Death Penalty Information
Monday, October 30, 2006
Capital punishment: A question left hanging?
Is death penalty akin to murder at the hands of the state? Is hanging the
most inhuman way to end a criminal's life?
The hangman's noose... is meant only for crimes most heinous. In fact, a
crime that must be abominable enough to make the state a murderer, or is
just fair justice being meted out? Does capital punishment have a place in
a modern, democratic society? As India battles these questions again with
respect to Afzal Guru, an accused in the Parliament attack case, there are
many who want a dispassionate and a humanitarian look at this vehicle of
justice. TR Andhyarujina, former solicitor general, says, "While the
tenets say a death sentence should only be given in the rarest of rare
cases, it doesn't work that way. What are the standards set in this
regard? None. Statistically also, it has been proved that hanging doesn't
act as a deterrent. Also, it is one of the most inhuman ways to kill
Former law minister and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan seconds this,
"Capital punishment needs to be abolished immediately. For this, we need
the collective will of Parliament to bring in this change, for the courts
have time and again upheld the death penalty. And till that happens, at
least we can give prisoners dignity in death using means that are
comparatively painless, for instance, lethal injections. There is no place
for the spectacle of hanging in a civilised society."
But there are vociferous demands from the other side too. Former joint CP,
Delhi Police, Maxwell Periera feels that demands asking for the abolition
of capital punishment are negating law enforcement. "Despite the fact that
nobody wants death penalty, it is very much there in statuette books. The
condition of the country's justice deliverance system is such that its
removal will have repercussions on the country's law and order process.
That is the reason why the courts not only uphold it but are also
enhancing it. However, the mode of execution should be painless and
But objectivity is hard to achieve, given the circumstances of the present
case. With vocal protests from both sides of the divide, will justice be
able to prevail? Activist Madhu Kishwar puts it in perspective when she
says, "While personally I am not in favour of a death sentence, at the
same time, if you can kill others for your rights, others can exercise the
same right on you too. But yes, in such cases, the trials should be
And fairness of the trial is what senior advocate Ram Jethmalani is
raising a finger at. 'The question is whether this man has been found
guilty and if it conforms to the standard of fairness regarded by a
civilised judicial system. And the answer is no," he has said. Only there
are no retakes in death penalty. Yet another reason why it needs a
(source: Times of India)
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO:
Confronting the death penalty
ON July 28, 1999, Anthony Briggs, formerly of Pinto Road, Arima, was
hanged. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of a taxi driver in
Arima sometime in August, 1992. Briggs went to his death a peaceful man,
one of his sisters reporting that he had told her 2 days before that he
had accept Jesus Christ as his personal lord and saviour, and all was well
with his soul. That sister was confident at the time, however, that her
brother was the wrong man sent to the gallows, but she had no hard
feelings against the state. So she said.
Her brother also told her that he hoped he was the last person to suffer
this fate. At the time of his death, there were 63 other persons on Death
Row. But only 13 of them were at the point where one of them could have
been called next. They were the ones who had had all their appeals
exhausted and had no constitutional or human rights motions pending.
6 years and 3 months later, murders have increased dramatically from what
they were in 1999, and more people have been sentenced to death, but the
hangman has not had a day's work since. In the face, that is, of the
strident calls from the general population for implementation of the death
"Shame and scandal in the T&T family," wailed a front page Sunday Express
headline on October 15, when the murder rate for the year hit 301. It got
there with triple murders on Friday night before, in separate incidents.
The very next weekend three more men were shot to death, this time in a
single incident at a nightclub in Arima, by a group of angry young men who
wouldn't accept the management's right to refuse their admission. In fact,
they had been inside and were thrown out because of their behaviour. They
returned only to nihilistically mash up the place.
The murder rate stood at 315 yesterday, but with the weekend approaching,
who knows what will be the Monday morning headlines! There are raging
arguments about the projections being made by the Minister of National
Security, and about the figures he is using in a series of media
advertisements, the value of which remains unclear.
Application of the death penalty has been held by many as the best
antidote against homicides, and we made headlines with it in 1999, Briggs
being the tenth person sent to the gallows that year. Remember the nine
hangings, three a day between a Thursday and a Saturday, of Dole Chadee
and company? Every public opinion poll conducted comes back firmly for
retention of the death penalty, and every government professes its undying
commitment to upholding it as the law.
The UNC was the party in power in 1999 and while it clearly remains a
question for scrutiny whether or not its application of capital punishment
was highly selective and suspect, that many pay-days for the hangman was
an achievement, for those inclined to be impressed by such numbers.
In almost five years, and with the insistence that it has not again
abandoned the death penalty, the current Government has not managed to
create a single day's work in this category. An attempt was made in June
2005, against the life of Lester Pitman, who had been sentenced to death
for the triple murders of John Cropper, his mother-in-law and
sister-in-law in July 2001. This was stopped as lawyers on Pitman's behalf
successfully argued that he had been in the process of filing an appeal
with the Privy Council.
