Death Penalty Information
Monday, January 14, 2008
Olympics prep spotlights executions in China
In 10 years on China's highest court, Xuan Dong had a hand in the
executions of 1,000 people - most carried out by a bullet to the back of
the head, often within weeks of the verdict.
On his worst days, he considered himself a Communist Party hanging judge.
Sitting on the Supreme People's Court, he represented the last hope of the
condemned. Secretly, he loathed rubber-stamping the party's death
sentences, often accepting confessions he knew were gotten by torture. He
watched silently as lawyers were beaten and dragged from court if they
dared to challenge the party's will.
In 2000, Xuan walked away from the bench to battle for human rights. Now,
as China re-evaluates its hard-line policies on capital punishment, the
59-year-old defense lawyer has called for public trials, more media
exposure and protections for lawyers and less party interference with the
"The party should not give instructions" to judges, he said. "There have
been changes bit by bit, but they are too slow."
Recently, Xuan and other rights advocates have seen progress within a
legal system that each year is estimated to execute more people than all
other countries combined. Legislation enacted last year requires the high
court to review all death sentences, a step that had been dropped 2
Facing pressure before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in August, China
reportedly has scaled back the pace of executions. Although the government
considers the number a state secret, China executed 1,051 people in 2006 -
about two-thirds of the 1,591 put to death worldwide that year, according
to statistics from Amnesty International that are often based on media
reports. That represented a 40 percent drop from China's recorded total of
1,770 the previous year.
The high court reviewed only a small portion of the capital cases in
recent years. Lower courts had operated virtually without oversight since
the country's de facto leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, gave them the
power to impose capital punishment in the wake of a corruption and crime
wave in the 1980s. Acquittals are rare and appeals are made in the same
court, heard by poorly trained provincial judges little inclined to
contradict themselves, according to studies by criminal justice experts.
The studies, relying on interviews with defense lawyers and defendants,
paint a bleak picture: China's courts have no juries, police have
unchecked powers - and forensics rarely are used in reaching verdicts that
vary wildly depending on region, party influence and a defendant's
A plethora of offenses
68 offenses - including nonviolent crimes such as tax evasion, drug
smuggling and pornography distribution - carry the death penalty.
Officials are considering reducing the number of crimes punishable by
execution, but they say acts such as corruption, bribery and national
security violations still might lead to death sentences.
The legal reforms, advocated by a growing lobby of Chinese lawyers and
scholars, are part of a policy that officials call "kill fewer, kill
carefully." It calls for improved trial and review processes, and it
requires that all death penalty appeals be heard in open court.
Experts are divided over how much substance the reforms carry. "For China,
it's an exciting breakthrough," said Jerome Cohen, a New York University
law professor and an expert on Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Death penalty reforms will lead the way for improved procedures for other
major criminal cases."
Others say the Chinese legal system still lacks transparency. "So you have
the return of an important piece of review," said Sharon Hom, executive
director of the Manhattan-based group Human Rights in China. "But you're
reviewing a system that is still politicized, that still does not welcome
independent judges and where lawyers raising questions about abuse or
torture are being harassed and beaten up."
Human Rights in China last year released a report documenting the abuse of
defense lawyers. From 1997 to 2002, more than 500 were jailed.
Li Heping, 37, a Beijing lawyer, said police tortured suspects to get
confessions in several of his death penalty cases. They also denied him
access to his clients. "I'm seen as an enemy of the police," he said.
"When you come to court, you feel surrounded by hunters. And you are their
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Openness on executions a welcome change
In a major switch from its hitherto secretive policy, the Justice Ministry
for the 1st time disclosed the names of 3 death row inmates executed on
We believe the government should not hesitate to reveal such details on
executions that have been carried out in accordance with the law by this
Commenting on the ministry's decision to publicize the names of the
executed inmates, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said, "It's necessary
for [bereaved families of] crime victims and the public to know and
understand if capital punishment is carried out properly and solemnly."
The ministry apparently made this decision out of consideration for the
victims, both dead and alive, of the crimes committed by executed inmates,
and the victims' families. Disclosing the executed inmates' names also
fits in with the trend toward greater information disclosure in recent
Previously, the ministry had not immediately revealed even the fact that
some convicts had been executed. Instead, it only listed in an annual
report the number of people executed each year.
The ministry had defended the practice by saying it needed to consider the
mental anguish that executions would cause for the convicts' families and
other death row inmates.
From 1998, however, the ministry started publicizing the number of
executions soon after the sentences were carried out. Media organizations
have, on their own accord, traced and reported the names of inmates put to
Public support death penalty
In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll in December last year, 80 % of
respondents said the death penalty should be maintained or that they
"somewhat" support the continuation of capital punishment. Many people
apparently believe the death penalty serves as a deterrent to heinous
crimes to some extent.
As long as society supports capital punishment, it would only be natural
for the ministry to reveal the facts about the execution of inmates.
Some U.S. states that have the death penalty release the names of executed
inmates on Web sites or through other channels.
