Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Group statistics

Posted: November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

For those interested in statistics might find this interesting.


There is a majority of people in the UK who, for certain crimes, would like to see a return of the death penalty according to YouGov.  The current home secretary, Priti Patel, has said the same on Question time although she now resiles from this.  People in favour of the penalty should watch this film.

It concerns a female warden (governor in UK parlance) who is in charge of a prison where people are executed.  Directed by a woman, Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard it illustrates the tension of those in charge of actually carrying out the gruesome task.  At the start of the film, the execution process is botched and it takes quite a while for the prisoner to die, painfully.

The film charts the tension the warden experiences: on the one hand the desire to be professional and to do a good job and on the other, the doubts about the process itself.  This tension is reflected in her marriage where her husband leaves her for a while.

In Hollywood terms, it is quite unusual.  Firstly, because women feature a lot in the making of it.  Secondly, no background music which allows the natural tension to build.  The camera is allowed to linger on certain scenes and there is no frantic scene changes which are so irritating in much drama these days.  Lastly, the drama is carried along by Woodard’s expressions and face rather than just dialogue.

It is truly a powerful and quite unique film and makes the fundamental point that the process of executions damages all who are involved in it.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.  It does not deter and levels in violence in US states with the penalty is little different to those with it.  Mistakes, which are frequent, cannot afterwards be rectified.  The process, with appeals lasting years – the average in the US is 10 years – is expensive.  It is applied unfairly with a disproportionate number of black people on death row.  An examination of the trial of Kris Maharaj in Florida is also worth a read.

The group publishes a monthly report on the penalty around the world.

Meanwhile, the pace of executions in America continues with the Justice Dept. executing three people in four days, matching the total number the US government had conducted in the previous 3 decades (Washington Post).   This is part of the ‘law and order’ promise by the President despite serious misgivings by many Americans about the fairness of the process and think it needs a complete overhaul.

The film is available on streaming services.

19 July 2020

 


Billy Wardlow was executed in Texas yesterday, 8 July 2020, despite massive campaign for clemency

Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas for a murder committed in 1993 when he was 18.  The campaign has focused on his age at the time of the murder arguing that at 18, he was still immature.  The campaign on his behalf was turned down by the Supreme Court.  Since 2005, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence is unconstitutional for those who are 17 or younger, partly because of their ‘still undefined identity.’

The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty in some states at least.  In fact, the use of the penalty is in steady decline in the States even in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions (548 since 1976).  It is because of a series of factors.  More programmes on TV showing mistakes and miscarriages of justice have had an effect.  The cost of carrying out executions and years of appeals meaning large numbers spend years on death row.  Difficulties in obtaining drugs for lethal injections with European firms refusing to supply them.

According to a 2018 BBC report ‘the death penalty wouldn’t have survived in America if it weren’t for evangelical Christians’.  This is according to Shane Claiborne a Christian activist.  By contrast, the Pope has condemned the use of the penalty.

One aspect of the abolition debate is whether it is effective or not in deterring crime.  Some say it is and some not.  The Death Penalty Information Center has produced statistics comparing murder rates between death and non-death penalty states.  The murder rates between 1990 and 2003 shows a lower murder rate for non-death penalty states.  They conclude that states without the penalty fared better over the past decade.

UK

THE debate is interesting because in the UK the idea of re-introducing the penalty still receives a lot of support for certain types of crime.  A 2019 YouGov poll found that ‘Brits want harsher punishments for criminals’ and a balance in favour of the death penalty of 58% (terrorist offences); 57% (multiple murders); 53% (child murders) and 47% (murder of a police officer).  The current Home Secretary Priti Patel is quoted as being in favour of the penalty although she now denies this.  An extract from a Question Time programme in which she says ‘yes I am in support of capital punishment’ is available on this link from the Independent.

It is noteworthy that in the USA where the penalty is still practised, the mood is shifting against its use whereas in the UK, where the penalty was finally abolished in 1969*, there is still a powerful desire to have it restored.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.  Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

*1973 in Northern Ireland


Sources: Independent; BBC; Texas Tribune; Death Penalty Information Center

 


Today is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

This is a post by Reprieve which we are republishing today (26 June 2020) in view of its significance.  

Please spare a thought for Husain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadhan.  Husain and Mohammed are two victims among thousands in Bahrain’s broken justice system.  Reprieve works in Bahrain to challenge the rampant use of torture in cases where it is used to put people like Husain and Mohammed on death row.

Reprieve are asking will you chip in and help them end the use of torture in Bahrain and beyond?

Reprieve are challenging Husain and Mohammed’s death sentences.  Their so-called ‘confessions’ are the only evidence used against them – and the Bahraini authorities obtained them using torture.  If we win their case in Bahrain’s highest court, we will save their lives and have the chance to set a game-changing precedent in the small country, signalling that torture can never lead to justice.

