Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty’


The latest monthly death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  There is news of Reggie Clemons who has been on death row for 26 years now and we have heard from a family member.

Death penalty report (Word)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


Death penalty report for March – April 2017

This is the death penalty update report for mid March to mid April thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  Some good news – even in China – where the statistics on the use of the penalty are a state secret, tempered by heavy use in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iran.

Report (Word)



Execution spree in Arkansas, USA

 This urgent action is for Ledell Lee who is one of a number facing imminent execution in Arkansas.  There is a spate of these planned executions in that state due to the imminent expiry of the chemicals used for the execution.  It gives a new meaning to ‘sell by date’.  If you want to read the gruesome details of execution by lethal injection, read an extract from the details sent to us by the state of California.

This case – concerning Ledell Lee – is worth reading even if you do not have the time to write which we hope you will.  It gives a bizarre insight into the legal process and the low standard of defence someone can expect in some states of the Union.  It is just another example described by Clive Stafford Smith in his book on the subject.

The USA is the only state in the Americas which still has the death penalty.

China executes more of its citizens than any other country but the statistics are a state secret.

Urgent Action: Arkansas (pdf)

 


The latest death penalty report covering the period 13 January to 9 February is attached and thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  The report notes that many of the countries which feature in the report have close links with the UK as we have described in previous posts.

Death penalty report (pdf)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


Lecture by Prof Phillippe Sands at Southampton University

Phillippe Sands

It was a pleasure to attend the annual lecture organised by the Romsey and Southampton Amnesty group given by Phillippe Sands (the link is to several of his articles).  It was based on his book East West Street concerning in part the city of Lviv which was known at Lemberg in the nineteenth century and was also known as Lwów.  Under the Soviets it was called Lvov.  Its importance in his story was that two people came from the town who were very influential in the post-war developments of human rights. 

Hersch Lauterpacht. Picture: the Guardian

First was Hersch Lauterpacht who was born just north of Lemberg and moved there in 1911, and the second was Rafael Lemkin who was born in Ozerisko and moved to Lemberg in 1900.  They both worked behind the scenes during the Nuremberg trials.  But their claims to fame are that Lauterpacht was instrumental in getting the world to agree the need for action on crimes against humanity and Lemkin on the concept of genocide.  It is surprising that these two concepts are fairly recent and both date from 1945: one assumes they have been around for a lot longer.  But that they both emanate from two men from the same town in east Poland is even more remarkable.  Despite this and despite the fact they worked in the same field, they never met as far as is known.

Lauterpacht it was who wrote the International Bill of the Rights of Man which invoked Churchill’s commitment to the ‘enthronement of the rights of man.’  His book was key in the development of the UN declaration.

Sands discussed the arguments concerning whether ‘genocide’ should be included and in

the early years it was sometimes in and sometimes dropped.  It met resistance because of legal doubts.  Lemkin was keen to introduce this as a crime largely because of the German’s crimes in the war an in particular the activities of Hans Frank who oversaw the slaughter in his former town and Poland generally.  Frank was hanged after the Nuremberg trials.

 

He finished his lecture by discussing briefly, the current state of affairs with regard to human rights.  He expressed an ‘acute sense of anxiety at what stirs in our midst’ referring part to the far right groups in eastern Europe especially as they suffered so much under the Nazis.

He said he had a ‘sense of going backwards’ with our own politicians wanting to come out of the European convention which he thought was ‘unbelievable’.  The platitudes of many of the current politicians seems to reflect a lack of knowledge of post-war events.


East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity  is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (£20).


Government plans to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights

The Conservative government has long disliked the European Convention and is now proposing to put withdrawal in the next manifesto.  This will be a serious mistake and will affect the human rights of many individuals in the UK.  It will also send a message to many other countries around the world whose record on human rights leaves a lot to be desired.