After the lay judge system, which will be applied for trials of serious
crimes, starts in the spring of 2009, ordinary people--together with
judges--will have to decide whether a defendant should be condemned to
Doubts may arise over how the lay judge system is run if information on
executions is kept secret, even as citizens are set to participate in
determining whether a death penalty should be handed down in specific
cases. Perhaps the ministry also had this concern in mind when it changed
tack and revealed the names of the 3 men put to death Friday.
Death row getting longer
According to the Criminal Procedure Code, the death penalty is carried out
at the order of the justice minister.
However, Hatoyama once commented: "I wonder if there's a way to
automatically proceed with the execution [of death row inmates] without
the involvement of the justice minister."
The death penalty is the ultimate punishment. That is the very reason that
an execution order signed by the justice minister--who wields the
overriding responsibility for judicial administration--is required to
carry out an execution. We must say Hatoyama's remarks were inappropriate
The Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that the justice minister should
give an execution order within 6 months after a death penalty has been
finalized. But, in practice, it takes an average of seven years until an
execution is carried out. As a result, the number of inmates waiting on
death row has increased to 104.
We hope the ministry's decision to reveal the names of executed inmates
will give momentum to debate about how this nation should run its capital
(source: The Yomiuri Shimbu
Monday, December 03, 2007
Conformist Media Blamed for Public Apathy
Lack of media interest in reporting on death penalty issues is responsible
for widespread public indifference to whether or not Morocco eventually
abolishes capital punishment, according to analysts and activists here.
"The Moroccan media has not yet made abolition part of its agenda," Driss
Ould Kabla, editor-in-chief of the Al-Michal weekly, told IPS.
Despite its 15-year-long unofficial moratorium, when the time came to vote
on the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide
moratorium on executions and eventual end to the death penalty, Morocco
sided with the rest of the Arab world and joined the pro-capital
Morocco was one of the 52 countries -- many of them Arab -- which voted
against the moratorium resolution on Nov. 15. Moroccan diplomats did not
even take to the floor during the two days of debate in the General
Assembly's human rights committee -- unlike Egyptian and Syrian diplomats
who expressed strong criticism.
The Moroccan media largely ignored the country's stand on the U.N. General
Al-Michal is the only Moroccan newspaper that regularly reports on death
The near-total media blackout on death penalty issues is largely due to
the failure of the press to jettison its antiquated conformist mentality
-- not because of official censorship, Kabla said.
"We have a long history of support for the death penalty from all
quarters, political, social and religious," Kabla explained.
Expressing dismay at the absence of media interest in this event, Kabla
said that the press did find its voice when there were even more
controversial issues to report. "The Moroccan independent press has been
showing enough daring on other issues," he stressed.
This sensitive reporting involved recent coverage of the alleged
extra-judicial killings during the rule of King Hassan II who died in
1999. Some human rights activists have alleged the killings could number
in the hundreds.
Kabla's own investigations into some of these killings -- particularly
those alleged to have been carried out at a secret service villa in Rabat,
the Moroccan capital -- were published in his own weekly and re-published
on many websites in Arabic.
Kabla said that NGOs shared some of the blame for public apathy towards
death penalty abolition: "Abolitionist NGOs are not communicating widely
Ahmed Kouza, an Amnesty International activist, agreed that the Moroccan
press was tame in its reporting on the death penalty. Press fail to
appreciate the relationship between abolishing capital punishment and
furthering democratic values, he suggested.
But otherwise the Moroccan media was playing a "crucial role in the
democratic changes taking place in the country", Kouza told IPS.
"Abolition is an integral part of this on-going 'democratic transition' in
the country", he argued.
The 'Democratic Transition' was launched in Morocco in 1998 when King
Hassan II named opposition leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi as prime
Hassan II ruled from 1961 to 1999. His son, King Mohamed VI, who acceded
to throne in July 1999, continued the democratic reforms. He also launched
a reconciliation process with victims of human rights violations under his
father by setting up the Equity and Reconciliation Board (IER).
The IER -- in its final report submitted to King Mohamed VI in 2005 --
recommended the abolition of the death penalty as part of this
In 2006, Bouchra Khiari of the Democratic Forces Front, seized the
initiative by introducing a bill in parliament to abolish capital
punishment. "There was a thoroughgoing debate at this time between the
abolitionists and advocates of the death penalty," Kabla said. But even
this lively debate was not widely reported in the media "because the
abolitionist movement is not yet influential enough," he explained.
Kouza believes that it is only a matter of time before the Moroccan press
will take up reporting the death penalty issue. "The political and social
engagement is still missing," Kouza said. "But journalism is certainly
becoming more professional."
Independent media outlets are flourishing. Since the 'Democratic
Transition', the media landscape has seen the addition of some 400 private
newspapers. The state broadcasting monopoly has been broken up. There are
now 11 independent radio stations -- although television is still
Morocco's last execution was in 1993, but death sentences continue to be
handed down for murder. Human rights activists believe there are more than
150 currently on death row in the country.
