Amnesty International

A global view of America’s relationship with capital punishment


China. Iran. Saudi Arabia. Iraq. The United States of America.
What you just read is, according to Amnesty International, a list of the countries that executed the largest numbers of prisoners in 2014.
While the U.S. Supreme Court was making huge news last month with its decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, it also issued a ruling on another hot-button issue: capital punishment. The question before the court was a narrow one, whether Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment. By a 5-4 vote, the court said no.
But the opinions released June 28 reflected a bitter controversy within the court about capital punishment that coincides with polling indicating a decline in support for it among Americans.
The arguments for and against capital punishment (the mistakes, the question of deterrence, unequal application, etc.) are well established.
But the Amnesty report released earlier this year helps put that controversy into a global context. Simply put, the United States is part of a relatively small minority of countries – 22 in 2014 – that still impose capital punishment. And it’s fair to say that many Americans wouldn’t normally choose the company the U.S. is keeping on that list. For a number of years now, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to execute anyone at all.
The office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, says 160 U.N. members have either abolished capital punishment or are not executing anyone. And Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “The death penalty has no place in the 21st century.” The European Union makes abolishing capital punishment a precondition for membership.
Amnesty, which keeps careful numbers on capital cases globally, acknowledges that in many countries, the figures are not public and it is hard to know how many people actually were executed. That is certainly true of China, which executes far more people than any other country. Amnesty thinks there were several thousand executions there last year, but China considers the figure a state secret. There were at least 289 in Iran, 90 in Saudi Arabia, 61 in Iraq and 35 in the U.S.
The next 5 were Sudan (at least 23), Yemen (22), Egypt (15), Somalia (14) and Jordan (11). Also not very inspiring company.
While the number of known executions worldwide fell last year, substantially more people were actually sentenced to death, Amnesty says. That’s mostly due to large numbers in Nigeria and Egypt. Nigeria is battling the Boko Haram extremist group, and Egypt has been conducting mass trials of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had formed the previously government. But death sentences and executions are not the same thing.
Just because you’ve banned or suspended capital punishment doesn’t mean your country is a paragon of virtue, of course. And in those that do conduct executions, not all cases are equally clear. Few Americans would probably go along with the decision of Iranian authorities last year to execute a woman who stabbed a man during a sexual assault.
It’s also worth comparing the death sentence Dzhokar Tsarnaev received last month for the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed 3 people, with the sentence Norway imposed on right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik for a much deadlier act of terrorism – a bombing and shooting spree that killed 77 people in 2011.
Breivik famously complained about bad video games in the prison where he is serving 21 years. If that term seems incredibly light by U.S. standards, it can be extended indefinitely if authorities determine that he still poses a threat to society.
Then, there was Indonesia’s decision to execute drug offenders in response to what its new president says is a “national emergency” of drug abuse. 8 – Nigerian, Brazilian and Australian citizens, as well as one Indonesian – were shot by a firing squad in late April despite international appeals to spare their lives.
President Joko Widodo’s decision to go ahead with executions in drug cases appears politically popular with Indonesians.
But overall, capital punishment seems to be one of those issues where public attitudes don’t necessarily influence government policy.
Take these numbers from Russia. Russia suspended executions in the 1990s. However, a large majority still favored imposing capital punishment for a variety of offensives (The numbers are a few years old now, but are unlikely to have changed a great deal). The biggest percentage favored permitting execution in cases of sexual offenses against teenagers. Only about a quarter of those polled were in favor of keeping the moratorium or banning capital punishment altogether.
Then, there’s Britain, which hasn’t executed anyone for more than 1/2 a century – since 1964.
Still, Amnesty International said, polls indicated that as recently as 5 years ago, a bare majority – 51 % – favored the use of capital punishment. By last year, that figure had fallen to 45 %.
July 10, 2015

 

After Death Row in Texas, I’m Fighting to End the Death Penalty – Kerry Max Cook


february 22, 2014

My name is Kerry Max Cook, but for two decades, I was known as “Cook, Execution number 600.” Innocent of the murder and rape I was accused of in 1977, my home became a tiny death row cell in Texas, the state that kills more people than anywhere else in the U.S. by far — including 141 of my fellow inmates before my release in 1999. By then, my only brother had been murdered and my Dad had died of cancer. My Mom died soon after. I was stabbed, raped and routinely abused on death row. My ordeal spanned two generations of the Smith County District Attorney’s office, two wrongful convictions, two reversals of conviction, a walk to the execution chamber, and three capital murder trials. My legal team and I have been unable to find a worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in Texan history.

I avoided a fourth trial only by pleading no contest, while making no admission of guilt. I have never been officially exonerated. Author John Grisham said, “If it were fiction, no one would believe it …”

I am, in fact, innocent. Another man’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing two months after my release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accused Smith County prosecutors of “willful misconduct” in my case. Nonetheless that office remains determined to stop me clearing my name. My lawyers are working to file an application for writ of habeas corpus in coming months, hopefully prompting the appeals court in Austin to officially exonerate me and end my 36-year-old nightmare.