At the end of 1999, after the 10 hangings that year, the murder rate
closed out at 93. The next year it went to 118. In 2003, the 2nd full year
of a new PNM administration, the rate rose to 229. It climbed to 260 in
2004 and shot to 386 last year.
A version of the Minister's "report on homicide statistics" appearing in
yesterday's Express has the figure for the year still at 306, however.
On the face of these figures, the arguments that hangings make a
difference can be flattened.
Whether or not hangings are useful as a deterrent to those who will commit
murder, this Government seems determined to press ahead.
It has been stymied all the way to the gallows, however, by a combination
of commitments to the Privy Council and a host of other international
human rights bodies, treaties and conventions to which we are signatory.
They are enough to cause the policy decision makers to consider again the
force of an assertion by the current Attorney General that it is extremely
difficult, if not virtually to apply the death penalty any more in
Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr Jeremie's statement, as an elaborate response to a query this week for
a status report on the death penalty, is encouraging reading for those in
favour of its abolition. For those of the contrary opinion, it is an easy
invitation to anarchy.
(Continuing next week).
(source: Trinidad Express)
Doctors: Transplants in China are crime against humanity
Senior transplant surgeons in Israel call on citizens to stop traveling to
China for transplant surgeries, say 90 percent of organs taken from death
row prisoners without consent
Senior Israeli transplant surgeons call on Israeli patients to stop
traveling to China for the purpose of undergoing transplant surgery, and
demand that authorities find an appropriate solution for expanding the
organ reserve stock in Israel.
Israel has had a significant shortage of organs available for transplant
for many years, and waiting lists continue to get longer and longer.
The number of organ donors in Israel is very low and stands at less than
10 donors a year for every million people in the population, as opposed to
15-30 donors per million in Europe and the United States. This results in
more than half of Israeli patients awaiting transplants to go abroad for
their transplant surgeries, mostly to China.
In a special survey which was to be published this week in the medical
journal "Harefua", director of the heart transplant unit at Sheba Medical
Center Dr. Jacob Lavee spoke against the transplants performed in China
and defined them as "crimes against humanity".
The reason for his condemnation of the surgeries was that about 90 % of
the transplanted organs in China were taken from prisoners on death row
without their consent.
'Organs removed while prisoner was alive'
The article quoted Dr. Wang Guayoki, a Chinese doctor who escaped China
and sought political refuge in the United States. He described before a
committee of the House of Representatives how he removed skin and corneas
from the bodies of over 100 prisoners who were executed in Chinese
He explained that the "donors" receive a special injection which prevents
their blood from clotting and aids in preserving their organs. The
execution team shoots the prisoners in the head while a medical staff
stands by in order to remove the organs meant for transplants.
Dr. Guayoki recounted a particularly shocking case where kidneys were
removed from a prisoner while he was still alive due to a faulty
execution. Other testimonies brought before congress confirmed other such
In recent months, Israel's Health Ministry ordered HMO's to ensure that
transplants performed abroad were only done at accredited institutions.
Concurrently, China's Health Minister announced that buying and selling of
organs was not permitted, and that all organ donations be consented by the
Still, doctors say that Israeli patients continue to travel to China in
search of new organs.
"It goes without saying that the distress of patients in Israel waiting
for transplants is great, but one's distress doesn't justify committing a
crime on another," Dr. Lavee said.
Death Penalty - Debates Extend to Districts
After meeting various bodies at national level, the Judiciary has extended
their campaign of conducting debates on having the death penalty scrapped
from the Rwandan Penal Code, to the district level.
"It is true we have started the debates at the district level and I have
been to a number of them and recently, I asked the Cabinet meeting to have
ministers help me in these campaigns. They will soon begin," Tharcisse
Karugarama, the Justice Minister said yesterday.
According to Karugarama, the government has assigned different ministers
to different districts and every minister will go to their designated
districts for the campaigns.
He said that the government has given itself a deadline of November 20, to
have the draft law ready for Parliament.
"Our aim is to have this law ready at least by the end of the year, but we
don't set the programme of parliament and that is why we (government) want
to finish it as soon as possible," he said on phone.
Asked how this has been perceived by the populace, Karugarama said that
people like the idea.
"Many people we met think it is for the common good, but of course, we
have also met others who had reservations about it, they think waiving it
would promote criminal acts but we try to explain to them," he added.
He said that right now, officials in IBUKA, the umbrella organisation for
Genocide survivors are holding consultative meetings "and we are planning
to meet them in due course," Karugarama said.
"The judiciary has also met a number of human rights activists on the
issue, and among these include; CLADHO, LDGL (Ligues de Droit de l"Homme
duns les Grands Lacs) and others.
"They are all enthusiastic to have this penalty lifted," Karugarama said.