(source: IPS News)
Death Penalty Serves Interests of Despotic Regimes----Interview with Nedal
Nedal Naeiseh: Syrian writer, journalist and anti-death penalty campaigner
Syria strongly opposed the recently passed U.N. resolution calling for an
immediate moratorium on executions and end to capital punishment. But
Nedal Naeiseh -- Syrian writer and journalist -- believes the regime is
close to the day when it will join the growing number of abolitionist
In an interview with Abderrahim El Ouali, IPS correspondent for North
Africa and the Middle East, Naeiseh says solving the Middle East conflict
would remove any pretext for retaining capital punishment in his country.
Some excerpts from the interview:
IPS: You write regularly on abolitionist issues. Is there an active
anti-death penalty movement in Syria?
Nedal Naeiseh: There is no engaged, organized intellectual movement
working to abolish the death penalty in our country. There are individuals
who are campaigning. These, and independent groups, can only take on a
small number of cases because they lack funds and the facilities to lobby.
In Syria civil society organizations, independent associations and
political parties are almost non-existent. But there is an official
current -- still not so obvious -- progressing towards the abolition of
this barbaric punishment.
There is no doubt in my mind regarding Syria, Syria really intends to be
part of the global movement for radical international change. This
especially includes respecting the United Nations call for the abolition
of the death penalty.
Standing in the way of achieving this are some pressing regional problems.
IPS: The Syrian penal code calls for the death penalty for anyone who
belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group. Does this mean that
any other opposition group would face the same sanction?
NN: You are referring to law number 49. This was introduced in 1980 after
the bloody clashes that took place between the Muslim Brotherhood and the
Syrian regime. There were specific circumstances that led to this law; it
was to stop the bloody conflict of that period . . . We do not want such a
law applied in Syria or any other part of the world.
I should say here that the law is semi-suspended. All death sentences have
been reduced to 12 years imprisonment or even less. But there were
undoubtedly past abuses in the application of this law. The sentences are
now made public and published in the media.
I really do not think that any other political organisation has faced --
or will face -- such a measure as long as constitutional rules are
followed and violence is not advocated to achieve political ends.
IPS: In Syria the application of the death penalty is often tied to
collaboration with the enemy, which means Israel. Does this mean that
abolition depends on finding a solution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict in
particular, and the Arab- Israeli conflict in general?
NN: There is certainly a solid connection between the death penalty and
the on-going state of emergency in Syria and the Syrian conflict with
Israel. In nearly all legal codes around the world you will find sanctions
for collaborating with the enemy. It is termed high treason and severely
Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would certainly lead to some radical
constitutional and legal changes in Syria. Then, efforts could be focused
on amending the laws now in force so they meet standards you would find in
the most developed countries. Solving this conflict would remove the
pretext for applying the death penalty -- or ever extending it.
IPS: Criminals who commit revenge crimes in Syria escape the death
penalty. When the family of a murder victim takes revenge against the
murders family or friends, in court they can argue that there were
extenuating circumstances. Is this encouraging murder by letting these
criminals go without full punishment?
NN: Syrian lawmakers are influenced by our customs and tribal traditions
because of the moral value they have in society. But, in my view, this
does not mean that the laws meet recognized legal standards and are
humane. Any criminal must be punished according to modern legal norms and,
of course, the death penalty is not one of these.
You are correct. What happens is unjust. It encourages more killings under
the guise of taking revenge. Also, no one should be punished for a crime
committed by another person. Revenge killings are absolutely illegal and
should be punished by the law.
There are other crimes even more dangerous than revenge crimes. I am
talking here about honour killings. These are also another kind of death
penalty carried out by individuals outside the law. Many women are killed
when there is suspicion they have committed adultery or because of an
innocent rendezvous. Many innocent girls are victims of unjust tribal and
sectarian laws. I can say that there are 2 kinds of laws existing in our
society: tribal laws -- some of which derive from Sharia law -- and modern
laws. But the first group remains the more influential of the 2.
IPS: Under the state of emergency in Syria is there really space for
abolitionist groups to work?
NN: The state of emergency and the absence of civil society organizations
and suspicion of any social movement are preventing any lobbying.
Under the emergency laws now in force any meeting of more than 2 people is
criminalized. But actually in our public activities we find these measures
IPS: If another Arab state were to abolish the death penalty, would this
influence Syria to do the same?
NN: No, I dont think so. Arab countries have many similarities but they
vary in degree.
Syria, because of its ethnic and religious diversity and openness to
global changes, might be more prepared to abolish the death penalty and
adhere to modern and enlightened ideas. But for this to happen there must
be a general campaign here to increase death penalty awareness in society.
IPS: If Muslim scholars were to agree that the death penalty violates
religious teachings, would this oblige political regimes in the region to
NN: Scholars have always been servile and entirely dependent on the
political regimes in our region. They have always been mouthpieces of the
politicians. Throughout the entire history of the region there has been a
strong alliance between politicians and scholars.