It all began in 1977. I was 20 and working as a bartender when a waitress said the manager wanted to see me. I stepped into a pitch-black room that was usually lit by fluorescent lighting and fumbled for the switch. Suddenly, hands reached out to grab both sides of me. The silver Smith & Wesson handcuffs crashed down on my wrist and I heard the detective’s words, “Kerry Max Cook, you’re under arrest for the capital murder of Linda Edwards” — a name I didn’t even recognize.

At the police station, they used my head as a toilet plunger. I knew the policeman was lying as he rammed my head repeatedly down the bowl filled with dark urine, screamed at me to confess and told me they had found my DNA on the body. I wept for my mother and father, for anyone, to help.

Even though I still bear the mental and physical scars and ongoing indignities of my wrongful conviction and imprisonment, I consider myself lucky. I have a wife and son. I have powerful allies — including Amnesty International, which found me in a dark cell and helped raise awareness of my wrongful conviction in 1991. It literally saved my life. I was so proud to be introduced by Susan Sarandon at Amnesty’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn February 5 and address the audience as my 13-year-old Kerry Justice Cook looked on. I was proud to honor a powerful, global movement of activists who carry Amnesty’s torch for human rights — including my right to life. That is why I support Amnesty’s abolition work and the efforts by courageous activists on the ground, most urgently in New Hampshire, where a repeal vote in the state House is anticipated early next month.

The death penalty should be abolished across the United States, and everywhere. We do not need any more mistakes. We know that 143 people have served time on US death rows for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of. And imagine this. On appeal, the only question becomes whether the defendant received a fair and impartial trial. So if the evidence is made up, like in my case, you die.

The price of this system is a life. Of course the odds are stacked in your favor if you have access to financial resources, but you won’t be surprised to hear that you don’t meet too many people like that on death row.

One of death row’s other dirty little secrets is that it is a repository for every conceivable mental illness. Its population consists largely of untreated, traumatized children who grew up into broken adults. There are exceptions, of course, but I do not believe that even the guilty on death row are irredeemable. As Rosalind says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders.” If my case proves anything, it is that only time can tell if someone is guilty.

No prosecutor should have the power to end another human life. No other living soul should endure what I did. So I am praying now for victory, by Amnesty International USA and all those who are pushing to end this barbaric practice, in New Hampshire, and everywhere. Then, my nightmare will be over.

Click here to read more about Kerry’s fight for justice, and here to read about his work on self-empowerment.

Amnesty International Urges Thorough, Impartial Investigation in Prisoner’s Death in California


Amnesty International USA issued the following comments today from Thenjiwe McHarris, senior campaigner in the U.S. program, in response to the death of a prisoner at the Corcoran State Prison in California:

“The state of California must immediately order a thorough, impartial investigation into the death of prisoner Billy Sell and make the results public” said McHarris. “This case underscores our concerns at treatment of and conditions for prisoners in CA SHUs, whether or not they are participating in the hunger strike. It is imperative that the public know the facts surrounding this death – whether they reveal that Sell was refusing food as part of the hunger strike, and requested medical attention in the days before he died, as prisoners advocates have alleged, or was a suicide, as prison authorities attest and the country coroner ruled. The state is obligated to find the truth in this case and make the facts public. There must be no uncertainty or dispute over how Billy Sell died.”

“Conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement in California are an affront to human rights and must end. No human being should be held under the deplorable conditions we have witnessed in California prisons for prolonged periods, even decades – this amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions.”

The hunger strike by prisoners in solitary confinement in California entered its 23rd day on Tuesday, with the state reporting about 600 prisoners refusing food. The strike had involved 30,000 prisoners at the start. Amnesty International visited California’s prison isolation units in November 2011 and issued a highly critical report, “The Edge of Endurance“ the following year.

The severe negative psychological consequences of isolation are such that suicides occur more frequently in isolation units than in the general prison population. In California, over a five-year period from 2006 to 2010, the average number of prison suicides was 34 a year, with 42 percent occurring in administrative segregation or isolation units.

On July 5, in advance of the hunger strike, Amnesty International issued a full statement calling on California authorities to respond to the planned strike by enacting reforms. Read the statement.

Read Amnesty International’s 2012 report, “The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units“

USA: California urged to reform ‘inhumane’ prison units ahead of hunger strike


A planned hunger strike by prisoners in California’s solitary confinement units highlights the urgent need for major reform, Amnesty International said today.

Over a thousand prisoners continue to be held in indefinite isolation, confined for 22-24 hours per day in small, often windowless cells, and deprived of meaningful human contact.  Hundreds have been held in these ‘Security Housing Units’ for more than ten years.

The hunger strike is due to start on Monday 8 July, in protest against the failure of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to carry out reforms pledged a year ago.

“They said they’d give prisoners a way out of isolation, but few prisoners have been moved out of the units, and most cases haven’t even been reviewed yet,” said Angela Wright, Amnesty International’s expert on US ‘supermax’ prisons.

“Rather than improving, conditions have actually significantly deteriorated.”

Cell-checks by guards every 30 minutes, including throughout the night, have now been introduced.

“These prisoners are already being held in dire and inhumane conditions, and these new night-time checks appear punitive, and may result in severe sleep deprivation.  They should be stopped immediately,” said Angela Wright.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, solitary confinement, even for a limited period, can cause serious psychological harm. States should isolate prisoners only in exceptional circumstances, and for as short a time as possible.

