Posts Tagged ‘USA’


Our latest monthly death penalty report is available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Note that China is the world’s largest executioner but the details are a state secret.

Report, August- September (Word)


We attach the latest monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.

Report (Word)

Majai Matiop Ngong who’s death penalty has been suspended is featured in the report 

Edited: 13 August


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

 


Urgent Action: Billy Wardlow faces execution for a crime when aged 18

Urgent Action 108/20 (AMR 51/2595/2020 USA)

Billy Wardlow’s execution is scheduled for 8 July 2020.  He is on death row in Texas, USA in connection with the 1993 murder of an 82-year-old man when he was just 18 years old.  The jury that sentenced Billy Wardlow was never presented mitigating evidence.  Since 2005, it’s unconstitutional to impose a death sentence on anyone younger than 18 when the crime occurred.  Scientific research shows that development of the brain and psychological and emotional maturation continues into a person’s 20s. Two jurors now believe that he should serve a life sentence instead. We urge Governor Abbott to grant clemency.

Please read this UA for more details and a model appeal.

Please ask Texas Governor Abbott, as the main target, to grant clemency.  Can you also please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which puts forward recommendations to the Governor on decisions on clemency:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78757
Fax: (512) 467-0945

Further details are available in this link.

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes the sentence in all circumstances. As of 2020, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice. The US has executed 1518 people since 1976, and the State of Texas has accounted for 569 of those executions.

See also the Texas Campaign Against the Death Penalty TCADP.

UPDATE Note that the Governor’s email address is incorrect. 


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

 

 


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Death penalty report (Word)

No to the death penalty

Just Mercy film

Posted: June 9, 2020 in "Human rights", Film
Tags: , ,

We hope to show this film at the Arts Centre in November but it will depend of course on lockdown restrictions being lifted.  It has been discussed in a recent Independent article.   It is particularly apposite at the present time as it highlights the unequal status of black people in the US both with the police and the justice system as a whole.  It also relates to our last post concerning the release of Walter Ogrod after many years on death row for a crime he did not commit.


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

 

 

 


Opposition shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy criticises government failure to condemn violence

Lisa Nandy MP said:

Britain is “absenting itself from the world stage” by refusing to show leadership over Hong Kong residents, confront China or condemn President Trump over his handling of the fallout from George Floyd’s killing, the shadow foreign secretary has warned.  Observer 7 June 2020

This statement was made during the violent events which have taken place across the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the continued unrest in Hong Kong over the concerns of the Chinese governments attempts to crack down on protest.

We will “lose all moral authority” to talk about police brutality in Hong Kong and elsewhere if we are not prepared to apply those standards equally to all parts of the world she said.  These comments were made following questions to Dominic Raab who declined to condemn the violence in either country.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the principle concern of the UK government is trade and nothing can stand in the way of that.  William Haigh tried to introduce a moral element to conservative party thinking when he was leader of the party but that seems to have been abandoned.  Now what matters is business and criticism of China or anyone else is not allowed it seems.  Similar reticence can be seen with other countries with dire human rights records such as Saudi, where a desire to sell arms trumps all moral considerations.

The Chinese Minister Chen Wen was interviewed on BBC’s World at One on 5 June and justified the imposition of tough new laws in Hong Kong are needed to create stability.  “Stability a prerequisite for prosperity” she said and that the new laws were only targeted at a handful of criminals, terrorists and those colluding with foreign forces.  This is far from the case and as Amnesty’s Regional Director Joshua Rosenzweig said the National Anthem law just passed is an “insult to free speech.”  Turning one’s back on the Chinese flag can result in up to 3 years in prison.

Sources: Observer; South China Morning Post; BBC; Amnesty International