Regimes have respected the holy texts only in so far as they have served
their own interests. The texts have always been interpreted by scholars in
a way that has ensured the continuity of these regimes and their
interests. Many Muslim reformists who have attempted to interpret the holy
texts in a more liberal way have faced criticism and accusations of
Our scholars have always been too conservative . . . they have closed
their eyes to the changes taking part in the rest of the world. Weve never
seen them taking an individual, intellectual stand on social issues.
I am sorry to say, the death penalty serves the interests of despotic
regimes in the region and it is futile to expect scholars will speak out
(source: IPS News)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Members of press face death penalty over publication charges
Editor-in-Chief of Al-Share' Weekly Nayef Hassan, the paper's managing
editor Nabeel Subei and Mahmoud Taha, a reporter, appeared on Saturday
before Chief Judge of the State Security Penal Court Ridhwan Al-Namer at
the first hearing for a lawsuit filed against the newspaper by the Defense
At the hearing, the press members demanded that the court adjourn the
hearing so that they can appoint a lawyer to defend them. The judge then
accepted their request and adjourned the trial until December 8.
The 3 journalists were summoned last Wednesday to appear before the court
after the prosecution investigated them regarding the lawsuit by the
Defense Ministry against them for publishing a story about voluntary
fighters who support the army in the Sa'ada fighting. The indictment
demanded that the 3 pressmen be executed under new legal provisions.
Referring Al-Share' Weekly to State Security Court provoked protests at
domestic and international levels because the court specializes in
terrorism and not in publication or press issues.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned last August that
the lawsuit filed against the newspaper, followed by a raid on the
newspaper's head-office, is a dangerous assault on the independent press
in Yemen. The federation condemned charges filed by the Yemeni government
against the weekly, accusing it of threatening national security.
It also criticized the government for trying the newspaper in a state
security court, which is usually concerned with terrorism, adding, "If
convicted, the suspected journalists will be executed."
"We are shocked to see Yemeni authorities resorting to penal prosecution
and directing charges to members of the press, and such charges may risk
the lives of innocent journalists," Aidan White, IFJ Secretary-General,
said. "This issue has a terrible effect, as the media will fear publishing
any reports criticizing the government or the army in order to keep its
The Defense Ministry filed a legal action last July against Al-Share'
weekly after the newspaper published a series of stories and reports about
clashes between the Yemeni army and Houthi followers in the northern
province of Saada.
On July 30, ten armed men riding in a car with military plates raided the
newspapers office in search of chief editor Hassan, who was unavailable in
his office at that time. The armed men threatened to kill him in the
presence of newspaper employees.
Representing 600,000 journalists in 114 states, IFJ announced its support
for the protests staged by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), which
warned that referring the case to penal prosecution is a dangerous
precedent that may have bad consequences for journalists. According to the
syndicate, this precedent may have a negative impact on the constitutional
and legal pillars upon which the journalistic profession has been built
since the establishment of a unified state. "This may lead to abolishing
the constitutional and legal protection of freedom of press and
expression," the syndicate went on to say.
Marwan Dammaj, YJS Secretary-General, had earlier demanded that the Yemeni
government respect the rule of law, ensure legal protection for Al-Share
reporters and arrest the perpetrators who stormed the newspaper's office.
"The newspaper published an article about voluntary tribal leaders who
joined government troops in the fight against Houthi supporters. The paper
also wrote about corruption and the malicious desire of those who want
confrontations between the government and Houthis to last for a longer
period of time in order to serve their personal interests," Nabeel Subei
told the media. It also published reports about groups from the Aden-Abyan
Islamic Army, an active terrorist group in Yemen, who backed the army in
the fight against Houthis. These groups were training volunteers on how to
fight the so-called Sa'ada rebels."
In an unprecedented step, the case file was referred to penal prosecution
instead of press and publication prosecution. According to Article No. 176
of the Yemeni Penal Law, the Defense Ministry filed numerous charges
against Hassan, Subei and Taha, accusing them of harming national security
and stability, influencing the Yemeni army's morale and divulging military
Owned by prominent journalists Nayef Hassan and Nabeel Subei, Al-Share is
an independent weekly that issued its zero issue on the 3nd day of last
June. The papers first issue included reports about the Hashid fighters in
Sa'ada, thereby drawing the attention of readers and researchers seeking
facts about events there.
As the paper devoted a large amount of space for information about
developments, conflicts and complicated relations in Sa'ada, especially
the way army and tribal leaders deal with soldiers and volunteers, this
has helped increase its popularity among readers, particularly those
interested in the Sa'ada crisis.
