rarely incurred the maximum punishment, and there are still 55 offenses, including corruption, which are punishable by death.  In fact, further evidence of China’s reticence to do away with the death penalty can be seen in recent statements by  Li Buyun, a member of China’s top prosecutorial body, that the country needs at least 30 years to abolish capital punishment.

While not all the developments in these debates on capital punishment are wholly positive, that these public discussions are happening at all should provide great comfort to those who hope to see an end to the death penalty in Asia.  The more we publicize and comment on the flaws and problems of the death penalty, the sooner the whole world will realize that life imprisonment is an acceptable alternative .  This, in turn, ensures that no one will have to take the ultimate responsibility of ending the life of a convicted man or woman, while at the same time providing a chance to release the wrongfully convicted if and when such errors happen.




Will Botswana be the next country to abolish the death penalty?

Posted by Sheila Michell, Guest Blogger from the UK on April 21st, 2011

Botswana is a progressive and successful African country, the world's third largest producer of diamonds and the setting of the popular novels and television series " The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and its leading character, the redoubtable Mma Precious Remotswe. But unfortunately, like many US states, it still has the death penalty. However if the country's primary political opposition leader has his way, the country may soon become one of the three countries each year that get rid of the death penalty.

Duma Boko is both the leader of the Botswana National Front Party, the opposition party to the current government, and a prominent death penalty defense attorney. His client, Brandon Sampson, faces execution in July 2011. It should come as no surprise that Boko is also an outspoken supporter of abolishing the death penalty. In a recent interview with IPS ('It Cheapens Human Life', Inter Press Service, April 13, 2011 ) Boko explained his reasons for opposing the death penalty, fundamental reasons which have significance to every country which still employs capital punishment.

His first reason is the most basic: the irrevocability of the death sentence.

Secondly, Boko tackled the myth that the death penalty provides closure for the victims, "I don't think it makes them feel better. No one has done that study here to establish that it does." (I would like to direct Mr. Boko to the recent study by two sociologists from Kentucky which confirms his point by showing that executions fail to bring closure for victims' families: http://wcr.sonoma.edu/v12n1/Mowen.pdf.)

"What I think it does is that it cheapens human life," Mr Boko continued. And went on to make his third point: "The society that celebrates death by the state is an immature society. If we think our people are that immature, we need either to educate them or to establish if indeed they are.

"Because you may find that they are far from being that immature. It is the state that is immature in this regard and the legal system that forces judges and the state to be that immature." I think Mr Boko is advocating that the state should take the moral high ground in this issue and not just satisfy popular demand for the death penalty, which is found in many countries worldwide irrespective of whether or not they have capital punishment.

Finally, Duma Boko pointed out another common failure of the death penalty: under-resourced defense lawyers. He explained that the state prosecution had "all the facilities", whereas the defense depended largely on the commitment of individual lawyers who did not enjoy the same facilities as the prosecution. "There is no equality of arms, if you will, when the attorney representing the accused person does not have the same resources as the state. That is basically violating the constitution and that violation must itself vitiate the imposition of the death penalty on an individual. So it is a real challenge."

Needless to say, if Duma Boko were to become President of Botswana, he is committed to seeking a moratorium on executions or outright repeal of the death penalty: "…when I am at the helm of that government, I will not sign anybody's death warrant whether the law says so or not."

I hope that Duma Boko's appeal on behalf of Brandon Sampson is successful, but even more than that; I hope he is able to lead Botswana's efforts to end the death penalty in the near future.

And perhaps the question of capital punishment could be considered by Mma Precious Remotswe in some future volume of that famous detective agency?





Ending the Death Penalty: A Global Perspective

Posted by on April 14th, 2011

In his recent book, Ending the Death Penalty : The European Experience in Global Perspective, Andrew Hammel compares the successful abolitionist movements in Europe to their so-far unsuccessful counterparts in the US. It has long been perplexing that countries so similar in history, culture, and wealth would differ so markedly when it comes to capital punishment. Hammel attacks this problem by analyzing the abolitionist movements in Germany, Great Britain, and France. In these countries a small group in the ruling elite abolished capital punishment even though public opinion was by and large decidedly in favor of it. Given the populist tendencies in the United States, as well as our strongly entrenched Federalist system, Hammel argues that, politically, such a top-down approach is next to impossible here.