Theresa May MP. Picture: ibtimes

One of the problems with discussing this issue is that it is clouded by a programme of disinformation by the tabloid press.  Being a European creation it is damned by association.  It is also, in their eyes, a serious threat because it gives people some rights concerning privacy.  Since large parts of the British press are concerned with the private lives of celebrities and profit from such stories (which to be fair have an avid readership), anything which inhibits their ability to publish such material is going to harm profits.  There has thus been a continuous series of stories which rubbish the Human Rights Act and the European Convention (ECHR).  Small wonder therefore that politicians follow this line and brave it is for those few who stand up for the Act.

Theresa May has a particular animus against it and is famous for her fatuous remark about someone not being deported because of a cat.  “I’m not making this up” she famously said: only she was.  The person involved was a Bolivian who wasn’t an illegal immigrant anyway but was a student who had overstayed his visa.  At the tribunal and later at appeal, part of the evidence for his right to stay, was his relationship with a British woman, various other domestic matters, and their ownership of a cat.

A more serious case which caused Mrs May angst whilst at the Home Office was the case of Abu Qatada.  The Home Office spent many years trying to deport him and the HRA was blamed by her and the right wing media for being unable to do so.  In simple terms, he could not be deported because either he – or the witnesses against him – would be tortured by the Jordanian authorities.  He was eventually deported following diplomatic negotiations which led to Jordan agreeing to renounce torture.  It was never really explained during all the months of dispute about the need to deport him, why he was never put on trial here.

In a speech in April last year Theresa May (then Home Secretary) set out her reasons for wishing to depart from the ECHR:

[…] The ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights. So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this. If we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court. (26 April 2016)

Almost every part of this paragraph is nonsense but one element is ‘[it] does nothing to change the attitude of governments like Russia’s’.  We have just seen the brutal activities of Russian forces in action in Syria and prior to that, in Ukraine and Chechnya.  Human rights in Russia are at a low ebb and the murder of opposition leaders and journalists a fairly frequent occurrence.  But Russia has been subject to the ECtHR for some years and something like half their judgements are against Russia, Turkey, Romania and Ukraine.  It is, in a small way, a civilising influence.  It has had an effect on their activities.

On the other hand there has been a miniscule number of judgements against the UK – 10 in 2012 for example.  Indeed if one looks at the statistics, between 1959 and 2015 there have been 525 judgements concerning the UK of which 305 decided that there was at least one violation.  That is 305 over a period of 56 years.  From all the sturm and drang in the media you would imagine it was at least ten times greater.

The chief worry is that if we – one of the founders of the European Court – pull out it will give the Russians the perfect excuse to do so as well.  One of the lawyers acting for the survivors of the Beslan massacre in Russia said:

It would be and excuse for our government to say we don’t want it either.  Putin would point at the UK straight away.  It would be a catastrophe.  [the UK] has to understand; we all live in the same world and we all have impact on one another.  (quoted in A Magna Carta for all Humanity by Francesca Klug, Routledge, 2015, p193)

At the end of the extract from Theresa May’s speech she goes on to say ‘if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the  EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.’   But what laws do we want to reform?  We still wait after more than five years for sight of the British Bill of Rights although it is still promised.

There are two aspects to the proposed withdrawal: internal and external.  Internally, it will reduce the rights of individuals in their claims against the state.  People like the Hillsborough survivors would never have succeeded in their quest for justice without article 2.  The parents of the Deepcut shooting would never have received justice without the ECHR.  On that subject, Theresa May also wants to remove the armed services from the act, a view echoed by the local MP for Devizes.

Behind all this anti-ECtHR rhetoric, are the assumptions that all EU rulings are wrong and that we have a superior and infallible legal system.  We do indeed enjoy a very good system – witness the low number of rulings against us by the European Court – but it is not perfect and judges have shown themselves to be too keen on supporting the establishment.  There is also the issue of sovereignty and a belief that it is only our parliament who should decide our laws.  The problem here is the weakness of parliament in challenging the executive.

Externally, it will send a harmful message to countries like Russia and Turkey where human rights are fragile.  It is astonishing to recall that it was a conservative, Sir Winston Churchill who was instrumental in forming the Convention.  Yet now it is the same conservatives who want to abolish it because, now and again, we fall foul of it and have to change our procedures or right a wrong.

Coming out of the European Convention would be a serious error and a backward step.  Our influence in the world would be diminished.  As a result of Brexit, we will be desperate to secure trade deals with whoever we can.  Such limited concerns as we do have for human rights will all but disappear in the rush to sign a deal.  Witness our activities in the Yemen where we are more concerned with selling £3bn of arms than we are with the results of the bombing.   In the UK, the ability of ordinary people to uphold their rights in every day situations will be diminished.


The local group hopes to campaign in favour of the Human Rights Act and related issues as when we get some details from government.  If you believe these matters are important, as we do, both for people’s rights in this country and our influence overseas, you would be welcome to join us.  Details will be here and on twitter and Facebook

 


Write for Rights display now on at the Methodist Church in Salisbury

We are pleased to say that the Methodist Church in Salisbury has agreed to host a display of four cases from our current ‘Write for Rights’ campaign and this display will be in place until 14th of January.  Visitors to the church will be able to read the cases and if they wish, send a card which is available from the coffee shop.  The church is open from 10 in the morning and often for much of the day.  They serve coffee (which is very good value and can be recommended!).

A YouTube video about the programme can be seen here (2 mins).


Further information on UA: 72/16 Index: MDE 13/5217/2016 Iran Date: 25 November 2016

Young man at risk of execution in Iran

Himan Uraminejad has been warned by prison officials that he is at risk of execution as Iran’s Head of Judiciary has approved the implementation of his death sentence. He has been on death row since 2012 for a crime committed when he was 17 years old.

Image result for iran flagAmnesty International has learnt on 21 November that Himan Uraminejad, aged 22, was informed by prison officials on 6 October that the Head of Judiciary had approved the implementation of his death sentence and his family should intensify their efforts to seek a pardon from the family of the deceased because his execution could be carried out at any moment.  He was sentenced to death in August 2012 after a criminal court in Kurdistan Province convicted him of murder over the fatal stabbing of a boy during a group fight. He was 17 years old at the time of the crime.

In September 2014, the Supreme Court quashed his death sentence and granted him a retrial, based on new juvenile sentencing provisions in Iran’s 2013 Islamic Penal Code.  In June 2015, however, he was sentenced to death again.  The criminal court presiding over his retrial referred to an official medical opinion that found “no evidence of a disorder at the time of the crime that would remove criminal liability”. The court also referred to Himan Uraminejad’s statements that he had no “mental illness or history of hospitalization” and understood killing someone was “religiously forbidden” (haram). The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence in November 2015 and rejected a subsequent request for retrial.

Grossly unfair trial

Himan Uraminejad (pictured, left) was sentenced after a grossly unfair trial that relied on evidence obtained through torture. He was arrested on 22 April 2012 when he was 17 years old. He was subsequently transferred to an undisclosed detention centre where he was held for 20 days, without access to his family and lawyer. He has said that during this period, he was tortured, including by repeated beatings that left scars and bruises all over his face and body, and suspension from the ceiling by a rope tied to his feet. He has said that police also raped him with an object shaped like an egg, threatened to cut off his testicles and walked over his body with boots. Himan Uraminejad’s trial was held before an adult court, without special juvenile justice protections. The court ordered no investigation into his allegations of torture.

Please write immediately in English, Persian, Arabic, French and Spanish or your own language:
 – Urging the Iranian authorities to halt any plans to execute Himan Uraminejad, and commute his death sentence without delay;
 –  Urging them to ensure that his conviction is quashed and that he is granted a fair retrial in accordance with the principles of juvenile justice, in particular ensuring that no statements obtained through torture and other ill-treatment
are admitted as evidence;
 – Urging them to ensure his allegations of torture are investigated and those responsible are brought to justice;
 – Immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 6 JANUARY 2017 TO:
Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani

Prosecutor General of Khoy
Hojatoleslam Alizadeh
And copies to:
President
Hassan Rouhani

PLEASE SEND YOUR APPEALS FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE AUTHORITIES IN IRAN VIA THE UK EMBASSY:
H.E. Hamid Baeidinejad, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 PRINCES GATE LONDON SW7 1PT, Tel: 02072254208 or 02072254209 Email: iranconsulate.lon@mfa.gov.ir

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 72/16.