This case isn’t easy.  Proving to Bahraini courts that their own justice system failed Husain and Mohammed requires a lot of creativity and time from our investigators, lawyers and campaigners.  And that’s why I need your help to keep this work going.

If you visit the Reprieve site you will be able to contribute – even a small amount will help.


See some of our previous stories about Bahrain:

Salisbury firm alleged to be selling spyware to Bahrain

F1 and human rights in Bahrain

Theresa May’s visit to Bahrain


President Trump issues serious threat to the ICC, its staff and families

The international legal order established after the Second World War seems further away than ever.  The increasing number of despots in countries such as China, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary and Russia pose a severe threat to the world order and human rights.  In addition to infringements in their own countries, their influence is increasing overseas with the Chinese in particular securing greater influence and a say in the UN’s activities.

In John Bolton’s memoir published this week, he alleges (among many other things) President Trump praised President Xi Jing-Ping for the imprisonment of the Uighurs, around a million of whom are incarcerated in re-education camps and suffer severe restrictions.

President Trump and his staff – including William Barr, the Attorney General of the USA – launched an unprecedented legal and economic attack on the ICC, its staff and family members.   He alleges it is a ‘kangaroo court’ and has alleged corruption of its members.

The USA – along with Russia, China and Israel – are not members of the organisation which came into being after the Rome Statute in 1998 and operates in the Hague.  For a long time, the court was criticised for focusing on crimes in Africa, but recently, they have begun to investigate Israel’s ever increasing seizure of Palestinian land and America’s activities in Afghanistan.   America sees itself as a beacon on international values and will not allow jurisdiction over its citizens by an overseas court.  It claims that any violations by its personnel or servicemen or women are investigated so there is no need for a court such as the ICC.

THE international response has been one of dismay.  The problem is not just this court but the attitude of POTUS to all outside or international organisations which are treated with contempt or hostility.  This is the flip side of ‘putting America first’ which what he promised at his election of course.  An Amnesty director said:

The Trump administration has a well-honed pattern of undermining and all-out assaults on multilateral institutions, rather than doing the sometimes difficult, but necessary work of joining them, sustaining them, and working to improve them.  Today’s announcement is yet another assault on vital institutions that help people look after one another and provide survivors of rights abuses with justice.

The vague and open-ended language in the executive order could leave open the possibility that NGO workers, activists, foreign government officials, and others working to advance international justice may find themselves implicated by these obstructive measures.

The ICC has investigated individuals responsible for some of the world’s most horrific crimes, including those in Myanmar, the Central African Republic, and Darfur, to name just a few.  The ICC is a court of last resort; it exists to provide justice in situations where states are unwilling or unable to do so.  It is a court for the people.  That the Trump Administration is so committed to targeting the court speaks volumes about its lack of commitment to delivering justice to individuals, families, and communities.  Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director for AI USA

Human Rights Watch say:

There is a need for clear, principled and forceful messages from the EU in support of the ICC and condemnation of US attacks on the court are necessary and urgently needed.

In a statement, the ICC itself said:

The International Criminal Court expresses profound regret at the announcement of further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the Court and its officials, made earlier today by the Government of the United States.

The ICC stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate bestowed upon it by the Rome Statute and the States that are party to it.

These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC, an independent international judicial institution, as well as on the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, which reflects the commitment and cooperation of the ICC’s 123 States Parties, representing all regions of the world. […]

It is deeply concerning that one of the founding nations of the UN and the UNHDR and for a long time regarded as the leader of the free world, should descend to these sort of tactics and behaviours.  The threats are little more than we could expect from some tin pot dictatorship, affronted by an international organisation looking into their illegal activities.  It is not what we should expect from a nation such as USA.

Sources: Aljazeera; Guardian; Human Rights Watch; Deutche Well; Amnesty; ICC

 

 


An innocent man released from death row after 23 years

Walter Ogrod, who has spent 23 years on death row following his conviction of a murder he did not commit, has had his conviction overturned and left prison a free man.  Mr Ogrod – who is on the autistic spectrum – initially confessed to the crime but his lawyers argued that he was coerced into making this confession, and he has since protested his innocence.  His first trial ended in an 11 to 1 verdict to acquit and a mistrial, but in his second trial he was convicted on ‘jailhouse hearsay’ and sentenced to death.  Note:  Pennsylvania has been cited by the DPIC as having the fifth largest number of inmates on death row in the US, but has conducted only 3 executions since 1976.

Walter Ogrod’s case is impossibly tragic, James Rollins, one of Ogrod’s attorneys, said in a statement after the hearing:

This innocent man and his family lost almost 30 years that they should have spent together. Instead, that irreplaceable time together is gone, lost to a system that keeps making the same mistakes.  The Intercept 5 June 2020

Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and this example illustrates how a miscarriage of justice could have led to an innocent man being executed.  There are many similar examples in the USA which is the only country in the Americas to retain the penalty.