In his review of Hammel' s book, Law Professor William Berry offers an alternative view which suggests that action from the U.S. Supreme Court might be a counter-majoritarian approach that could end the death penalty in America. Such action would most likely occur if the Court were convinced that the nation' s "standards of decency" had evolved to the point where the death penalty was considered a cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. When it rendered the Harmelin decision in 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that any new interpretation of the " evolving standards of decency " should "be informed by objective factors to the maximum possible extent." The Supreme Court added in Penry v. Lynaugh that these "objective factors" should come from examinations of the state legislatures and jury decisions.

With the necessity for such objective evidence in mind, it is of note that during the past decade there has been a noticeable national shift toward a de facto ban on capital punishment. Since 2007, the New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois state legislatures have all done away with the death penalty , leaving 34 states that retain it. In New York, where the court struck down the state' s statute, the state legislature refused to reinstate it.

Furthermore, between 1998 and 2009 there has been a clear trend in the number of new death sentences per year given by juries in the United States: 294 -> 277 -> 224 -> 159 -> 166 -> 152 -> 140 -> 139 -> 123 -> 120 -> 119 -> 112, a decline of 60% over 12 years. Additionally, since 2002, the Supreme Court has in three separate decisions, banned the execution of the mentally retarded, those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, and those who committed a crime other than murder. In these cases, the Court cited " evolving standards of decency ."

The Court has at its fingertips viable objective data from various state legislatures and evidence of decreasing death verdicts by juries, both of which demonstrate a national shift is indeed occurring. Hammel and Berry suggest that the successful top-down approach taken to end the death penalty in Europe will only occur in the US only if the Supreme Court takes action. Given the declining number of death sentences and the growing list of states without the death penalty , perhaps the time is ripe for the Supreme Court to act.




The United Nations Fails to Protect Members of the LGBT Community from Execution

Posted by Erica Sanders, Guest Blogger on December 1st, 2010

In the United States, proponents of the death penalty have the luxury of justifying executions on the basis that the death penalty is the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime: murder. A more global perspective reveals, however, that in some nations, the death penalty is being used not only against convicted murderers, but also against members of the LGBT community. According to the Lesbian and Gay Association, over half a dozen countries put individuals to death for engaging in same-sex actions.

Considering the global persecution of homosexuals, the United Nation's recent vote to remove sexual orientation from a resolution condemning unjustified executions against certain vulnerable groups, is shocking to say the least.

The resolution in question, asserts the responsibility of member nations to defend the right to life, with a particular focus on members of historically persecuted groups. The vulnerable groups mentioned in the resolution include ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities, and for the past decade, the list has also included sexual orientation. This year however, Morocco and Mali introduced an amendment to delete sexual orientation from the list, claiming the deletion would more accurately reflect the values of African and Islamic nations. The amendment passed by a narrow vote of 79-70, quickly sparking concerns and vocal opposition from humanitarian groups such as Human Rights Watch. The subsequent fallout from the amendment brought the use of harsh punishments and the death penalty against sexual minorities to the world's attention.

In October of 2009, Ugandan Member of Parliament, David Bahati introduced the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which in some cases, broadens legal punishment for homosexual activity to include the death penalty. Under this bill, people or organizations that promote LGBT rights are subject to criminal prosecution and  punishment. In addition, the bill proposes that all citizens who witness homosexual activity be required to report it within 24 hours, or they could be subject to years of imprisonment. Prior to the passing of the bill, homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, however government leaders expressed that the measures were necessary to ensure the "strengthening the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family".

Since the proposition of the bill in 2009, the anti-gay sentiment within the country has grown substantially. In October of 2010, a newspaper entitled, The Rolling Stone, published what it called their "top 100 gays and lesbians". The article featured the names, pictures, and home address of 100 suspected homosexuals. Since this time, many Ugandan gays and lesbians have reported a sharp increase in violence towards them by fellow citizens.

Not surprisingly, Uganda's proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill has raised a great amount of opposition. Many Western nations have threatened to stop monetary and physical aid to Uganda. Similarly, numerous human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have expressed their concerns about violence and threats to freedom of expression. In addition, Elizabeth Matanka, the U.N. special envoy on AIDS, asserts that the legislation will make citizens fearful of being tested for HIV, if doing so could make them suspected of being homosexual.

The backlash discussed above is likely what caused Ugandan official James Nsaba, to say that the bill would be revised to replace use of the death penalty with life imprisonment. However, the original sponsor of the bill, David Bahati, has asserted that he intends to fight for the inclusion of the death penalty in the bill.

While many of us in Western nations would like to believe that the world is moving forward with respect to human rights, the U.N.'s failure to protect the life of all members of vulnerable groups is a sobering reminder of our shortcomings.