The debates on the lifting of this penalty have gone far, after members of
the judiciary met the University community, members of the press and local
government officials, among others.
It has been widely said that after the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda indicated that if Rwanda fulfills what it is required of (lifting
death penalty), transfers will start in January and the government is said
to be working around the clock to see that the law is ready by this time.
(source: New Times)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
A Failure of Justice
By Piers Bannister*
LONDON, Oct 10 (IPS) - A man is in court on trial for murder. He does not understand the language in which he is being tried. He has no defence lawyer. Because he does not know what is being said, he is unaware that he has been sentenced to death.
Some time goes by in prison. He speaks to his brother by phone and tells him that everything is all right and he is doing fine. A few hours later, he is led from his cell, taken to a public square and beheaded. It is not clear at what point he would have realised he was about to be executed.
This is not a fictional story, it happened to a Somalian man in Saudi Arabia in 2005. It is yet another example of the unacceptable use of the death penalty.
In the few countries that continue to execute people, the death penalty is arbitrary; used disproportionately against ethnic minorities or other disadvantaged sections of society. It is administered after unfair trials, inflicted upon the innocent, the mentally ill and child-offenders. In short, the manner in which the death penalty is deployed is a failure of justice.
However, some countries may prove hard to persuade that executions serve no useful purpose and actually damage any society that commits them. The governments of Singapore, China, the USA, Iran and many others are convinced that the death penalty controls crime.
Amnesty International vehemently denies this is true. Proof shows that the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect. Even if executions do prevent crime, even the most ardent supporter of the death penalty should be unhappy with the manner in which it is administered, assuming they are a supporter of fair trials, equality before the legal system and due process of law.
Every study of the systems that impose capital punishment in today’s world shows an appalling failure of justice and an unacceptable assault upon the legal rights of the individuals involved. The use of the death penalty is a political tool for politicians to appear to be addressing high crime rates or to instil fear in the populations they control.
As a high ranking politician in the USA once asked, “What will we use to control our populations if we don’t have the death penalty to scare them?”
After 16 years of working against the death penalty, I cannot name a single country where the standards of justice that impose capital punishment come close to meeting agreed up United Nations safeguards essential to the administration of justice.
The 23 countries that actively carried out executions in 2005 (it appears that the figure for 2006 will be very similar) did so in a manner contemptuous of justice.
In the United States, the evidence of the racial bias use of the death penalty is overwhelming, particularly when the race of the alleged victim is taken into account. African Americans and whites are the victim of homicide in almost equal numbers, yet since 1976, 80 per cent of those executed were convicted of the murder of a white person and only 14 per cent an African American.
Moreover, the number of wrongful convictions which are regularly overturned by U.S. courts proves that the justice system there is seriously flawed. Since 1973, 123 death row inmates have been exonerated before their sentences were carried out. A more frightening statistic, however, comes from the Northwestern School of Law, which has documented that 38 innocent people have been executed in the U.S. since 1973.
In Pakistan, whether the defendant lives or dies may depend on the wealth and influence of his family. Under the system of “blood money,” the family of the murderer can pay compensation to the family of the victim in lieu of execution. The murderer then walks free. The rich get away with murder, the poor die.
In China, many are executed after confessing to crime while being subjected to torture. Teng Xingshan was executed after “confessing” to the murder of his wife, a statement he later retracted claiming he had been beaten by police officers. Nevertheless the authorities continued with his execution and he was put to death in 1987. Sixteen years later she reappeared alive and well.
In Jordan, many have been executed after being convicted on the basis of a confession extracted under torture. One man was hanged in 2000 for a 1995 murder. In 2005, the authorities sentenced another man to death for the same killing after an unrelated trial.
Iran is one of only two countries which execute those under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. This is in violation of international law. In 2004, for instance, a 16-year-old girl, Ateqeh Rajabi, believed to be mentally ill, was publicly hanged in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran for "acts incompatible with chastity."
Her co-defendant, an unnamed man, was reportedly sentenced to 100 lashes. He was released after this sentence was carried out.
Indeed, because of these potential mistakes and abuses, rational, humane governments choose not to use the old eye-for-an-eye form of justice. Worldwide, the use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare; 129 countries no longer use capital punishment in law or practice and in 2005, a mere 23 countries carried out executions. The movement towards a world without capital punishment is relentless.
It is an indefensible act to take a defenceless prisoner and in the most cold-blooded manner possible kill him. The individual is no longer a threat to society because he is incarcerated yet the authorities decide the time, place and method by which he is to die.
The world is learning that the death penalty is a barbaric act that debases any society that uses it. As a crime control measure it is ineffective. Indeed, many of the countries that use capital punishment suffer higher rates of violence than many other non-executing nations.
Many politicians have provided human rights leadership by abolishing capital punishment. Sadly, many more lack this courage and the phrase “we are not ready to abandon the death penalty” is too often heard.
*Piers is a researcher on the death penalty at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat.