Will we see an end to the death penalty in our lifetime?

A talk by Dan Dolan of Reprieve                   

 How about this death row prisoner’s definition of Capital Punishment?

Them without the capital get the punishment. 

Dan Dolan. Picture: Reprieve

This was how Dan Dolan launched his talk on the work of Reprieve, which started by taking on the defence of British nationals on the USA’s death row and, 30 years later takes on any nationality. They expose the torture and unjust sentencing of Guantanamo inmates but their chief mission is to end the Death Penalty – on the grounds that it is not a deterrent, but an expensive public policy disaster.  They work mostly as ‘lawyers in courts’ but also know how to influence ‘the court of public opinion’.

Their focus is twofold: first, a campaign to end the use of lethal injection in the USA and second, to fight the use of the death penalty for drug-related crime in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere.  Dan explained that in the context of the gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad, the use of lethal injection gave a veneer of respectability to the death penalty.  But ‘humane execution’ is a myth – the drugs are not designed by clinicians, and are administered by untrained prison staff.  

Their investigations amazingly found that ‘Dream Pharmer’, the main supplier of death row drugs to the USA, was actually one man operating from behind a London driving school with a cupboard-full of imported drugs from the EU!  After initially losing their case against the UK government, Reprieve, following judicial review, achieved a ban on specific lethal drug exports.  This UK ban then became an EU one.

 Next, the Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck was persuaded to apply distribution controls to prevent the inadvertent supplying of companies feeding death row executions. 30 businesses followed in 6 years and with that supply failure came a pause in executions.  And with that pause came reflection.  Utah, Kansas and New Hampshire are looking at a moratorium.  Those that are looking elsewhere for suppliers (Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi) are more exposed to ‘the court of public opinion’ – a public gaze directed at botched executions.  

Reprieve’s methods are pragmatic – focusing not on moral arguments but on tracing sources and support structures: ‘throwing sand in the wheels of the machinery of death’.

The second focus of Reprieve’s current work is withdrawing EU aid to drug-related executions, chiefly in Iran and Pakistan which account hugely for the global total. (Iran hanged 600 last year, Pakistan has 112 on death row.)  Here the ‘chain of complicity’ is being investigated. The officials who arrested and prosecuted Arshad Ahmed were trained by UK staff, used scanners provided by UK aid and received UK legal assistance in the making of their laws.  The innocent ‘mule’  was the only prosecution among 25 arrests – and he awaits the death sentence.

So the policy is both unjust and counter-productive – with an increase in drugs trafficking and a heroin confiscation of only 2 – 4 %.  Reprieve persuaded the UK to make ‘Raid Aid’ conditional on Pakistan renouncing the death penalty.  Now 6 EU countries have withdrawn ‘Raid Aid’ to focus on rehabilitation and give law-enforcement support only when not death-penalty related. 

The analysis of agency – the use of leverage and the building of ‘coalitions of interest’ – are the methods that Reprieve (with only 30 staff) has employed so effectively.  However Dan wryly admitted that the possibility of ending the Death Penalty in our lifetime has perhaps receded significantly given this week’s US election result. 

Our thanks to Dan Dolan and to New Forest Amnesty for hosting this lively and informative talk.

Hosted by New Forest Amnesty in The Lymington Centre on 12 November 2016.

Read our review of Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice 

Follow us on Twitter, Pin interest and Facebook – salisburyai.


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