The California State authorities’ own figures show that in 2011 more than 500 prisoners had spent more than ten years in the isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison and 78 had been there for 20 years or more.

Amnesty International visited California’s isolation units in November 2011 and issued a highly critical report, USA: The Edge of Endurance, the following year.

In November 2012, California’s Corrections department introduced changes to the criteria for assigning inmates to the units and a ‘step-down program’ to allow prisoners to earn their way out of isolation. However, even once prisoners are cleared to start the program, they would continue to be held in physical and social isolation for at least the first two years.

Most of those held in the isolation units have not yet even been admitted into the ‘step down program’.

A July 2011 hunger strike by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay isolation unit lasted for 20 days. The strike spread to prisons across the state, with more than 6,000 prisoners participating at its peak.

Death by Numbers: The 500th Execution by the State of Texas by Gemma Puglisi


On June 26th, the state of Texas executed its 500th inmate. Kimberly McCarthy, 52, was found guilty of murdering her 71-year-old neighbor, a retired college psychology professor back in l997. McCarthy, a crack cocaine addict, robbed, beat, and stabbed Dorothy Booth, after asking for a cup of sugar. Throughout McCarthy’s trial, her former ex-husband, Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, testified on her behalf. The two were separated before Booth’s murder.

All a tragic story. After reading about the case and the execution, I learned more. This has all become important to me after knowing former death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. I became friends with Davis simply by reading about his case back in 2007. In 2011, “Troy” was executed by the state of Georgia for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail. Officer MacPhail was white, and the father of two young children. Troy always maintained his innocence. There was never any evidence linking him to the crime other than witnesses who said he did it. Years later, seven of the nine recanted stating that they were coerced by the police. Despite so many unanswered questions — and support from Amnesty International, the NAACP, Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, and literally millions of supporters, Troy was executed on Sept. 21, 2011.

Dorothy Booth’s death was horrible. She and her family deserved justice. No question. As I researched McCarthy’s case and read more about it, I learned that her attorney Maurie Levin had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the execution, because black jurors were excluded from her trial by Dallas County prosecutors. The jurors in her case were all white except for one.

After Troy’s execution, I find myself talking to attorneys who have worked tirelessly to seek justice for death row inmates — and may not have had fair trials. In 2010, a call led to my meeting attorney James Rocap — who represented Teresa Lewis — the first women executed in the state of Virginia in 50 years. (Lewis’ case was controversial because of her mental capacity. Supporters said she was borderline mentally retarded. Lewis was found guilty of having her husband and stepson murdered. It was believed she was not capable of orchestrating the murders because of her mental capacity.) Despite all this, she was executed Sept. 23, 2010 — almost exactly a year before Troy.

In a statement issued following the execution of Kimberly McCarthy, attorney Levin said: “500 is 500 too many. I look forward to the day when we recognize that this pointless and barbaric practice, imposed almost exclusively on those who are poor and disproportionately on people of color, has no place in a civilized society.”

That is the tragedy of Texas’s 500th execution. That state leads the country in most executions. We are a civilized society, and the death penalty is barbaric and senseless and in so many cases. There is no question that those who kill should be accountable for their horrible actions. And prison is that punishment. There are too many cases today where there is doubt, many unanswered questions, and injustice.

Troy’s dream was that executions end. I couldn’t help but think of him when I read about this recent news.

I pulled out a letter he mailed me months before his execution. He said, “Deter prejudice, hatred and racism by ending the death penalty now. ‘An eye for an eye’ leaves the entire world blind. How can the U.S. be a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world when Justice includes the death penalty… we lose all credibility with the death penalty.”

The horrifying existence of solitary confinement by James Simmons


Imagine being locked in a cage alone for 22 ½ hours a day, sometimes for decades on end, with no normal human contact ever and no exposure to direct sunlight ever. Now imagine that during this terrible experience you were subjected to being shot with an assault rifle and dumped in a cell covered with fecal matter until you had an aneurysm – or held down in a scalding hot bath until you received third degree burns all over your body. This isn’t Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib … it’s California.

 

Todd Ashker's cell PBSP SHU-1 outside front 0707, web

Todd Ashker, one of the four “main reps,” leaders of the campaign to end solitary confinement in California through peaceful protest – the 2011 hunger strikes and another set to begin July 8 unless the prisoners’ Five Core Demands are met as promised – lived in this cell from the time Pelican Bay State Prison opened until last year, when, as punishment, he was moved away from the other main reps. They have persevered, however, and prisoners across California and the U.S. are making plans for peaceful protests.

The state of California calls them Security Housing Units (SHUs), and over 3,000 prisoners are warehoused in facilities like this1 (up to 80,000 in the U.S. total2). The majority of these prisons have no windows, computers or telephone calls. Showers are typically once a week, mail is withheld regularly, meals are pushed through a slot in the front of their cell, and there is no work or rehabilitation of any kind provided.

A major reason this type of inhumane treatment continues to exist is the common misconception that the average citizen has about who is being housed in these facilities. This is most likely because of the government’s propaganda campaign that consists of claims that these solitary confinement units are only for the “worst of the worst.”