While many people believe that executing persons based solely on their sexual orientation is both cruel and barbaric, we must remember that the leaders and citizens of many countries, including Uganda, believe the execution of homosexuals is necessary to protect the integrity and safety of their society.

And is this not, in part, the same argument used by many Western proponents of the death penalty? In this sense, the execution of convicted criminals who are often poor, usually minorities, frequently suffer from mental illness, and are sometimes innocent, may not be as different as it appears at first glance.

Posted in Blog, International | 2 comments



A Club of 18 Nations the US must QUIT

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on April 1st, 2010

Amnesty International has released its report on Death Sentences and Executions 2009.

China has so many executions in a system that totally lacks transparency, so it is impossible to count the executions accurately. But it seems very clear that China executed more human beings in 2009 than all the other nations of the world combined.

Texas has a special grim place as well. With 24 executions in 2009, the State of Texas alone ranks 7th among NATIONS in executions, after China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United States of America and Yemen.

Only 18 nations on the planet executed people in 2009.

It's high time the US resigned its membership in this shameful, deadly club.

Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of Death Penalty Focus' International Outreach and Communications Project.

Watch the video of Elizabeth speaking at the United Nations in Geneva on behalf of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty at the Opening Ceremony of the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.




Opening Ceremony of 4th World Congress:
Address at the Palais des Nations

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator on March 1st, 2010

Elizabeth Zitrin, DPF's International Coordinator, addressed the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, on February 24, 2010, as the representative of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

(The video of this address is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYsAdwnS3Sg)

On the Pacific Coast of California, 10,000 kilometers from here, 10 days ago, another thousand people were gathered together to work against the death penalty.

A thousand American lawyers, all representing people - more thousands of people -- facing death at the hands of the government.

A hundred miles from that conference room, up the spectacular Coast Highway, with steep cliffs on the east and wild sea on the west, that same day, the most dangerous ocean waves on the planet reached their peak - 50 foot tall walls of salt water crashing into treacherous rocks and reefs - and the call went out as it does once a year, to the best surfers in the world to travel with just 24 hours' notice to test their talents in what are called "death-defying acts." These athletes were skillful, they were beautiful, they were courageous. But sitting in that conference room I knew that the real death-defying acts were in that room, in the skills and strategy and techniques and tactics.


The death-defying acts are in the courtroom, as lawyers in every retentionist country fight to end the death penalty one precious life at a time.

Acting to defy death. To deny death. Defense lawyers stand individually, one at a time, between their clients and the executioner. But one at a time is just not enough. It's too slow. And too often, we don't win. Abolitionist activists, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, all of you, defy death and save lives not just one person at a time, but one prison at a time, one state at a time, one nation, ten nations, and we will keep on working, defying death, until we have all followed our heroes and become one world without state torture and execution.

I represent my organization, Death Penalty Focus, on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The Coalition is a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. It's a powerful magnifier. With over a hundred members, it takes the power of one and multiplies it a hundred times. Each voice is a hundred times louder. Each one of us has the strength to carry a hundred times the weight. One hundred shining a light on every injustice.

Last June in Sacramento, the capital of California, there was a public hearing about a new proposed lethal injection execution protocol. Over a hundred people testified. Thousands wrote letters. I asked my World Coalition colleagues for support, and letters came from every part of the world, and were read aloud in a public hearing. And as each one was read, as the letter from our member in Togo, which had abolished the death penalty just a few days before, was read in French in the capital of California, I cried, and I knew that our friends were with us, and I knew that the world was watching.

The World Coalition was born out of the 1st World Congress Against the Death Penalty. ECPM lit the fire of both the Congress and the Coalition, and the flame has been tended by many. From the beginning, we have learned from each other. To work together across boundaries, as Amnesty, PRI, FIDH and ACAT do. To develop from a commitment to the poor, a campaign that collected 5 million signatures presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations, as the Community of Sant'Egidio has done. To support the families, as MVFHR does every day.

Still, as smart and skilled and determined as we are, we lawyers and activists, our advocacy is directed to the public and to decision-makers, our partners in government, who have the responsibility of making the laws and enforcing them.

On behalf of the World Coalition I thank all of the official representatives who join us in Congress this week. We thank you for your courage and for your support. You are the leaders in the community of nations, and, as a citizen of a retentionist country, I thank you for showing the way.

The Coalition has been growing every year -- in size and capacity and influence. Our most recent report, "Towards a Universal Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty: Strategies, Arguments and Perspectives" is being published this week and is available during the Congress.