Further information: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3722/2016/en/

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Iran is set at nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys. From this age, a child who is convicted of murder or crimes that fall in the category of hodud (offences that carry inalterable punishments prescribed by Shari’a law) is generally convicted and sentenced in the same way as an adult. However, since the adoption of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code, judges have been given discretion not to sentence juvenile offenders to death if they determine that juvenile offenders did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or their “mental maturity” is in doubt.

The criteria for assessing “mental growth and maturity” are unclear and arbitrary. As illustrated by the case of Himan Uraminejad, judges often conflate the issue of lesser culpability of juveniles because of their lack of maturity with the diminished responsibility of people with mental illness, concluding that the juvenile offender was not “afflicted with insanity” or was “in a healthy mental state”, and therefore deserved the death penalty. Sometimes, judges focus exclusively on whether the juvenile could tell that it is wrong to kill a human being, and disregard interdisciplinary social science studies on the relationship between adolescence and crime, including neuroscientific findings on brain maturity, which have informed juvenile justice principles considering juveniles less culpable than adults due to their developmental immaturity and cognitive limitations (see Growing up on death row: The death penalty and juvenile offenders in Iran, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3112/2016/en/).

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Iran is legally obliged to treat everyone under the age of 18 as a child. This is different from the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which is the age below which children are deemed not to have the capacity to break the law. This age varies between countries, but it must be no lower than 12 years, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. People who have broken the law who are above the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but under 18, may be considered criminally responsible, prosecuted, tried and punished. However, they should never be subjected to the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed Iran’s implementation of the CRC in January 2016. The Committee’s Concluding Observations expressed “serious concern” that the exemption of juvenile offenders from the death penalty is “under full discretion of judges who are allowed, but not mandated to seek forensic expert opinion and that several persons have been resentenced to death following such retrials”. Beside Himan Uraminejad, Amnesty International is aware of several other cases, including Salar Shadizadi, Hamid Ahmadi and Sajad Sanjari, who have been retried, found to have sufficient “mental maturity” at the time of the crime and sentenced to death again. Amnesty International is also aware of at least 15 juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to death for the first time since the adoption of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code.

Amnesty International has recorded at least 75 executions of juvenile offenders between 2005 and 2016, including two in 2016. One of them was Hassan Afshar, who was hanged in July. Iran’s lack of transparency on its use of the death penalty means that the total number of executions of juvenile offenders could be much higher. According to a UN report issued in 2014, at least 160 juvenile offenders are now on death row. Amnesty International has been able to identify the names of 78 of these juvenile offenders. Some of them have been on death row for over a decade and are either unaware of their right to seek a retrial based on the new provisions of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code or do not have the means to retain a lawyer to seek it for them.

The Head of the Judiciary must provide a type of approval known as estizan in all cases where the death penalty has been imposed under the Islamic principle of “retribution-in-kind” (qesas) before the sentence can be implemented.

Further information on UA: 72/16 Index: MDE 13/5217/2016 Issue Date: 25 November 2016

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WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!  Please let us know if you have taken action on this case.  You can either include us – iar@amnesty.org.uk – in the email you send to the authorities or send us a separate email if you’ve sent your appeal by post or fax.  Tell us any way you like!  All we need to know if that you’ve sent an appeal and the UA number – which is at the top of each email.  Thank you.

We are now on twitter, follow us for information on Urgent Action cases: @AmnestyUKUrgent

You can view all UAs on our website here.