 

The truth of the matter is that there are many prisoners with no record of violence in the outside world in these facilities and that these same solitary confinement techniques are being used on adolescents in juvenile facilities as well. Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit in Crescent City, California, is widely considered by prisoners as the worst facility for solitary confinement in the state, and experts have called it the worst prison in the United States.

 

Over a thousand prisoners are warehoused in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and are never given access to direct sunlight, let alone the right to go outside. The rare occasions that they get visitors – as the prison’s location is extremely isolated as well – it is limited to an hour and a half and there is a glass screen separating them.

 

In fact, prisoners are not only separated from the outside world but within the prison itself, as barriers are put in place for medical visits and to protect all other correctional staff. This kind of isolation that consists of always being inside under artificial light and being alone in a small cage 22 ½ hours a day – for multiple decades in some cases – has severe psychological implications.

 

Stuart Grassian, a Harvard psychiatrist specializing in solitary confinement, found that the effects of this type of confinement included trouble with thinking, perception, impulse control, memory, hallucinations and stimuli.3 It was considered after only a couple of weeks of solitary confinement to be “psychological torture.” The culmination of this treatment of prisoners and their conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison led to Amnesty International concluding that the facility was in violation of international law.4

 

If the intention of the prison system is rehabilitation so when prisoners are released they do not return, then we surely must object to solitary confinement.

 

This extremist version of solitary confinement employed by PBSP will therefore inevitably effect our greater society within the United States, as these inmates develop a gamut of mental illnesses that go untreated before being released back into the general population of the outside world. The “supposed” purpose of the prison system in this nation is to rehabilitate, but these SHU facilities do nothing of the sort and instead just inflict severe psychological damage on prisoners who will most likely be released at some point.

 

Prison officials at PBSP claim that the SHU facility is intended to keep their other prisons safer from gang violence, yet this kind of violence is still on the rise in California’s prison system, and the SHU is also filled with political prisoners with no gang affiliation who are only guilty of organizing within their respective prisons. This has led to the Center for Constitutional Rights filing a lawsuit against the entire California prison system for their use of long term solitary confinement, claiming it is a form of torture and therefore illegal. To put this all in perspective, solitary confinement was utilized in the 19th century as a form of self-reproach but was abandoned after concerns about the psychological effects of such treatment.5

 

Vaughn Dortch was convicted of petty thievery, got into fights in prison, and was then sent to Pelican Bay State Prison SHU unit. Upon several months of extreme solitary confinement, he began to deteriorate psychologically and covered himself in feces. He was then forced to take a bath in scalding hot water and held down against his will by guards until receiving third degree burns all over his body. Medics refused to give him any pain medication for thirty minutes and the head doctor even went as far as saying that he was not burned. Only one individual was found culpable and fired, while no mechanisms were put in place to prevent an incident like this from occurring again.6

 

Todd Ashker's cell PBSP SHU-2 inside back bunk area 0707, web

This is the inside of the cell where Todd Ashker lived for 25 years. The bunk, which he used as a desk in the daytime, stretches across the back wall. His rolled-up mattress became his chair.

Todd Ashker was convicted of burglary and sentenced to six years in prison. Upon entering the prison system, he got into an altercation with another prisoner over a debt and murdered him. According to Ashker, it was self-defense.

When an individual commits murder in prison when serving only a six year sentence, it can be argued that the defensive nature one must maintain within this type of system might be at least partially culpable. An anonymous informant told prison officials that Todd Ashker’s murder was connected to the Aryan Brotherhood and as a result of this he was also sent to Pelican Bay State Prison SHU unit, where those who commit violent acts in prison or have gang affiliations are sent.

 

While serving time there, Ashker got into another altercation; there are two versions of what happened, the state’s version and Ashker’s. According to Ashker, prison guards set him up for a “gladiator style” fight and when things escalated out of control, he was shot with an assault rifle by a guard in the wrist. His wound nearly severed his hand from his arm and he was immediately dumped into a urine and feces covered cell without medical treatment. Lack of sufficient medical treatment then and afterward resulted in Ashker getting an aneurysm in his wound.

 

The state of California’s official story was that they broke up a fight between Ashker and another inmate and that he was warned multiple times before being shot. The Department of Corrections also denies dumping him in a filthy cell and that lack of decent medical treatment resulted in his aneurysm. A couple of questions come to mind when evaluating the state’s official story.

 

How was Ashker allowed so close to another inmate, when he is supposedly in severe solitary confinement with little to no contact with anyone but prison officials? If the state’s story is so accurate, then why was Ashker awarded $225,000 in a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections in a state notoriously tough on criminals? “In this tough-on-crime attitude here in California, it’s always the case that jurors don’t want to give a criminal one red cent, so there must have been something that went on there at Pelican Bay,” said San Francisco attorney Herman Franck.7 These are the kinds of horrendous altercations that occur at Pelican Bay State Prison on top of the psychological torture endured by inmates for years and sometimes decades on end.

 

 If we believe in basic human rights and dignity for all human beings, then we surely must object to solitary confinement.

