Death Penalty Information
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
ORGAN DONATION Ethical issue in China shrouded by secrecy; Dark side of
transplants---- Citizens join critics who question organ harvesting
practices in Chinese prisons.
Meng Zhaoping is trying to argue her way past a security guard at the
provincial high court for the second day in a row.
All she wants is an audience with a court officer, she says. All she has
are 2 questions: Why was her son put to death? What happened to his body?
The answer to the 1st question is in the charge sheet: He knifed a man to
death in a brawl. The 2nd answer, she is convinced, lies in a
much-criticized Chinese practice: taking organs from executed prisoners
Since her son was executed in January 2005, Meng has been searching for an
explanation. She never saw his body, which was taken to a crematorium.
By then, Meng thinks, his body had been stripped of its organs.
She has no direct evidence, but the secrecy in which China has shrouded
the issue has long bred suspicions. Medical and human rights groups say it
is opaque, profit-driven and indifferent to medical ethics.
What's new is that these critics are being joined by ordinary Chinese such
as Meng, a 53-year-old apple farmer from the fringe of the Gobi Desert.
Much of the furor surrounds the use of organs mostly kidneys, livers and
corneas from executed prisoners who may not have given their permission.
Although few involved in China's transplant trade talk openly about it,
Beijing has begun to respond to criticisms.
This month, the State Council, China's cabinet, formalized Health Ministry
rules issued last year that ban the sale of organs and require donors to
supply written permission.
But the regulations do not mention prisoners.
Health officials say the country faces a severe organ shortage: 1.5
million people need transplants in China each year, and only about 10,000
operations are carried out.
Wealthy Chinese and foreigners are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of
dollars. Brokers can arrange transplants in weeks.
"Theres a very clear demand, and where there's a demand, there's a
market," says Henk Bekedam, head of the World Health Organizations China
office. "This is a market that needs to be very strongly regulated in
order to guide it properly."
Restrictions on U.S. inmates
In the United States, federal prisons ban inmates from donating organs
except to a close relative.
States ban the transplanting of organs from death row prisoners, and
occasional moves by some states to ease the ban have failed.
(source: Associated Press)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Prisons Hit By an Upsurge in Number of Death Row Convicts
Local prisons are facing an accommodation crisis, with the population of
death row inmates shooting up by the day.
Prison authorities are warning that the situation could get worse as
courts countrywide continue to sentence violent crime suspects to hang.
The new cases add to a backlog of some that have remained unexecuted for
decades and others awaiting hearing of their appeals.
There are over 900 such inmates at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison
alone. About the same number are being held at the Naivasha Maximum
At Kamiti, authorities have been forced to convert an ordinary cell block
into a holding cell for death row inmates.
Until recently, death row inmates were only held in 'Condemn A'
'Isolation' and 'Condemn G'.
Apart from the 272 awaiting the hangman's noose at Kamiti, 700 others
sentenced to death by different courts around the country are still
awaiting the hearing of their appeals.
"There are approximately 900 death row inmates at Kamiti Maximum Security
Prison and the courts are sentencing more yet we have never had executions
since 1987," said Mr Peter Njuguna, the officer-in-charge.
The situation, sources among inmates and human rights groups say, is
replicating itself in other penal institutions countrywide, with more
people being sentenced to death for violent crime.
Mr Henry Maina of the Legal Resource Foundation, which has been working
with convicts, said they had noted a daily surge in death row convict
"We have noticed an increase in the number of convicts including those on
death row in the three major prison namely, Kamiti Naivasha and Shimo La
Tewa," Mr Maina said.
The last such inmates, convicted for participation in the 1982 attempted
coup, were executed at Kamiti on May 17, 1987.
The batch of 12 included soldiers Hezekiah Ochuka, Pancras Okumu, Onyango
Otieno alias 'Jaduong' and Raphael Okumu.
Others, including the disabled Raphael Ngumbao, Martin Shikuku, Alphonse
Jalango, and Raphael Ogola, Rashid Juma, were convicted of murder.
Since then, however, Kamiti has accumulated more convicts on the death
row. Several others like the long-serving Kisilu Munyao were released on
presidential clemency by President Kibaki in 2003. Francis Mbithi, who had
been on death row after conviction in 1980 for robbery with violence, was
His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He had been on death row
for 23 years.
But every day for the last 20 years Samson Ochanda Owuor has waited for
the hangman to snuff life out of his now frail aging body.