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Book on human rights published

Conor Gearty. Picture: LSE

As we wait to see what the government brings forward to replace the Human Rights Act it seeks to repeal, a book was recently published which is recommended to all those who believe in human rights and – despite its faults – that the HRA is a major step forward in granting rights to its citizens.  The book is called On Fantasy Island* by Conor Gearty who, amongst other things, is professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Institute of Public Affairs at LSE.  He has written several other books including the Struggle for Civil Liberties (2000)

The HRA has come under sustained attack in the media particularly but not exclusively at the tabloid end of the market with regular stories of criminals and terrorists escaping justice because of it.  Positive aspects of the Act including use by the media themselves to protect sources, seldom get a hearing.  A recent example from the Daily Mail gives a flavour of the type of reporting which is common at that end of the media market:

Folly of human rights luvvies: As actors fight plans to axe Human Rights Act, how thousands of foreign convicts use it to stay in Britain
  • Number of foreign offenders on UK’s streets has spiralled to a record high
  • Includes killers, rapists and paedophiles who have avoided deportation
  • Left-wing luvvies lining up to oppose plans to scrap the Human Rights Act
  • Benedict Cumberbatch and Vanessa Redgrave condemn Tory proposals

    25 June [accessed 31 October 2016]

Conor Gearty methodically discussed the history of rights in the UK and tackles head on some of the absurdities regularly reported in papers like the Mail and the Sun.  Myths abound and include the case of Abu Qatada; the murderer of Philip Lawrence outside the school and Denis Nilsen’s request to access pornography and write a book.  In each case, the HRA is in the frame when it was either irrelevant or the event complained of was not going to happen anyway.  Perhaps the most famous instance was the absurd statement by Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference in 2011 about a Bolivian student who could not be deported because of a cat.  ‘I’m not making this up’ she said: problem was she did make it up and had grossly exaggerated a small part of the case.

The government – now led by Theresa May – is apparently preparing a British Bill of Rights.  Gearty discusses this and says:

…attentions shifted to the Human Rights Act.  Here we find uppermost the fantasies that drove the much of the first part of this book – you cannot change a law for the better if it has never been what it you have claimed it to be in the first place.  (p189f)

He sets the context of hostility to the Act in terms of a deadly combination of the nostalgic and the negative.  For a country which until the recent past, ruled a large part of the world and whose power and influence was supreme, we now have to form partnerships and accept that our writ no longer runs as it once did.  Strasbourg is just one of the elements of this.  Nostalgic because were we not the inventors of common law so who are these overseas people interfering in our law making?  The role of the media is discussed and a fuller account of the media’s role in ‘monstering‘ the HRA is provided by Adam Wagner of RightsInfo.

Human rights offer a route to a society where all are equal before the law and where each of us has a chance to engage in political activity on a level playing field if we so wish.

Several years have gone by since the Conservatives announced their desire to abolish the act and we are still waiting to see what happens.  The new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has reaffirmed that and of course Theresa May is now prime minister.  We wait and see …  Our Local MP, John Glen, is on record in the Salisbury Journal as someone who agrees with abolition so we wait and see when the time comes.

The book is highly recommended.

*Oxford University Press, 2016 – £18.99 RRP


Ray Hinton released after 28 years on death row in Alabama

Anthony Ray Hinton NBC News

This story is both tragic and uplifting.  Anthony Ray Hinton was released in April last year from death row in Alabama, USA having spent 28 years there for a crime he did not commit.  He was not present at the crime scene when the murder happened and had good alibis to prove it.  His mother had a gun but it did not match the one used in the murder.

The failures inherent in the US justice system, especially in the southern states, are fully described in Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice (Vintage, 2013).  Clive is founder of Reprieve.  He describes the low rates of pay for defence lawyers, elected prosecutors keen to convince the electorate that they are tough on crime, the lack of access to police material (disclosure) which means that information which disproves their case is not revealed until after the trial, and so on.  We hope to publish a longer review of this important book soon.

His release depended on finding a good lawyer and the work of the Equal Justice Network.

In this Guardian piece Ray describes his experiences after leaving which included looking up at the stars, standing in the rain and sleeping on a full length bed.

We publish a review of the use of the death penalty around the world and the latest issue is here.


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