 

The only way to get out of the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison is to “debrief” – or tell prison officials everything you know about the prison gang you have been “validated” to belong to. The only problem is that “debriefing” results in the prisoner putting himself in tremendous danger of being killed once he is back in the general prison population. Because of this California leads the nation in long-term solitary confinement.

 

Another problematic aspect of these procedures is the process of “validating” gang members. The gang “validation” process has been criticized because it can occur without evidence of any specific illegal activity and heavily rely on anonymous informants, which is circumstantial and almost impossible to repudiate. In Ashker’s case, he has denied ties to the Aryan Brotherhood and has never been convicted of committing an illegal gang-related crime. If he is telling the truth, then how on earth is he supposed to “debrief” – even if he wanted to?

 

As a result of this quagmire and the horrendous conditions that Todd Ashker has had to endure for 26 years – 26 years of no direct sunlight or normal contact with human beings – he has decided to organize to end solitary confinement. Todd has filed lawsuits, organized hunger strikes and, most impressively, a call for a mutually agreed upon ending to hostilities between races and ethnicities in the California prison system.

 

According to this agreement, California prisoners will end group racial violence against one another and will force the prison system to provide rehabilitation programs and end solitary confinement – as they will have no other excuse left not to. It is these incredible circumstances and tortuous conditions that can lead groups that compete, hate and kill each other to find solidarity in a mutual struggle. For these incredible efforts, Todd says he has been refused proper medical care and given a plexiglas cellfront cover that makes his tiny cell incredibly hot, restricts air flow and makes it almost impossible to communicate.

 

What it all seems to come down to is whether or not the citizens of California feel it is worth psychologically torturing people for years – and in some cases decades – in order to keep the prison system safer, a claim debunked by the increase in prison violence since SHUs’ inception. If we object to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we surely must object to solitary confinement in the U.S.

 

If the intention of the prison system is rehabilitation so when prisoners are released they do not return, then we surely must object to solitary confinement. If we believe in basic human rights and dignity for all human beings, then we surely must object to solitary confinement. We must also ask ourselves, would I want a friend or family member to be broken down psychologically and tortured for decades by the state?

 

If we object to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we surely must object to solitary confinement in the U.S.

 

A society will be remembered by how it treats the most vulnerable and least advantaged individuals within it. Do we want to be remembered for slowly driving people insane for no reason?

 

James Simmons, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies studying prison activism with Anthropology Department Chair Andrej Grubacic, can be reached at james@alternativeoutlook.org.

 

 

Commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty October 10


World Day on October 10 marks the date when activists around the world rally to oppose the death penalty and commemorate the day with educational events, demonstrations, and other initiatives to voice their opposition to this human rights violation.

We were creating this poster at the request of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (www.worldcoalition.org), an international coalition that opposes the death penalty. The World Coalition spearheads World Day, along with many other campaigns, in its efforts to end the death penalty around the world. This October 10, 2012 is particularly special, because it marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the World Coalition.

The poster would be a pivotal piece in the World Day campaign as the rallying symbol for hundreds of death penalty activists around the world. Our main challenge was that the World Coalition’s Steering Committee specifically requested a positivemessage in the poster. But how to convey a positive image about the execution of people and the end of human life? There’s nothing innately positive about the death penalty– images typically used to portray capital punishment are morbid: nooses, syringes, knives, stones, and execution chambers. Not exactly the ingredients for positive messaging.

Fortunately, the World Coalition suggested we focus on progress made over the past ten years—and there’s much to celebrate in this regard. The World Coalition has grown from a fledgling initiative to an independent organization composed of almost 140 members from around the world. Member organizations hail from numerous countries, such as Morocco, France, Iran, Lebanon, Taiwan, Japan, Puerto Rico, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, UK, Nigeria, and of course, the United States. As The Advocates’ representative on the World Coalition’s Steering Committee I have been privileged to meet and work with an inspiring group of individuals from all over the world.

The work of the World Coalition and other abolitionists has had a big impact. Today, 141 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice (97 countries have passed laws that have eliminate the death penalty, and 36 countries have not legally abolished the death penalty but have not used it in years). A glance at some of the countries that have abolished the death penalty in the past ten years shows the trend is global and reaches all corners of the world: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Burundi, Cook Islands, Gabon, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Togo, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Some countries that have not abolished the Death Penalty have signified their strong disinterest in continuing the practice: Sierra Leone and Nigeria have declared a moratorium on executions and Tajikistan has had a moratorium on both death sentences and executions since 2004. Finally, eight countries have restricted the scope of their death penalty and abolished its use for ordinary crimes.

Even in the United States, where the use of the death penalty is one of the gravest human rights violations, we’ve seen a demonstrable shift by states toward rejection of the death penalty. In April 2012, Connecticut became the 17th State to abolish the death penalty, closely following Illinois in 2011, New Mexico in 2009, and New Jersey in 2007. California will be putting the vote to the people when the death penalty is up for referendum this November—a recognition that public support is waning.

Indeed, looking at these facts and figures, the progress is astonishing. It is clear: the global trend is countries moving away from using the death penalty.

Thinking about the death penalty in light of these developments was inspiring for Cuong and me as we sought to portray this message. W hile we still face dire problems with capital punishment here in the United States and elsewhere, the world overall is shifting toward abolition. It’s a positive sign and one that we can truly celebrate.