Owuor, 70, was charged with robbery with violence in Kisumu in 1988 and
subsequently sentenced to hang.
But as fate would have it, his appeal was delayed when his case file
number CR.C 900/87 mysteriously disappeared, making him ineligible for the
Benjamin Ndambu Suku and Joshua Otieno Bala convicted in 1990 and 1991
respectively for robbery with violence are among those waiting for a date
with the hangman. They were joined in the death row section in early March
this year by Richard Mwanzia, an individual with both sexual organs who
was accused of rape.
Unlike other convicts, death row convicts are not subject to manual labour
and consequently spend their days either watching TV (thanks to VP Moody
Awori's prison reforms), attending adult education classes taught by
fellow death row convicts or church within the prison.
Those awaiting execution wake up at 6.00am for a headcount before the
doors to the cells are opened for them between 6.30am and 7.00 am to take
bath and have breakfast.
The inmates then attend attend class, go for various games, or church.
They are then served lunch, comprising a bowl of soup and discoloured
ugali between 10.00am and 11.00am.
After lunch, the death row inmates are allowed to watch television,
although they mostly sit around unlike their counterparts in the Lang'ata
Women's Prison who engage in embroidery or cookery.
A long-serving warder at Kamiti says that death row inmates are the most
disciplined, and they quickly embrace religion.
(source: The Nation)
Human Response to Inhuman Acts
ON THE Wednesday before the first court appearance of Andrew Jordaan,
alleged murderer of seven-year-old Sheldean Human, I receive a forwarded
SMS from a number in Tshwane: "Please wear pink and blue on Friday in a
show of solidarity with the family..." On the Friday evening, the
Afrikaans news leads with the story of the court appearance. Cameras zoom
in on an angry mob assembled in front of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court,
waving posters demanding: Hang hom! (Hang him!).
It is evident that much time went into preparations for the protest. A
mannequin with a noose around its neck forms the centrepiece in the
enraged display. A petition to reintroduce the death penalty does the
rounds. Celebrities interviewed say they are gatvol. A little girl is
carrying a poster with a question messily painted in bright red letters:
"Am I next, Pres Mbeki?"
A woman from Sheldean's community says in an Afrikaans accent: "Don't hang
him. Give him to us..." This sentiment is later echoed in Mitchells Plain
at the arrest of Richard Engelbrecht, the man allegedly responsible for
the death of 11-year-old Annestacia Wiese.
What is happening to SA? It appears the public has become so consumed with
moral rage against violent crime that it is no longer to be reasoned with.
Will it soon start taking matters into its own hands? Is the pressure of
the prevalence of violent crime ultimately stifling all moral and ethical
aspirations beyond economies of violence? Why did we again abolish the
death penalty despite strong public opinion to the contrary and despite
the increasing rate of violent crime in SA? Do the reasons the
Constitutional Court gave in coming to its decision remain cogent more
than 10 years later?
These questions force one back to the earliest hours of our democracy.
In 1995, our newly founded Constitutional Court abolished the death
penalty. The court carefully distinguished between the question of whether
the public believes that the death penalty should be a proper punishment
for murder and whether the constitution allows it. In elaborating on this
difference, the court said there would be no need for constitutional
adjudication if public opinion were to be decisive.
The protection of rights would then be left to Parliament, which is
answerable to the public and that, according to the court, would be a
retreat from the new legal order: a return to parliamentary sovereignty.
The court also held that capital punishment was not the only way in which
a society could express moral outrage against murder.
In answering the question whether the death penalty is nevertheless a
justifiable limitation on the above rights, the court dealt with the
argument that the death penalty serves as a strong deterrent to violent
crime in SA. The court refuted this argument, pointing out there was no
evidence that the death penalty was a greater deterrent than, for
instance, life imprisonment.
The court also showed that violent crimes in SA increased at a time when
the death penalty was still on the statute books. There was thus not
sufficient evidence that the imposition of the death penalty serves as a
greater deterrent to violent crime than other forms of punishment.
The then president of the court, Arthur Chaskalson, said: "The greatest
deterrent to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended,
convicted and punished. It is that which is presently lacking in our
criminal justice system; and it is at this level and through addressing
the causes of crime that the state must seek to combat lawlessness."
Finally, the court held that SA had committed itself to the recognition of
human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence. At the heart of this
commitment lies the affirmation of the rights to life and dignity.
