International

Japan Frees World's Longest-Serving Death Row Inmate; Likely Innocent

On March 27, a court in Japan suspended the death sentence and ordered the release and retrial of Iwao Hakamada, who had been imprisoned for 48 years, mostly on death row. The 78-year-old man is the world's longest-serving death row inmate. Presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama said, "It is unbearably unjust to prolong detention of the defendant any further. The possibility of his innocence has become clear to a respectable degree." Hakamada was convicted of the 1966 murder of the family for whom he was a live-in employee, but the court said new DNA evidence suggested investigators fabricated evidence. Clothing that investigators said the culprit was wearing did not fit Hakamada, and was stained with blood that did not match his DNA.

STUDIES: Amnesty Reports Executions Occurred in Only 11% of Countries Worldwide in 2013

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Amnesty International recently released its annual report on capital punishment around the world, noting, "Developments in the worldwide use of the death penalty in 2013 confirmed that its application is confined to a small minority of countries." As illustrated in the chart at left, over the past decade there has been an increase in the number of countries abolishing the death penalty and a decrease in countries carrying out executions. Because executions in China remain a state secret, Amnesty was not able to determine the number of executions worldwide. Of the known executions, almost 80% occurred in just three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Twenty-two countries recorded executions last year. No executions were carried out in Europe or Central Asia. The United States remained the only country in the Americas to carry out executions and had the fifth most executions of any country in the world. (Information from Syria and Egypt could not be confirmed.)

Secretary of State John Kerry Urges Texas to Reconsider Death Sentence of Mexican Citizen

In a letter to Texas officials, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged a review of the conviction of Edgar Arias Tamayo, a Mexican citizen scheduled to be executed in January 2014. Tamayo was not notified of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty that the U.S. has signed and ratified. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ordered the U.S. to review the convictions of Tamayo and 50 other Mexican citizens who had been sentenced to death without being notified of their rights under the Vienna Convention. No U.S. court has examined the consular issues in Tamayo's case. Kerry's letter warned that executing Tamayo could damage U.S.-Mexican relations and hinder the ability of U.S. officials to help American citizens detained abroad. “Our consular visits help ensure U.S. citizens detained overseas have access to food and appropriate medical care, if needed, as well as access to legal representation,” he said. Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, said, “[T]his issue has become and could continue to be a significant irritant in the relations between our two countries.”

Former Gov. Bill Richardson Issues Human Rights Day Statement on International Decline of Death Penalty

December 10 is Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark this anniversary, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (pictured) joined Federico Mayor, President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, in drawing attention to the steady decline internationally in the use of the death penalty. As governor, Richardson had signed New Mexico's death-penalty repeal bill in 2009. In an op-ed in the Global Post, Richardson and Mayor noted that, in the late 1970s, only 16 countries had completely abolished the death penalty. Today, 150 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice. In 2012, 111 countries supported a UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The authors stated that countries have ended capital punishment "because experience and evidence demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life. It damages and poisons society by endorsing violence, and by causing injustice and suffering. It has no particular deterrent effect on violent crime, and in fact abolitionist nations often have lower murder rates than those that still execute." Read the full op-ed below.

Upon Nelson Mandela's Death, Recalling First Act of South Africa's Constitutional Court

When South Africa's Constitutional Court was created under then-President Nelson Mandela, its first act was to abolish the death penalty. Justice Arthur Chaskalson, President of the Court, announced its unanimous decision on June 7, 1995, stating, "Everyone, including the most abominable of human beings, has a right to life, and capital punishment is therefore unconstitutional....Retribution cannot be accorded the same weight under our Constitution as the right to life and dignity. It has not been shown that the death sentence would be materially more effective to deter or prevent murder than the alternative sentence of life imprisonment would be." Under apartheid, the death penalty had been applied much more often to blacks than to whites. Mandela, himself, faced the possibility of a death sentence in his 1962 trial for incitement.

INTERNATIONAL: Organizations Around the World Focus on Death Penalty Concerns

On October 10, the European Union commemorated World Day Against the Death Penalty, coinciding with events around the world challenging the use of capital punishment. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe released a statement, noting, “Voices in favor of the death penalty within some parts of society, including in our continent, show that there is a continuous need to spell out why the death penalty runs contrary to the right to life and to human dignity." Around the world, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, while only 58 countries retain it. On October 8, the EU's work in educating the public about the risks of executing the innocent was recognized at the 10th anniversary of Witness to Innocence in Philadelphia. Antonio de Lecea (pictured), the Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs of the EU Delegation to the U.S., accepted the award. See below for more events.

INTERNATIONAL: New Report on the Death Penalty in Malaysia

A new report by the London-based Death Penalty Project explores the use of mandatory death sentencing in Malaysia. In the U.S., the Supreme Court barred the use of mandatory death sentences in 1976, holding that judges and juries needed to consider the individual differences among defendants, out of respect for human diginity. (Woodson v. North Carolina, and other opinions). DPP's report found that the number of executions carried out in Malaysia has declined in the last decade even though there have been no major changes in law or reforms in the system. As part of the research, a poll was conducted to discern the public's support for mandatory death sentences. The poll found little public opposition to abolishing the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offenses, though 56% of respondents still supported a mandatory death sentence for murder.  Read full text of the report.

NEW VOICES: UN Secretary General Urges Members to Abolish the Death Penalty

At a recent event sponsored by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged member nations to work towards ending capital punishment. Mr. Ban particularly focused on the risk of wrongful executions, saying, "We have a duty to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate price for miscarriages of justice. The most sensible way is to end the death penalty." The event--"Moving away from the death penalty--Wrongful Convictions"--featured the film West of Memphis, a documentary about three Arkansas teenagers who were convicted of a brutal crime they almost certainly did not commit. The three were freed in 2011. Damien Echols, who had been sentenced to death for the crime, was among the speakers at the event. Since 2007, the UN General Assembly has passed four resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions, and six countries have abolished the death penalty in that time. About 150 UN member countries are now abolitionist by law or in practice. 

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