Given this insight, we decided on the simple image of the world atop a broken noose. We finished it with an inspiring message to capture our past progress and the brighter future we all face:  Abolish the death penalty. It’s a better world without it.

The worldwide trend towards abolition: progress of the past 10 years 
The last decade has seen a large increase in the number of countries that have officially abolished the death penalty or eliminated the use of the death penalty in practice:
•    141 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice;
•    97 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
•    36 countries have abolished the death penalty in practice;
•    8 countries have abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

According to Amnesty International, 21 countries recorded executions in 2011, compared to 31 countries 10 years ago. Even the USA, one of the worst offenders in the use of the death penalty, has shown progress as individual states have abolished or limited the death penalty.
Many other countries have also abolished the death penalty in the past decade, including: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Burundi, Cook Islands, Gabon, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Togo, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Several countries that have not legally abolished the death penalty have at least ended it in practice, either by declaring an official moratorium or by not carrying out executions. For example, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have declared a moratorium on executions, and Tajikistan has had a moratorium on both death sentences and executions since 2004.

Many countries that have not yet abolished or imposed a moratorium have taken steps to narrow the scope of the death penalty. Kazakhstan has abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes. China recently eliminated the death penalty for certain economic crimes, and it has reintroduced mandatory review of all death penalty cases by the Supreme People’s Court.

Over the last decade, several retentionist countries have implemented many of the universal international safeguards on their application of the death penalty and have eliminated that punishment for certain categories of persons. For example:
•    Persons suffering from intellectual disabilities: in 2003, the US Supreme Court prohibited the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.
•    Persons suffering from mental illness: Thailand has ceased using the death penalty against persons suffering from mental disorders.
•    Juveniles: while a few countries, including Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, have sentenced juvenile offenders to death, Iran was the only country in 2010 and 2011 to still execute those under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed. In a promising move, in May 2011, Sudan accepted the UN Human Rights Council recommendations that it would not apply the death penalty against juvenile offenders.
•    Pregnant women: In 2003, Uganda stated a death sentence cannot be imposed on a pregnant woman, and she will receive a sentence of life imprisonment instead.

Focus forward: challenges ahead in the next 10 years

Some countries have expanded, or attempted to expand, the scope of the death penalty over the last decade to include:
•    Drugs: 32 countries or territories still have laws imposing the death penalty for drug offences. Drug offenders make up the majority of those condemned to die in many retentionist countries.
•    Homosexuality: some countries, including Liberia and Uganda, have launched efforts to impose the death penalty for acts of homosexuality.
•    Terrorism: some countries are adopting or amending laws for terrorist crimes or against those supporting terrorist acts – not necessarily lethal ones. Syria imposed the death penalty for those arming terrorists in December 2011. Bangladesh, India and Nigeria have also adopted laws expanding the scope of the death penalty by including terrorist acts among the offenses punishable by death.

Certain countries have resumed their use of the death penalty. Afghanistan, Taiwan, Equatorial Guinea, the United Arab Emirates and Japan have resumed executions after a hiatus, in stark contrast with the global trend of abolition.

Finally, countries such as China and Iran continue to carry out their executions in secrecy, contrary to fundamental notions that such information should be made available to the public. Moreover, transparency is critical to prevent errors or abuses and safeguard fairness.

Further work to eradicate the death penalty

On a global scale, further work needs to be done to build on the foundation of abolition thus far by focusing on the following goals:

•    Promote national legislation abolishing the death penalty.
•    Increase ratifications of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
•    Support international standards calling for the abolition or restricted use of the death penalty.
•    Support adoption of the 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution on a moratorium: in December 2012, the UN General Assembly will vote on a fourth resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

TEXAS – Yokamon Hearn – EXECUTION JULY 18, 2012 – URGENT ACTION FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL


Picture of Offender

Name
TDCJ Number
Date of Birth
Hearn, Yokamon L. 999292 11/06/78
Date Received
Age (when Received)
Education Level
12/31/98 20 10 years
Date of Offense
Age (at the Offense)
County
03/26/98 19 Dallas

FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

URGENT ACTION
TEXAS SET TO KILL ANOTHER YOUNG OFFENDER

pdf file 
Yokamon Hearn is scheduled to be executed in Texas on the evening of 18 July for a murder committed in 1998, when he was 19 years old. His lawyers maintain that he has a mental disability that would render his execution unconstitutional.
Yokamon Laneal Hearn was sentenced to death for the murder of 23-year-old stockbroker Joseph Franklin (Frank) Meziere, committed in Dallas in March 1998. Frank Meziere was shot in the head 10 times after being abducted by four youths who wanted to steal his car. All four were charged with capital murder. According to the prosecution, Yokamon Hearn had fired six of the 10 shots while another of the suspects, Delvin Diles, had fired four. After the Hearn trial, the prosecution offered Delvin Diles a plea deal under which he would waive trial by jury and avoid the possibility of the death penalty. Delvin Diles, aged 18 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1999. The other two co-defendants, aged 19 and 20 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In addition to Yokamon Hearn’s youth at the time of the crime – he was 19 years old – there is evidence that he has a
developmental mental disability. His lawyers assert that this impairment amounts to “mental retardation” and that his
execution would therefore be unconstitutional under the June 2002 US Supreme Court decision Atkins v. Virginia which prohibited the execution of offenders with such a disability. Yokamon Hearn’s “Atkins claim”, however, has run into the problem that he has achieved IQ scores higher than what is normally considered to be an indicator of “mental retardation”. His lawyers have obtained expert opinion that, despite his IQ scores, his disability nonetheless amounts to retardation and that he should still qualify for Atkins relief. The courts have disagreed.
In sworn statements given in 2006, Yokoman Hearn’s three co-defendants described him as a teenager in 1998 who was a follower not a leader. Their statements and other evidence of his conduct during and after the murder are
supportive of claims that his actions were those of an immature and impaired individual rather than the result of a planning and calculating intellect. Delvin Diles recalled that it had been his idea, not Hearn’s, to kill Frank Meziere. The other two recalled that before they went to commit robbery there had been no plan to kill anyone.
Since resuming executions in 1982, Texas has killed at least 70 people in its execution chamber who were aged 17, 18 or 19 at the time of the crimes in question. More than half of these teenagers were African American, of whom 70 per cent were convicted of crimes involving white victims. Yokamon Hearn is one of at least 40 prisoners now on death row in Texas for crimes committed when they were 18 or 19. More than half of them, like Yokamon Hearn, are black. Frank Meziere was white.


Please write immediately, in English or your own language, citing Yokamon Hearn’s Inmate No. #999292:
Explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the murder of Frank Meziere or to downplay the suffering caused;
 Noting evidence of Yokamon Hearn’s mental disability and that he was only 19 at the time of the crime;
 Opposing the execution of Yokamon Hearn and calling for his death sentence to be commuted.


PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 18 JULY 2012 TO:
Clemency Section, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd. Austin, TX 78757-6814, USA
Fax: 011 512 467 0945
Email: bpp-pio@tdcj.state.tx.us
Salutation: Dear Board members
Governor Rick Perry, Office of the Governor,
PO Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711-2428, USA
Fax: 011 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Yokamon Hearn was about 20 minutes from execution on 4 March 2004 when he was granted a stay by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to give the courts more time to consider his “Atkins claim”. In the Atkins ruling, the US Supreme Court had not defined mental retardation, although it pointed to definitions used by professional bodies. Under such definitions, mental retardation is a disability, manifested before the age of 18, characterized by significantly sub-average intellectual functioning (generally indicated by an IQ of less than 70) accompanied by limitations in two or more adaptive skill areas such as communication, self-care, work, and functioning in the community. The Court left it to the states as to how to comply with the ruling. Today, a decade after the Atkins ruling, the Texas legislature has still not enacted a law to comply with it. In the absence of such legislation, in 2004 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) issued temporary guidelines. Success on Yokamon Hearn’s Atkins claim became less likely in 2006 when his IQ was assessed as high as 93.
However, his lawyers obtained expert opinion concluding that he had structural brain dysfunction, possibly as a result of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome caused by his teenage mother’s alcohol abuse during pregnancy with him, and that his impairment still amounts to mental retardation. In 2008, a US District Court concluded that Yokamon Hearn had made a prima facie showing of mental retardation. This federal judge eventually sent the case back to the Texas courts where in 2010 the TCCA ruled against Yokamon Hearn, while noting that the Texas legislature had, eight years on, failed to enact legislation to enforce the Atkins ruling. The TCCA said that, “without significantly greater assistance from the legislature” it would adhere to its 2004 guidelines, including the “about 70” language in relation to IQ, which it took to represent a “rough ceiling, above which a finding of mental retardation in the capital context is precluded”. The Fifth Circuit ruled against Hearn in January 2012, noting that the US Supreme Court had explicitly left it up to states as to how to comply with the Atkins ruling, and that “it would be wholly inappropriate for this court, by judicial fiat, to tell the States how to conduct an inquiry into a defendant’s mental retardation”.
In its 2005 ruling prohibiting the death penalty against anyone who was under 18 at the time of the crime (Roper v. Simmons) the US Supreme Court recognized the immaturity, impulsiveness, poor judgment and underdeveloped sense of responsibility associated with youth, as well as the susceptibility of young people to “outside pressures, including peer pressure.” The Court also acknowledged that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18.” Indeed, scientific research shows that brain development continues into a person’s 20s. In 1993, in the case of a Texas death row prisoner who was 19 at the time of the crime, the Supreme Court had emphasised that: “youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person
may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage. A lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense
of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults… These qualities often result in impetuous and illconsidered actions and decisions.”
Before the Atkins ruling in 2002, Texas accounted for more executions of people with “mental retardation” than any other state in the USA. Before the Roper ruling in 2005, Texas accounted for more executions of people under 18 at the time of the crime than any other state. Texas accounts for some 37 per cent of the national judicial death toll, which currently stands at 1,296 since 1976 when the US Supreme Court allowed executions to resume under revised state laws. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases. Yokamon Hearn is scheduled to become
the 483rd person to be put to death in Texas since it resumed executions in 1982. There have been 19 executions in the USA so far in 2012, five of them in Texas.
For further information on Yokamon Hearn’s case, see ‘USA: Senseless killing after senseless killing: Texas inmate
with mental disability claim facing execution for murder committed as teenager’, June 2012,
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/042/2012/en
Name: Yokamon Laneal Hearn (m)
Issues: Death penalty, Legal concern
UA: 166/12
Issue Date: 7 June 2012
Country: USA

Amnesty International Usa – Support a strong Arms Trade Treaty this July!