This year, we will leave Europe for our annual membership meeting. The General Assembly of the World Coalition will be in a retentionist country, and it will be the first time an international death penalty abolition organization will meet on US soil. This year, when our World Day focus is on the United States, the World Coalition will meet at the home of Death Penalty Focus, and the birthplace of the United Nations, in San Francisco in June, and I'll be looking for you there.

But for this week, the World Coalition joins ECPM and our Congress partners in welcoming you to Geneva to defy death, to defeat death, for this 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.

Thank you very much.

Posted in Blog, International | 2 comments



DPF Opens the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on February 26th, 2010

The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations at the UN headquarters in Geneva is a grand place with a stunning ceiling sculpture commissioned by Spain.

On Wednesday, February 24, the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty opening in this grand chamber with speeches by, among other dignitaries, Enzo Scotti, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Italy; Gry Larsen, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for Norway; Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations in Geneva; José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain and the incredible Robert Badinter, French Senator, Minister of Justice from 1981 to 1986, and author of the French abolitionist law.

In that lofty company, I had the honor of representing not only Death Penalty Focus and the US abolition movement, but the entire World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

During the three days at the International Conference Center in Geneva, close to 2000 abolitionists from around the world gathered to discuss abolition. I'll report to you about the Congress and about the US participants, including Sister Helen Prejean.

Stay tuned!

Elizabeth Zitrin is DPF's International Outreach and Communications Coordinator




World Abolitionists to Meet in Geneva

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator on February 9th, 2010

The Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in two weeks. Over 1000 people will attend as abolitionists from around the world meet to discuss our work, improve our strategies, learn from each other and plan for universal abolition. Our US participants will join activists from both abolitionist and retentionist nations in 10 round-table panel discussions, 10 workshops for enhancement and development of campaigning skills and two plenary sessions.

Round table sessions will include issues of real importance to the US movement, including racial bias, law enforcement, competent counsel, victims families and the mentally ill. Moderators and speakers in those panels include US experts. I will moderate the session on Law Enforcement Views, a subject very important as we move ahead with our outreach to the law enforcement community.

High ranking officials of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), including the UN, the European Union and the Council of Europe will attend.  President Zapatero of Spain, currently the President of the EU, will open the Congress.  DPF honoree, Representative Gail Chasey, the author of the New Mexico abolition bill, will join a plenary session.

The entire Congress Program  is on the Congress website.  You can download the Press Pack too.  The history of the movement and the Congresses is all there.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, where I represent DPF, is a partner with the primary Congress organizer, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), Together Against the Death Penalty, and we have been working for over a year on the Congress program.

The US abolition movement will be very well represented. I will be joined by many of our colleagues in the abolition movement, including DPF Board member Speedy Rice and DPF friends Professor Michael Radelet and Sister Helen Prejean, as well as Rep. Gail Chasey, Professor Sandra Babcock, Juan Matos de Juan of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, New Hampshire Representative Renny Cushing of MVFHR, and many others.

Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of DPF's International Outreach and Communications Project.



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The 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on November 18th, 2009

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court found in the case of Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to execute someone for a crime committed when he or she was under the age of 18.

Tragically, four countries are still executing juvenile offenders. This is the horrific human rights violation addressed by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty for the 7th World Day Against the Death Penalty marked on October 10, 2009. World Day was dedicated to Teaching Abolition, a resounding success with world-wide mobilization and media coverage in some 130 press outlets.

We will continue Teaching Abolition this year, next year, and as long as the death penalty exists anywhere. Please contact me at EZitrin@DeathPenalty.org or check out our materials if you'd like to teach abolition in a small or a big way.

In this year when we have focused on children and youth, we are also marking the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The object of the Convention is "to protect children from discrimination, neglect and abuse. It is the principal children's treaty, covering a full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights …. The Convention is the first legally binding international treaty to give universally recognized norms and standards for the protection and promotion of children's rights in a single text.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Coalition issued a call for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, to stop executions of juvenile offenders. Our petition to End Juvenile Executions gathered 90,000 signatures all over the world.

On November 20th, a delegation from the World Coalition will go to the embassies of the four countries, in Paris, to present the petitions.

It's never too late to sign! Add your voice! Juvenile executions must end.

Elizabeth Zitrin is International Outreach and Communications Project Coordinator for Death Penalty Focus




Europe Gains Increased Protection Against US Death Penalty

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on November 4th, 2009

The United States and the European Union have concluded two treaties they began negotiating in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. These two treaties concern Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition.

