International

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.

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.

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