International

INTERNATIONAL: Philippines to Host International Conference with Focus on Capital Punishment

An international human rights conference with an emphasis on Asian cultural and religious heritage and a special focus on the death penalty will be held in Manila on October 27-28, 2014. Representatives from the Philippines, India, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the European Union are expected. The conference is being organized by the Department of Justice of the Philippines and the Community of Sant'Egidio, an international Catholic lay association. The event, the first of its kind in Asia, is titled "No justice without life" and is part of Sant'Egidio's "Cities for Life" campaign. President Benino Aquino of the Philippines will offer remarks to open the conference.

International Community to Focus on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

On October 10 many international organizations and countries are focusing on the use of the death penalty around the world. The emphasis this year is on mental health issues related to capital punishment, with groups advocating for a ban on the execution of individuals with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to manipulation during interrogation and have difficulty assisting in their own defense. Mental health problems can be exacerbated by the extreme isolation on death row. Recently, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a publication, "Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Arguments, Trends, and Perspectives," which also discussed international issues related to the death penalty. In a preface to the publication, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. Leaders across the globe must boldly step forward in favour of abolition. I recommend this book in particular to those States that have yet to abolish the death penalty. Together, let us end this cruel and inhumane practice."

STUDIES: Innocence and the Death Penalty Around the World

A new report from The Death Penalty Project, "The Inevitability of Error," examines the risk of wrongful convictions in capital prosecutions through case studies from around the world. The report analyzes recent innocence cases in Japan, the U.S., Taiwan, and Sierra Leone, as well as older cases from the United Kingdom that encouraged abolition efforts there. Among the cases included are those of Iwao Hakamada, who was released after 47 years on death row in Japan, and Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the U.S. exonerated from death row by DNA evidence. The study recommends improvements to investigative and appellate procedures, but concludes, "This may, in theory, decrease the likelihood of wrongful convictions, but it will never eliminate it altogether....There is no perfect justice system - error is inevitable. Wherever the death penalty is imposed, there is always a risk that innocent people will be convicted and executed."

INTERNATIONAL: German Officials Refuse to Cooperate in Possible Death Penalty Case

German officials are withholding significant evidence in a murder case involving U.S. servicemen because of Germany's opposition to the death penalty. Sean Oliver has been charged with the murder of another member of the U.S. military, Dmitry Chepusov, in Germany. The U.S. Air Force has jurisdiction over the case, but Germany is withholding cooperation unless the U.S. military agrees not to seek a death sentence. German police discovered the body and conducted the autopsy, and are now refusing to hand over several pieces of physical evidence. Germany abolished the death penalty in 1949 and authorities are banned by law from cooperating in foreign cases that could result in the death penalty. The victim's family is also opposing capital punishment for Oliver. Dennis Bushmitch, the victim's brother, said, “We are urging the Americans not to pursue the death penalty.” In 1985, the German government successfully fought extradition of a German citizen accused of two murders in Virginia until a decision was made not to seek a death sentence.

INTERNATIONAL: Support for the Death Penalty Declines in Russia

A recent poll of 1,600 Russians found that only 52% support the death penalty, a sharp decline from 2002, when 73% said they supported it. Two years ago, 61% were in favor of capital punishment. Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty that was put in place in 1996 by President Yeltsin, shortly before Russia signed a relevant protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia's high court has ruled that even death sentences cannot be handed down. Hundreds of those on death row had their sentences commuted to life.

China Rethinking the Death Penalty

According to a recent op-ed about China in the New York Times, the world leader in executions is having second thoughts about the death penalty. Liu Renwen, a legal scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the annual number of executions in China dropped by half from 2007 to 2011, as more offenders were given "suspended death sentences," which are generally reduced to life sentences. According to a 2008 poll in three provinces, public support for the death penalty is about the same in China (58%) as in the United States (60%), but China carries out an estimated 3,000 executions per year, many more than the U.S. (The U.S. ranks 5th in the world in the number of executions.) There is concern in China about the uneven application of the death penalty: 69% of respondents in the poll said they believed that poor offenders were more likely to be executed than rich ones, and 60% said they thought innocent people could be wrongfully convicted. China's Supreme People's Court recently overturned the death sentence of a woman who killed her husband after suffering years of domestic abuse, perhaps signaling a broader trend toward less use of capital punishment.

INTERNATIONAL: UN Secretary-General Says Death Penalty Is Cruel and Inhumane

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently called on all nations to take concrete steps toward ending the death penalty. In his opening remarks at an event co-sponsored by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Ban said, "Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world." He noted that "more than four out of five countries — an estimated 160 Member States — have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it." He encouraged support for the UN General Assembly's resolution, first adopted in 2007, supporting a moratorium on the death penalty with a view toward abolishing it. Each time the resolution is renewed, its margin of support has grown. Ban also called on member states to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at ending capital punishment.

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.

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