The EU and the US formally exchanged the treaty instruments in Washington, DC, on October 28. The US delegation was headed by Attorney General Eric Holder (photo), and the EU delegation was headed by Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. Sweden holds the Presidency of the EU until the end of this year.

Attorney General Holder emphasized the importance of the treaties in EU / US cooperation in fighting transnational crime and terrorism, and mentioned the modernization of our existing extradition treaties, which are with individual members of the EU, not with the EU as a whole.

But this is an important international step toward making extradition to the US in a death penalty case much less likely.

The Council of the European Union made this statement:

"The agreement on extradition … clarifies, among other things, the kind of offences that are extraditable, the exchange of information and transmission of documents as well as transit rules. It also significantly improves the protection against the death penalty. Extradition to the US will henceforth only be possible under the condition that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if for procedural reasons such condition cannot be complied with, that the death penalty will not be carried out. Unlike what is currently the prevailing practice, the non-execution of the death penalty will no longer depend on case-by-case guarantees from the US." (Emphsis added)

The Capital Punishment section of the text of the Agreement on extradition between the European Union and the United States of America reads as follows:

"Where the offence for which extradition is sought is punishable by death under the laws in the requesting State and not punishable by death under the laws in the requested State, the requested State may grant extradition on the condition that the death penalty shall not be imposed on the person sought, or if for procedural reasons such condition cannot be complied with by the requesting State, on condition that the death penalty if imposed shall not be carried out. If the requesting State accepts extradition subject to conditions pursuant to this Article, it shall comply with the conditions. If the requesting State does not accept the conditions, the request for extradition may be denied."

Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of DPF's International Outreach and Communications Project




The International Campaign for Universal Abolition

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on October 21st, 2009

Today, October 21, 2009, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) launches its campaign for ratification of the 2nd Optional Protocol (OP2)  to the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The ICCPR is the most important international human rights treaty. It provides a range of protections for civil and political rights. Countries who have signed the treaty are obligated to protect and preserve basic human rights such as the right to life and to human dignity, equality before the law, freedom of speech and association, freedom from torture and arbitrary detention, equality between men and women, fair trial and minority rights. The Covenant was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966 and went into force in 1976.

The United States Senate ratified the ICCPR in 1992, but with a number of formal reservations and conditions, among them the right to continue to use capital punishment.

The Second Optional Protocol, annexed to the ICCPR in 1989, specifically addresses the death penalty. It is the only international treaty of worldwide scope to prohibit executions and provide for total abolition of the death penalty.

As of today, 72 of the 164 ICCPR nations are parties to OP2. The World Coalition's Campaign will begin by targeting ten of the many nations that have abolished the death penalty but have not yet ratified OP2. They are El Salvador, Latvia, Dominican Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Poland, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius and Burundi.

We in the US still have some way to go to join the majority of nations of the world that have already abolished the death penalty, but we are making great progress. Meanwhile, it's encouraging to know that there are global efforts underway, and that we are a part of them.  The history of OP2, the details of the campaign and downloadable leaflets and kits are all available on the WCADP site.

Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of DPF's International Outreach and Communications Project

 




World Day Against the Death Penalty Oct. 10

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator, on October 8th, 2009

The 7th World Day against the Death Penalty will be celebrated internationally on Saturday, October 10, 2009. Every year since 2003 abolitionists have organized events around the world on this day to say No to the death penalty. This year, across five continents, petitions, round tables, discussions, debates and exhibitions are planned. The program of scheduled events is on the website of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Take Action in California

To mark World Day in California, we are trying to generate 10,000 signatures on a petition to Governor Schwarzenegger to "convert all current death sentences to sentences of life without possibility of parole, protecting Californians while saving $1 billion in five years" by November 10th.

You can sign the Petition on Facebook or here.

Teaching Abolition

The theme of this year's World Day is Teaching Abolition. DPF has worked with our international colleagues to develop a secondary school Educational Guide, now available in seven languages, and a law school curriculum, on the death penalty. They are available, along with other Teaching Abolition materials, on the World Coalition website. The Law School Curriculum, which is also available in Chinese, was designed by DPF volunteer lawyer Sanaz Alasti. The Educational Guide has interactive activities, exercises and role-playing, in addition to basic information, that can be used separately or in series, to develop understanding and critical thinking about the death penalty and its role and impact.

The materials are available to all. I will be very happy to hear from anyone using the materials, so that we can gauge their use and impact, and improve them for ongoing use. You can email me at EZitrin@DeathPenalty.org.