Observers of the situation consider the issue a distinctive effort by the
newspaper and its reporters, who they believe outperformed other private,
independent and party-affiliated papers in covering developments in the
In an article titled "Bismarck", a name given to Sa'ada volunteers who
back the army in the fight against Houthi loyalists, the newspaper
reported that a large number of these volunteers were killed by the army,
while others fell victim to friendly fire. The newspaper mentioned that
the number of Bismarck fighters exceeded 9,000, most of who came from the
The paper's 1st issue included various subjects related to the Saada
crisis, such as Bismarck in Sa'ada', 'Bismarcks victims', 'Youths with
happy lives', 'The difference between fighters and leaders', and 'Hashid
is a threatening force'. The distinctive issue disclosed human
catastrophes and war crimes against humanity in the northern governorate
that has undergone repeated wars since June of 2004.
(source: Yemen Times)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Suspended death sentences exceed immediate executions for 1st time
The number of suspended death sentences handed down this year in China
surpassed that of immediate executions for the first time, reflecting the
policy of "applying the death penalty to only a small number of extremely
serious offenders", the Chief Justice Xiao Yang said on Friday.
Xiao attributed the shift towards what he called a more prudent use of the
death penalty to the supreme court's resumption of the right to review all
death penalty decisions made by lower courts.
That right resumed on Jan. 1, 2007, ending the court's 24-year absence in
approving many of China's execution verdicts.
"Generally, this significant reform has registered smooth progress in the
transitional period," said Xiao, president of the Supreme People's Court
(SPC), at a national work conference on judicial reform. He did not
provide any statistics concerning death sentences.
He said the reform ensured that "all defendants were equal before the law"
and unified the "judicial scale" in applying death sentences.
"It also strengthens the protection of human rights in the judicial
field," Xiao said, adding "those who could be absolved will not be given
any capital punishment and those who need not be executed immediately will
not get immediate executions."
"The court should ensure that the death penalty would only be imposed on
those who have committed extremely serious crimes" with extreme social
impact, he said.
Doing so had made immediate execution cases drop steadily, he said.
In China, death sentences fall into two categories: immediate execution or
a two-year reprieve.
All capital cases where the death sentence does not require immediate
execution should include a 2-year reprieve, according to an SPC document
released earlier this year.
"Death sentences with a reprieve can ... punish the guilty but also reduce
the number of death penalties," it says.
The SPC reviewed all capital cases until 1983. The provincial courts were
subsequently given final authority for cases involving crimes that were
considered to seriously endanger public security and social order.
The practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and
conducting final reviews, however, drew sharp criticism in the wake of
some highly-publicized miscarriages of justice.
Since the SPC regained the right of review, it has overturned a large
proportion of death sentences.
In the review of death sentences, some cases need lower-level courts, or
even prosecutors and police, to provide supplemental material and
evidence. Some cases require police to investigate suspects who are
identified by the accused.
Early this month, Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the SPC said: "As
people's courts across China have been strictly controlling and cautiously
applying the death penalty over the past dozen years, the number of death
penalty cases has kept declining and reached its lowest point last year."
Figures from the Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts
indicate that, in the first 5 months of 2007, the number of death
sentences dropped 10 % from last year.
More judges and judicial staff have been added to the SPC team that
exercises death penalty review rights. The supreme court has recruited
experienced lawyers and law school teachers as senior judges.
Open court sessions have become mandatory since July 2006, when a second
hearing of a death sentence is defended by a people's procuratorate.
Previously, most appeals -- even involving the death penalty --were not
heard in open court because of a lack of qualified personnel, and errors
in handling death sentences were not uncommon in China.
More than 1,900 more judicial staff were planned to be hired in June for
open court trials for 2nd hearings of death sentences, which are intended
to be a 2nd line of defense to prevent injustices and ensure that
judgments stand the test of time.
(source: Xinhua News)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Harper government 'washed its hands, just like Pontius Pilate'
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
PARIS - The Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, harshly denounced the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday for its decision to stop seeking clemency for Canadians on death row in American jails.
The council's secretary general, Terry Davies, likened the Harper government to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who "washed his hands" of the decision to crucify Jesus Christ because a mob demanded Christ's execution.
In a provocative interview, Mr. Davies also said Canada is effectively "subcontracting" the death penalty, just as the U.S. government has dispatched suspected terrorists to Third World countries, where they can be interrogated under torture.
He urged the federal government to reverse its decision and to press U.S. authorities to return Albertan Ronald Smith, the murderer at the centre of the controversy, from his Montana prison cell to serve the rest of his life behind bars in Canada.
"I'm very disappointed to learn that the Canadian government is not taking some action to get this man returned to Canada, where he should serve a life sentence. We certainly don't want a man like that walking the streets," Mr. Davies said.
"But to execute him is degrading. It's reducing authorities to the same level as people who kill people. Killing people is wrong. And the European view is we won't get down in the gutter with the people who commit murders.
"I'm just amazed that the Canadian government would wash its hands, just like Pontius Pilate."
Mr. Davies said the Harper government, which doesn't advocate the return of capital punishment, is essentially saying that the death penalty is acceptable as long as it doesn't happen on Canadian soil.