Having committed ourselves "to a society founded on the recognition of
human rights", the court held that we are required to value the rights to
life and dignity above all others. "And this must be demonstrated by the
state in everything that it does, including the way it punishes
Aspirational words, you might say. And while it will always remain
impossible to fully mourn the tragic deaths of victims of violent crime,
it is the aspirational character of these words that should remain to
guard the possibility of a future in which these heinous acts no longer
If we would like to believe we have morally, ethically and politically
become more sophisticated in the 21st century, then these words have to
hold true (even if primarily on an aspirational and inspirational level)
even more than 10 years later.
If we are simply to respond to the cruelty of the murderer with a
matching, deliberate cruelty, which would basically repeat the crime, if
the death penalty becomes that which we fight for (aspire to) as an
ethical response to heinous crime, then we will lose the very aspiration
for a nonviolent, transformed society founded on the rule of law.
Behind the abolition of the death penalty lies the unconditional
affirmation of the right to life. And is this not precisely what the
religions of SA advocate? How does one reconcile the religious demand to
"forgive the unforgivable" with hungry calls for vengeance in front of
While these aspects might be irreconcilable, the injunction to forgive the
unforgivable is an almost unbearable, unrealistic, impossible moral
demand, which, nevertheless, must remain with us as we attempt to
formulate new, more human responses to the inhuman acts that so vividly
permeated our experience as a nation over the past few months.
That the state has an urgent and inexcusable duty to facilitate the proper
functioning of such responses through intensified programmes of law
enforcement and crime prevention is self-evident and it should go without
saying that this injunction forms part and parcel of the aspirational
nature of the court's judgment.
While it is true no politics or law can be founded on the notion of
forgiveness, the state is not forgiving the criminal when it abolishes the
death penalty. It is still imposing a punishment -- often a life sentence,
which can easily become a death sentence.
But by refusing to impose the death penalty, the state reaffirms that the
economy exacted by the death penalty cannot and will not contribute to
ethical living and a constitutional culture of rights.
If this reaffirmation is not taken seriously by the state and its
citizens, we shall soon be immersed yet again in the dark days of moral
decay from which we have emerged.
(source: Opinion, Business Day--Dr Jaco Barnard is from the department of
private law at the University of Cape Town)
EU States Back Kiai's Call to Abolish Hanging
A proposal by the Government's human rights watchdog to abolish the death
sentence has received backing from 27 European Union (EU) countries.
A section of lawyers have also supported the recommendations contained in
a new report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).
German ambassador, Mr Walter Lindner, described hanging as crude and
inhuman. "Eleven countries in Africa have abolished the death penalty and
it is time Kenya joined in to do the same," he said.
Germany, which holds the EU presidency, and other member States have
abolished death sentences.
EU has been at the forefront in supporting civil society organisations to
lobby for the abolition of capital punishment
At last year's World Day Against Death Penalty, EU urged all governments
to get rid of the punishment.
Britain also added its voice. "Uganda and Tanzania has started questioning
the death penalty and Kenya should start to do the same," said Mr Adam
Wood, the British High Commissioner.
Wood said death row convicts are cruelly treated.
More than half the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty
and apply life imprisonment for the most serious crimes.
Under the local laws, murder, treason and robbery with violence, including
attempted robbery with violence, carry a death sentence.
KNHRC says Parliament should amend the law to do away with the penalty.
Its report, Abolition of the Death Penalty in Kenya, also recommends that
current hanging convicts face life imprisonment instead.
"The fact that there has never been executions in the last 20 years
suggests that death penalty is not right," said KNCHR chairman, Maina
Kiai, while launching the paper on Wednesday.
"Even though it is in our legal books and laws, it is not the right thing
for us to be doing." The most damning aspect about the penalty is that
once executed, it is irreversible even if there has been miscarriage of
justice, KNCHR said.
The commission is mandated to advise the Government on ways to enhance
protection of human rights.
Enforcement of the death penalty violates Article 7 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against torture
and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to which
Kenya is party.
Addressing rights activists and envoys, Kiai said it was time for Kenya to
join in the steps of the emerging global trend that seeks to abolish
capital punishment. Eleven African countries have abolished the
punishment. These are Angola, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau,
Liberia, Senegal, Seychelles, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and South
Africa. "Tanzania and Uganda's highest courts have ruled that death
penalty is a crude and cruel punishment that ensures human rights
violations," Kiai added.
(source: East African Standard)