KILLER FACT: Just six countries export 74% of the world’s weapons! The world’s most powerful countries must put human rights before profits and stop arming abusers.

Support  click here

Amnesty International publishes its annual review of death sentences and executions


Amnesty International publishes its annual review of death sentences and executions worldwide, let’s begin with the good news: the death penalty is on the retreat.

Last year, only 20 out of 198 countries carried out executions ― a figure down by more than a third from a decade ago. And 90 percent of U.N. member states were execution-free, while 140 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

march 27, 2012 source : http://www.koreatimes.co.kr

Each execution is one too many

By Salil Shetty

Working for an organization whose job is to stand up for justice and freedom, and to expose abuses and injustices, I am often forced to highlight problems rather than progress.

So, as Amnesty International publishes its annual review of death sentences and executions worldwide, let’s begin with the good news: the death penalty is on the retreat.

Last year, only 20 out of 198 countries carried out executions ― a figure down by more than a third from a decade ago. And 90 percent of U.N. member states were execution-free, while 140 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

It is worth pausing to consider these figures. When Amnesty International began its global campaign against the death penalty 35 years ago ― opposing it in all cases, regardless of the crime, offender, or method of execution ― the world’s 16 abolitionist countries were then the minority. Today, the poles are reversed and instead those states clinging to capital punishment are the exception.

In 2011, execution-free areas included all of Europe and the former Soviet Union, except Belarus; and all of the Americas, except the U.S. The Pacific region was death penalty free apart from five new sentences in Papua New Guinea.

This sea-change is testament to human rights campaigners with the courage to stand up to repression; to politicians and decision-makers with the courage to go against the political or popular grain; and to lawyers, journalists and academics with the courage to expose the truth.

They have shown that not only is the death penalty wrong ― a violation of the right to life ― but that once examined in any detail, the case for state-sanctioned murder collapses.

Does it deter violent crime? There is no convincing evidence for this. Countries that have abolished the death penalty often have lower murder rates than those that have not. State sanctioned killing endorses the use of force and can fuel cycles of violence and retribution.

What about popular support for executions? Such support is usually a mile wide and an inch deep. Once expedient reactions or a calculated desire by leaders and commentators to be “tough” on crime is replaced by considered discussion, and once alternative options are suggested, public support for execution recedes.

Don’t victims of crime deserve justice and closure? Yes, people who have suffered awful crimes deserve justice, but justice cannot be rooted in revenge. Murder is wrong, whether perpetrated by a person or by the state.

Some may find closure, but this is not self-evident ― sometimes victims of violent crimes oppose their attackers’ execution. In the U.S., Bangladeshi immigrant Rais Bhuiyan campaigned unsuccessfully for clemency for Mark Stroman, who had shot him during a series of violent crimes committed in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Rais said: “My religion teaches that forgiveness is always better than vengeance.”

And of course there is no appeal from the grave. The U.S. state of Illinois abandoned the death penalty in 2011 following several wrongful convictions.

No wonder some argue that the true test of support for the death penalty isn’t a willingness to execute, but a willingness to accept the possibility of killing the innocent.

Others justify capital punishment for regional, religious or cultural reasons. But the abolitionist majority includes states from all major world regions, religions and cultures.

Yet a few states persist with capital punishment, and here we must address the bad news. A small group of isolated countries executed at an alarming rate last year. Whether by beheading, hanging, lethal injection or shooting, globally at least 676 people were executed and at least 18,750 people remained under sentence of death at the year’s end.

These figures exclude thousands of executions believed to have taken place in China, the world’s leading executioner. We no longer publish figures we collect from public sources on this country, as these are likely to grossly underestimate the true number. So far China has not accepted our challenge to publish the real figures, in order to confirm their claims that there has been a significant reduction in the use of the death penalty in the country over the last four years.

Neither do our figures include credible reports of large numbers of additional executions in Iran, which are not officially acknowledged. These would almost double the official tally there.

China and Iran were joined in their willingness to execute by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and ― alone in the Americas and in the G8 group of leading economies ― the U.S. Along with North Korea, Somalia and Yemen, these states are consistently among the highest executioners every year.

Regionally, the Middle East saw a sharp rise in recorded executions, up almost 50 percent on 2010. Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen accounted for 99 percent of these cases.

We should also note that in most countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, it was after unfair legal proceedings. And in Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia death sentences sometimes followed “confessions” extracted through duress or even torture. As so often throughout history, capital punishment was used by repressive states to remove the troublesome or unwanted.

So there is no room for complacency. Each execution is one too many. But 2011 reinforced the overall trend firmly toward abolition, and it is clear that this cruel and irrevocable punishment, which makes victims of us all, is heading inevitably toward the history books.

Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International.