"In effect, what I think is that the people in government in Canada are subcontracting the death penalty, exactly the same way the United States of America has sent people to places like Afghanistan, where they are subject to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in order to get them to give evidence when Americans themselves couldn't do it in America and no Europeans would do it."
Mr. Harper said the decision not to seek clemency for Mr. Smith, who is facing execution by lethal injection for killing two men in 1982, is consistent with his government's tough stand on crime.
"The reality of this particular case is that, were we to intervene, it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to repatriate a double-murderer to Canada," Mr. Harper said.
"In light of this government's strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would send the wrong signal to the Canadian population."
The council, which promotes human rights and democracy on behalf of its 47 member countries, was created in 1949 at the suggestion of former British prime minister Winston Churchill.
Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Japan and the Holy See are observers at the council, which issues public declarations and initiates investigations into alleged human rights abuses among member countries.
Louise Arbour, the former Supreme Court of Canada judge who is now the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have already denounced the Harper government's refusal to intervene in the Smith case.
Mr. Davies said he doesn't have the jurisdiction to order an investigation, but didn't rule out the possibility that a member of the council's assembly, made up of deputies from national parliaments, could initiate a probe.
He said Canada is well known in Europe for being far more "civilized" than the U.S. because of its strong defence of human rights and opposition to the death penalty. "I would not say you could lose your reputation, but you could certainly damage it."
Today, Canadian and Bulgarian officials will head to council headquarters in Strasbourg for mediation over the future of Michael Kapoustin, jailed in Bulgaria on fraud charges since 1996. The Harper government wants him returned to Canada
Duma Leaves Punishment on Table
'The State Duma concluded its 4-year term last week, leaving a stack of
important legislation -- including that of banning the death penalty --
"That bill concerning the ratification of the sixth protocol banning death
penalty had been discussed thoroughly several times but we did not gather
sufficient votes to deal with the problem," Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman
of the parliamentary committee on civil and criminal legislations, told
"It will be wrong to say that the State Duma has relegated the bill to the
background despite the fact that it was not voted on. But there is logical
possibility that the next legislative chamber will consider and prepare it
for another round of votes. Certainly it should be one of its priorities,"
The next legislative chamber to be formed after the December 2nd
parliamentary vote will be tasked with tackling all unaccomplished tasks
as well as correcting laws that have not functioned as intended, in
addition to new legislative responsibilities.
Commonly referred as the State Duma, the lower house consists of 450
members, is elected every four years, and is responsible solely for
enacting legislation for the country.
A prominent lawmaker admitted that the majority of deputies in the State
Duma were unprepared to commit themselves to getting death penalty
completely abolished -- although President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly
called for its abolition.
Speaking at the Valdai International Discussion forum in Sochi, Putin said
that he considers the death penalty "senseless and counterproductive".
"The senseless nature of the death penalty has been proven by the
thousand- year history of mankind and modern civilisation, toughening of
punishment by itself up to the death penalty is not a panacea, is not the
most efficient instrument in the struggle against crime," Putin stressed.
"The most efficient weapon in the struggle against the crime is the
inevitability of punishment -- everybody knows that -- and not the cruelty
of punishment. This is the first thing. Secondly, I am deeply convinced,
that by using the death penalty in relation to its citizens, even
criminals, the state educates its citizens in cruelty and brings forth new
cruelty on the part of citizens in relation to each other and in relation
to the state itself. And this is also harmful and counterproductive,"
"In my opinion, the power to impose the death penalty should not be given
to any government. The death penalty exists for the primary purpose of
controlling criminally notorious people. But the threat of the imposition
of the death penalty is the ultimate threat," Professor Jeffrey T. Renz of
the Law faculty at the University of Montana told IPS, from Missoula.
Countries that have adopted the death penalty -- whether Rome after the
Catalinarian conspiracy or the States of the United States -- have always
used it as a tool of oppression, he said.
"There are other ways to protect ourselves from the murderers of say,
north Ossetia and the Caucasus region and from the Saddam Husseins of the
world. We may imprison them without contact with the outside world for the
rest of their lives. I think that the former Soviet republics recognized
this when nearly all either abolished the death penalty or imposed a de
jure or de facto moratorium on its use," he added.
From a western standpoint, Russian society is no longer democratizing,
The Commissioner for the Council of Europe (CE), Thomas Hammarberg,
repeatedly cautioned that his organisation was not planning to wrap up its
monitoring mission in Russia until Moscow finally bans the death penalty.
The CE monitors the fulfillment of Russia's obligations, undertaken 10
years ago when the country joined the organisation.
Russia is the only European country yet to ban the death penalty, although
it promised to do so upon accession to the organisation.
Renz stresses that Russia should immediately repeal the death penalty and,
as part of its constitution, prohibit its use by the federation or any
"Countries who wish to participate in the Council of Europe, or have
relations with the European Union and the OSCE, for example, may freely
decide to enhance human rights or forego the benefits of membership," he
Amnesty International (AI) believes that the death penalty is not
acceptable under any circumstances in democratic world.
