International News and Developments: 2000
Philippine President Commutes Over 100 Death Sentences
On December 10, 2000, Philippine President Joseph Estrada commuted the death sentences for 105 convicts to life imprisonment. The move came after Estrada was urged by Bishop emeritus Antonio Fortich to release all political prisoners before Christmas. Estrada agreed to release the prisoners, and added that he would commute the sentences of those under sentence of death. Although Estrada announced plans to commute all of the country's death sentences, only those death-row convicts whose sentences were upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court qualified for commutation. There are still some 1,200 inmates whose cases are still under review by the Court. (Associated Press, 12/10/00 and EWTN News, 12/13/00)
Thailand Proposes Ban on Juvenile Death Penalty
In Thailand, a bill to ban the death penalty and life imprisonment for juvenile offenders was submitted by the Attorney-General's office to be put on the agenda for a December 12 cabinet meeting. If passed, the bill, which will replace the sentences with a maximum penalty of 50 years imprisonment, will bring Thailand's laws in line with international conventions that prohibit such penalties for juveniles. See also, Juveniles and the Death Penalty
International Moratorium Groups Meet with United Nations Secretary General
On December 18, Moratorium 2000's United States representative, Sister Helen Prejean, joined representatives of the Sant'Egidio Community of Italy and Amnesty International in a private meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to present over 2.5 million signatures calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. For more information, please visit www.Moratorium2000.org (Moratorium 2000 Press Release, 10/25/00)
- Poland - On September 30, 2000, Poland abolished its death penalty when it ratified Protocol No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty. To become a party to the protocol member states must remove capital punishment from their law. (Council of Europe Press Service, 10/30/00)
- Chile - The Chilean senate voted to end the death penalty and increase the number of years that must be served under a life sentence. Before it becomes law, the bill will be submitted to the constitutional committee for review. (BBC News, 11/6/00)
United Nations Asked to Enforce U.S. Compliance With Race Convention
On October 24, prominent U.S. civil rights activists presented a "call to action" urging the United Nations to hold the United States accountable for racially discriminatory practices, such as the imposition of the death penalty, in the criminal justice system. The petition appealed to the U.N. to call on the U.S. government to honor its obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other human rights treaties, and suggests state and federal moratoriums on executions in the U.S. The petition was signed by such civil rights activists as Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, and Kweisi Mfume. (Reuters, 10/24/00) See also, Race and the Death Penalty, and DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter's statement at recent Ford Foundation Symposium on U.S. Compliance with the Race Convention.
Stay of Execution Granted to Hundreds of Caribbean Death Row Prisoners
A decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the final court of appeals for such commonwealth nations as Jamaica, Trinidad, the Bahamas and Barbados, resulted in a stay of execution for hundreds of death-row prisoners in the Caribbean. The Privy Council ruled that all prisoners should be given access to the Jamaican Mercy Committee, the body which decides who will be executed and who should receive mercy. The Council also held that it was unlawful to execute prisoners without regard to decisions of international human rights bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Council specifically commuted the death sentences of 6 inmates. (The Times of London, 9/13/00)
European Union Calls for Moratorium on Federal Executions in the U.S.
In a letter to President Clinton, the French Presidency of the European Union has urged authorities to declare a moratorium on all federal executions. The letter, written by the French Ambassador, Mr. Francois de l'Estang, urged Clinton not to break the de facto moratorium on federal executions and to commute federal death row inmate Juan Raul Garza's sentence to life imprisonment. (French Presidency of the European Union Press Release, 7/27/00) The letter to President Clinton, as well as other materials concerning the European policy related to the death penalty are available on the Delegation of the European Union's Web site.
U.S. Death Penalty Hurts International Image
Felix Rohatyn, the U.S. ambassador to France, recently made the following comments about the perception of the U.S. overseas:
"People in France admire the United States, and much of what passes for anti-Americanism is limited to the intellectual milieu of Paris. Not so in the case of the death penalty. I travel a lot. You hear opposition to the death penalty in Bordeaux, you hear it in Toulouse, everywhere. When I speak to audiences, the question always comes up. And I don't believe this is just a French phenomenon. I recently spoke to John Kornblum, our ambassador to Germany, and he told me the death penalty is the single most recurring question there." (Newsweek 5/29/00)
U.S. a World Leader in Executions
According to statistics from Amnesty International, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States accounted for 85% of the over 1,813 people executed in 1999. Although the number of executions dropped from 2,258 in 1998, countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., all increased their numbers of executions. The U.S. and Iran were the only two countries to execute a juvenile offender in 1999.
After releasing its statistics on 1999 executions, Amnesty International called on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to take a stand against the death penalty and establish a moratorium on executions at its annual session currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland. (Amnesty International News Release, 4/18/00)
Philippines President Declares Moratorium on Executions
On March 24, Philippines President Joseph Estrade announced a moratorium on executions for this year. The moratorium was requested by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Jesus' birth. Although the moratorium is scheduled to be lifted in January of next year, the death sentences of at least 18 prisoners have effectively been commuted to life sentences because, under Philippines law, they would have to be executed within the next six months. The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 1987, but reinstated it in 1994. Since then, more than 1,000 people have been sentenced to death, and seven have been executed. (Associated Press, 3/24/00)