Stop Juvenile Executions World-Wide

In 2005, the United States ended all executions of people who were minors when they committed the crime. Sadly, juveniles are still being executed in other parts of the world.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the child, we call on the four countries which are still executing juvenile offenders, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, to stop their executions. According to Amnesty International, a total of 24 juvenile offenders were executed in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen between January 2007 and June 2009.

We encourage you to print the Petition to End All Juvenile Executions from the World Coalition website, take it to your community, and return the signed Petitions to strengthen this international effort to end all executions of children.


Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of DPF's International Outreach and Communications Project.




More Good Abolition News from Africa

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, International Coordinator on September 3rd, 2009

Less than a month after Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya, commuted the sentences of all of the nation's 4000 death row prisoners to life in prison, the Nigerian State of Lagos has followed suit.

This is an important step toward abolition in this influential State. Three condemned inmates were pardoned and released last month, and 37 more had their sentences commuted. Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola said that he granted this amnesty on "humanitarian grounds," and that he wanted prisoners to have the "hope of changing their behaviours and [being] rehabilitated into society."

The Kenyan president had cited "undue mental anguish" suffered by those sentenced to death in making is historic decision.

These examples from Africa are ones that our federal and state governments can learn from and follow.

There are important lessons for us as activists and educators as well --

In Kenya, legal challenges had been brought by local and international activists, and the President has ordered the government to study whether the death penalty is a deterrent.

In Nigeria, capital punishment has frequently been the subject of political debate and two expert groups set up by former president Obasanjo recommended a moratorium on executions.

The work we are doing here at home is having the same kinds of effects. We celebrate with our colleagues around the world and we should be encouraged that activism, public education and public conversations, media outreach and informed public studies and commissions can and will end the death penalty in the United States and around the world.

Elizabeth Zitrin is Coordinator of DPF's International Outreach and Communications Project.




Taking a Leaf Out of Kenya's Book

Posted by Megan on August 10th, 2009
Death Penalty Focus

Last week, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki commuted all 4,000 death sentences awaiting Kenyan prisoners to life imprisonment, effectively putting a temporary moratorium on Kenya's death penalty. According to the New York Times, this was done out of concern for prisoners--to assuage their mental suffering.

This action is but the latest in a series moving the country closer towards abolition. According to African newspaper The Daily Nation, no prisoner has been executed in Kenya since 1987, and a few months ago, President Kibaki said that Kenya was considering abolishing the death penalty altogether. This action would make Kenya the twelfth African country to eradicate capital punishment, and the 93rd worldwide. (Kenya is also among the 137 countries that no longer use capital punishment in practice.) Kibaki has also ordered a study to be conducted on whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent in Kenya.

However, the death penalty is still popular among Kenyans and their Parliament is reluctant to make any further restrictions on the death penalty while that support exists. Violence in Kenya is on the rise and many people are ready to believe that fighting murder with murder is the only solution. Furthermore, while Kibaki's decision to change the sentences may be excellent news, as is the fact that there is no one left on Kenya's death row, the death penalty is still on the books and could legally be used at anytime. Restrictions on what crimes warrant death are loose according to Time Magazine; stealing livestock armed only with a primitive wooden club can warrant capital punishment.

However, Kenya's actions are a sign of hope. Progress of this magnitude is never forged overnight; all movements can only progress through small, but powerful, steps. According to the New York Times, in order for abolition to become reality a Parliamentary vote is required. As Parliament must represent the people's opinions, this means that Kenya's next step will most likely be to try to decrease popularity for the death penalty among Kenyans.

But let's bring it back home for a bit.

Here in America, the death penalty is still alive and well, and very popular in some circles-a malignant tumor on the heart of our nation's justice system. Our insistence on state-sponsored homicide has now placed us among the highly esteemed company of countries such as Somalia, China, Saudi Arabia, and our figurative arch-enemy, North Korea. Not exactly the cream of the crop. We are also in a severe recession right now and we desperately need to cut our spending-which could be done by abolishing the death penalty. So why do we not so much as bat an eye when countries like Kenya, where it's unsafe to walk streets alone at night, pass us by on a human rights issue like capital punishment? How can we claim to be one of the world's great exemplars of human rights when 137 countries have passed us by on this issue?

This past November, we elected a citizen of Kenyan heritage, Barack Obama, to our country's highest office. Now it's time to take another page out of Kenya's book and abolish the death penalty in this country.

Megan Kallstrom is a high school junior at Marin Academy.




 

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