"Every execution is an affront to human dignity and a grave abuse of human
rights. The world is steadily turning against capital punishment," Piers
Bannister, a coordinator of the Death Penalty Team at AI, told IPS in an
133 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
"These countries have realised the risks inherent in the use of the death
penalty," Bannister said.
"It can be used against those innocent of the crime for which they were
condemned and it is often used after unfair trials or disproportionately
against ethnic minorities, the poor or other disadvantaged groups," he
AI regularly campaigns for those guilty of grave human rights violations
-- such as Saddam Hussein -- to be held accountable for their actions.
However, AI believes that any punishment inflicted upon them should only
be administered after a full and fair trial that adheres to international
standards and that, whatever the appalling nature of the crimes of which
they are accused, they should not be subjected to cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment or punishment.
"Nothing that we are aware of prevents Russia from abolishing the death
penalty," Bannister says.
Russian authorities have repeatedly stated that President Putin strictly
opposes the death penalty, but that the population may not be ready to
accept the full abolition of the death penalty.
Many countries, Bannister explained, have abolished the death penalty
despite a large portion of the population allegedly being in favour of it.
(source: IPS News)
Abolition of death penalty linked to stability
Sonele Daas sits on death row in Lebanon's central Roumieh prison, found
guilty of murder almost one decade ago. The 60-year-old Bangladeshi had
traveled to Lebanon to work and send wages home to his family. However,
after a dispute with a fellow compatriot, Daas was arrested, tried and
convicted by a Lebanese court for his friend's subsequent death.
Today Daas still does not understand Arabic, has lost touch with his
family and is entirely dependent on others for help, explains Jihane
Morad, a young social worker for the Association for Justice and Mercy
(AJEM), a grassroots organization with a daily presence in the prison
offering social services and legal aid. "He doesn't know who his lawyer
was" she says, "so we have agreed to review his case."
Daas is one of 40 men in crowded Roumieh prison currently sentenced to die
by shooting or hanging. Since Lebanon's independence in 1943, 54 people
have been executed by the state, many of them after the end of the Civil
War in the 1990s.
During an enormous national anti-death penalty campaign backed by over 50
civil society organizations a few years ago, a poll conducted by the
leading ban activist, Walid Slaybi, determined that 74 % of Lebanese
lawmakers were in favor of abolition.
The next step, recalls Slaybi, was to present a draft law on abolition,
already signed by a number of deputies, to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on
July 12, 2006. However, that day the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out.
"Now with the political crises today, the Parliament does not meet. Under
these conditions we cannot present it - but it is ready," says Slaybi.
Lebanon's last series of executions have been high profile and especially
controversial, enacted in the wake of national public outrage over the
In 1998 there was a public hanging in Tabarja town square of 2 thieves,
Hassan Abu Jabal and Wissam Issa, who had killed the owners of a house
they had broken into. Hundreds of people and television cameras watched at
dawn as the gallows briefly malfunctioned and the lifeless bodies were
then left on display for over an hour.
"This was a big trauma for the children of the village," recalls Marie
Daunay, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH). "It was
horrible - the kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at
The executions coincided with the first known public protest in Lebanon
against the death penalty, says Slaybi, when he, Ogarit Younan, a lawyer,
and around 30 others staged a sit-in that morning in the town square.
After a brief halt of executions under former Prime Minister Salim Hoss,
who virulently opposed the death penalty, the murder of 8, mostly
Christian co-workers by a Shiite man, Ahmad Mansour, sparked widespread
sectarian anger in 2004. Careful to appease the various political parties,
Mansour was executed by hanging.
The state also executed by firing squad Remi Zaatar, a Christian, and
Badih Hamade, a Sunni, both on death row for unrelated murders.
Since then there have been no executions. "However those who are condemned
are always living in fear that they might be executed," says Morad.
"Many are receiving psychiatric treatment because of this constant fear."
In 1998 Nehmeh al-Haj, a 44-year-old from the Beirut area, was arrested by
Syrian intelligence agents and taken to Anjar, near the Syrian border. He
says he was interrogated with torture for up to a month, denied a lawyer
and forced to sign a confession that he murdered 2 Syrian laborers in
Lebanon. He was then turned over to Lebanon and transferred to Roumieh
prison. His trial, 6 years later, was based on his signed confession in
Anjar, and despite his allegations of torture, he received the death
Haj's case is presently adopted by CLDH and has been reported to the
United Nation's Human Rights Council. "If you study the cases of people
sentenced to death [in Lebanon]," explains Daunay, "with most of them you
will find big contradictions with international law. Their rights during
the trial were not respected. So if you don't respect the rights of the
accused, you cannot be sure that the decision is right."
Human rights advocates complain Lebanon's court trials are often
expedient, the accused lacks adequate counsel (defense lawyers for death
penalty cases are scarce and they usually work for without payment), the
appeals process is limited and torture to obtain a confession is
Lebanon is a signatory to international laws governing civil and political
rights, and against torture. "Lebanon as a state signs everything, but
nothing is implemented," says Daunay.