In the UK, there are many who would like to bring back the death penalty.  A YouGov poll three years ago found that 58% of those polled were in favour of the penalty for terrorist acts; 57% for multiple murders and 53% for murder of a child.  Overall, 45% were opposed for all cases of murder and 34% in favour.  The abolition of the penalty was recently celebrated.   Walter Ogrod is an example of how a mistake cannot be rectified once a person has been executed.

Source; The Guardian; The Intercept

 

 

 


A 27 year old woman in Tunisia may be imprisoned for a Facebook joke

Emna Chargui shared a Facebook post that she found on social media of a humorous text that imitates the verses of Quran to make fun of the COVID-19 situation. The text is void of any incitement to hatred or violence. It is intended to be funny and it even includes a call for staying home and washing hands. Emna now faces up to three years in prison for this post. The Court of First Instance in Tunis charged her with inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence.

Further details of this and how to take action can be found on the Ammesty site or here.

 

 

 

 

 

Kris Maharaj

Posted: April 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

Kris Maharaj in mortal danger

Kris is the 81-year-old British man unjustly locked up in a Florida prison. Originally sentenced to death, he’s been there for 33 years.  He is separated from his loving wife Marita and he is in poor health without access to vital care.  He is now at risk of contracting Covid-19 because others in his vicinity are infected.  Reprieve is asking people to write to the governor of Florida and the appeal can be accessed off their site.

If you spare a few moments to help this man, it would be appreciated.


Credible evidence of prisoners killed during Covid-19 concerns

Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.  The full story can be read on Amnesty’s site:

Prisoner deaths: Iran

The situation in Iran is grave and the government has relaxed social distancing rules and travel restrictions in a move that could be disasterous.  The country is reeling from the continued US sanctions.

 


Appointment of Sir Keir Starmer is an encouraging development for human rights

In previous posts, we have noted the campaign by some members of the Conservative government and  some parts of the press, against the Human Rights Act and the desire to abolish it.  The election of Sir Keir Starmer as opposition leader is an encouraging development therefore.

Sir Keir Starmer, the new Leader of the Opposition is, famously, a barrister.  He was also, famously, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a man who decided what charges should be brought and against whom. So what should we expect from a party led by someone deeply involved in human rights questions at a time when rights are under enormous pressure, not just globally but also in this country?

Once the coronavirus episode is over and normal(ish) political business returns, one of the first matters to be considered will be the increased power the government has accrued during the emergency, and what to do about it in the future.  The Labour Party has supported the emergency powers for the next 6 months, but will clearly need to review this at an early opportunity. Starmer has not expressed a view as yet, but we know that much of his previous work has been in defence of persons threatened by an overweening state.

Starmer’s career was built on work in the human rights and civil liberties field, notably in cases like the McLibel affair (environmentalists sued by McDonald’s over claims made in a factsheet) and East African and Caribbean death penalty cases.  He was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007 by the Chambers & Partners directory and in 2005 he won the Bar Council’s Sydney Elland Goldsmith award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work in challenging the death penalty throughout the Caribbean and also in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.  From 2003 to 2008, Starmer was the human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland.

Now we have (more or less) left the EU, extremists within the government may well want to detach us from the European Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU, remember), as well as rescinding the Human Rights Act.  Starmer has publicly defended the ECHR in debate (see The Lawyer 15/9/15).  In his Blackstone Lecture of 2015, he refuted the arguments against the existing HRA in considerable detail.  He has also written text books on the HRA, so is fully versed in the minutiae.

Martin Kettle has noted the change in outlook on human rights within the legal profession following the Act (see Prospect Magazine Feb 2020), and Starmer’s position at the forefront of this change.  With a liberal judiciary under pressure at the moment, his support may be important in the coming period.  Starmer will face attacks from left and right, but will be used to that.

It is notable that the Daily Mail is already leading the charge against the new man, tarring Starmer as a defender of IRA bombers (but then the Mail’s grasp of what lawyers actually do has always been rather tenuous).  The tabloid press are, of course, hostile to Starmer anyway since his decision as DPP to prosecute them over phone-hacking.

From the left, he has been criticised for – during his time as DPP – not pursuing the prosecution of the police officers accused of killing Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson (although in the latter case, he changed his mind in 2011 when new evidence came to light).  Also, he announced that MI5 and MI6 agents would not face charges of torture and extraordinary rendition during the Iraq War, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, as James A Smith has pointed out in the Indy (9/1/20).

Sir Keir has given a clue as to his approach by appointing as his chief legal colleague on the front bench, David Lammy, while Lisa Nandy will be at foreign affairs, both of them with good records on human rights issues.  Lammy has been leading in parliament on the Windrush scandal, while Nandy has been strongly supportive of making businesses report on the human rights impacts of their operations.