Death penalty abolitionists were hoping Lebanon would repeal the death
penalty in accordance with international laws governing the UN special
tribunal set up to try the suspects in the killing of former Premier Rafik
Hariri in 2005.
But the UN and the Lebanon reached an understanding that the tribunal,
which has power to impose penalties leading up to life imprisonment, would
have precedence over Lebanese national law where the death penalty would
still be valid.
With widespread public outrage over the Lebanese Army casualties in Nahr
al-Bared refugee camp at the hands of Fatah al-Islam last summer, in
addition to the current political crises, passage of a death penalty the
ban now seems somewhat remote.
But with the abolitionist campaigners having succeeded in getting
accidental death struck off the list of charges to merit the death
penalty, Slaybi believes the campaign will ultimately triumph. "If there
is stability in Lebanon - then the death penalty will be eliminated," he
says with conviction.
(source: Daily Star)
Friday, November 16, 2007
A judge cites the physician's dyslexia in banning him from participation in
state lethal injections. His role has been cited in several death penalty
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
A doctor who was barred from taking part in executions in Missouri because
of concerns his dyslexia would interfere with his ability to administer
lethal injections is helping the federal government carry out death
sentences in Indiana, according to court documents.
The physician has been the target of more than 20 malpractice suits, was
barred from practicing at two hospitals and was publicly reprimanded by a
state agency for failing to disclose those suits to a hospital where he
treated patients, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper
identified the doctor as Alan R. Doerhoff of Jefferson City, Mo.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. of Kansas City, Mo.,
banned Doerhoff from participating "in any manner, at any level" in lethal
injections in Missouri.
The judge said earlier he was "gravely concerned" that the doctor
responsible for "mixing the drugs which will be responsible for humanely
ending the life of condemned inmates, has a condition [dyslexia] which
causes him confusion with regard to numbers."
Federal officials, however, have made Doerhoff part of the execution team at
the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to court papers filed on
behalf of several inmates there. All condemned federal prisoners are
executed at that prison.
Among those executed there was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.
Doerhoff's role is to place intravenous lines in condemned inmates, monitor
their levels of consciousness and sign death certificates, according to the
Doerhoff did not respond to requests for comment, and Justice Department
spokesman Erik Ablin declined to comment.
Traci Billingsley, U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said the agency does
not comment on pending litigation and does not make public the names of
staff involved in lethal injections.
Washington attorney Paul F. Enzinna, one of the Indiana inmates' lawyers,
also declined to comment.
Doerhoff's role in federal executions emerged in one of several challenges
to lethal injection filed in courts around the country.
Thirty-seven states and the federal government use a three-drug cocktail to
execute prisoners: the fast-acting sedative thiopental, a paralyzing drug
and a heart-stopping drug.
Although ostensibly more humane than prior execution methods, lethal
injection is often performed by untrained, unqualified prison employees
using inadequate equipment, creating an unnecessary risk of excessive pain
in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to Kentucky's executions
by lethal injection on Jan. 7.
During the court challenges, officials have cloaked Doerhoff's identity in
extraordinary secrecy. In the Missouri case, he was referred to as "John Doe
One" and allowed to sit behind a screen during a deposition so that lawyers
for condemned inmate Michael Taylor could not see him being questioned.
In the latest challenge, Roane vs. Gonzales, filed in Washington, the
inmates' lawyers refer to Doerhoff as "Protected Person No. 2." About a
dozen lines in the October brief were redacted.
Doerhoff was cited as "Dr. Doe" in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday
in the lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court.
"The most well-known example of a jurisdiction entrusting its execution
administration to an incompetent individual is the infamous 'Dr. Doe' in
Missouri," says a brief written by lawyers from the death penalty clinic at
UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
The brief contends that even though Doerhoff had played a key role in more
than 50 executions, he had not followed written instructions but
instead "varied the amount of thiopental he gave inmates on a whim, without
The Missouri doctor also said that he had cut the thiopental dosage he gave
inmates by half because a change in drug packaging forced him
to "improvise," the brief said.
"The federal government chose to rely upon the only person in the country
who has been explicitly barred by a federal court from participating in
lethal injection executions," said the brief, written under the supervision
of Tyler L. Alper, associate director of the death penalty clinic.
Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an expert on capital
punishment methods who is closely following the challenges to lethal
injection, said that Gaitan, an appointee of President Reagan, issued his
order after "a thorough and detailed examination of Dr. Doerhoff's shocking
lack of knowledge of the basic tenets of the drugs and procedures involved
in a lethal injection execution, Dr. Doerhoff's admitted challenges with
dyslexia that affected his ability to mix and measure the drugs, as well as
his record of more than 20 malpractice suits and revoked privileges at two
Denno said the revelations about Doerhoff illustrated "the need for
transparency in the identity of executioners" so that their records could be