[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----USA, GA., IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 28 00:10:45 CST 2005
Contact: Ajamu Baraka: 404 588 9761
US Behavior Creates Credibility Gap for State Department's Human Rights
Report says US Human Rights Network
In an unprecedented move, the US Human Rights Network, a network of more
than 160 US-based human rights organizations, today issued a memorandum to
President George Bush decrying the current state of human rights in the
US, as the US State Department released its annual Country Reports on
Human Rights Practices.
"It is the height of hypocrisy for the US government to issue a report
condemning human rights abuses in other countries at a time when it is
violating these very same standards at home and abroad," said Ajamu
Baraka, Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN).
The US State Department says that 'the central goal of US foreign policy
has been the promotion of respect for human rights' and that the United
States 'seeks to hold governments accountable to their obligations under
universal human rights norms and international human rights instruments.
"But who is holding the US to account to those very same obligations?"
USHRN members are monitoring US human rights practice in a whole range of
areas - from employment rights to torture, from discrimination to housing
rights, from poverty and homelessness to abuses arising from the "war on
terror" - and have found that not only is the US falling very far short of
its obligations in all of these areas - it is actually practicing itself
what it condemns in other countries.
"This is not a partisan political attack on President Bush," said Baraka,
who noted that the more than 160 organizations affiliated with this
Network span the political spectrum and are based throughout the country.
"Their only interest is with the human rights of US citizens and residents
and any others affected by US actions internationally - including as a
result of current attempts by the federal government to legitimize the use
of torture and ill-treatment against foreigners abroad in complete
violation of international law, which explicitly prohibits torture and
cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under any circumstances."
"We are concerned that the behavior of the US government both domestically
and internationally is bringing this nation into disrepute around the
world - and this reflects on all of us as Americans," said Baraka.
"Good human rights practice begins at home," added Baraka. "Violations of
human rights by the US government has not only created a climate of fear
and repression at home - it has also provided fodder for those around the
world who seek to undermine or ignore any legitimate calls for human
rights that the US government may make - with US government
representatives becoming an object of derision at international forums
where human rights are discussed."
The US Human Rights Network plans to follow up today's memorandum with a
detailed Human Rights Agenda for the Bush Administration, in which it will
outline the main areas of human rights concern in the US, the government's
international obligations with regard to these areas, and clear
recommendations on how the administration can address the serious
shortfall between the 2.
For further information please contact Ajamu Baraka: 404 588 9761 or visit
A memorandum to President Bush in response to the U.S. State Department's
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Every year, the US State Department releases its Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices - reports drawn in large part on information gathered by
human rights organizations based in those countries surveyed.
We welcome these reports, as under the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, all countries are asked to engage themselves in promoting human
rights and denouncing violations wherever they occur. However, as an
association of more than 160 US-based human rights organizations
monitoring and promoting human rights in the US, we are concerned that
these reports have been drained of moral value due to the level of human
rights violations taking place under the watch of your administration, and
it is for this reason that we are taking the unprecedented step of writing
Our Network members - which include organizers, lawyers, policy groups,
educators, researchers and scholars - have been monitoring a wide range of
domestic human rights issues, and are concerned that under the watch of
this administration and the full gaze of the rest of the world:
- The US military has systematically committed acts of torture and cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantnamo Bay.
- Hundreds have been detained indefinitely, without trial, and often in
- Criminal trials have been conducted in military tribunals that do not
provide adequate transparency or due process protections.
- Foreign nationals have been deported to third countries where it was
likely they would be tortured.
- Coercive and unreliable interrogation techniques that amount to torture
and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment have been defended and
- More than one thousand immigrants in the US were rounded-up immediately
after September 11th in a manner that was arbitrary, discriminatory and
violated basic human rights.
Furthermore, the US has still failed to ratify half of the major
international human rights treaties, including:
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by every other
country in the world except Somalia).
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (ratified by 177 countries -- over ninety percent of the members of
the United Nations).
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(ratified by 149 countries).
- The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ratified by 97
In this memorandum, we outline several other areas of concern for human
rights - primarily, although not exclusively, with respect to human rights
practices affecting US citizens and residents.
The US played a pivotal role in creating the human rights system and
drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We now fear that the
current human rights situation, as detailed in the following pages,
reflects a disrespect of human rights and human dignity that not only
tarnishes the reputation of the US around the world, but also undermines
the foundations of US democracy and freedom, and the wellbeing of its
With this memorandum and our forthcoming Human Rights Agenda for the Bush
Administration, the US Human Rights Network provides a partial list of
human rights situations of particular concern, along with initial
recommendations on how they can best be addressed. We also offer a vision
for the future of human rights in the US in which all people are afforded
the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
We urge this administration to join in that vision.
Civil and political rights
"The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and
freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created
whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his
economic, social and cultural rights."
Preamble to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The human right to be free of arbitrary arrest or detention
The aforementioned ICCPR, ratified by the US on June 8, 1992, affords
everyone the right to liberty and security of person. This necessarily
includes a prohibition on arbitrary arrest or detention, the obligation to
inform any arrested person promptly of the reasons for his/her arrest, and
the duty to provide a trial within a reasonable time - or release.
Yet, thousands have been detained by the US based on government
allegations that they pose a threat to security - many indefinitely and
without access to counsel or even information about the charges being
brought against them. A significant number have been arrested for no other
reason than their ethnic background - reflecting a pattern of arrests that
are not only arbitrary but also discriminatory. Some of these arrests have
been carried out through the abuse of immigration laws meant to control
borders -not criminalize people.
Human rights and national security are not at odds. They go hand in hand.
The administration must review current arrest, prosecution and detention
policies and practices - including those being implemented through
immigration laws - with a view to bringing them in line with international
human rights standards and standards of human decency. The administration
must also review deportation practices to ensure that all actions respect
the right to be free from discrimination and the right to liberty and
security of the person.
The human right to be free of discrimination
The right to be free from discrimination is recognized in every major
human rights instrument, including the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (Articles 2 and 7); the ICCPR (Article 2) and the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 2). Two major
human rights treaties, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination against Women were brought into force specifically to
address profound and particularly troubling forms of discrimination.
Non-discrimination is a fundamental and non-derogable right - meaning that
even in a state of emergency, a government cannot violate guarantees to
equal treatment and non-discrimination.
Every person is guaranteed the right to be free from discrimination
regardless of race, gender, birth status, ethnicity or any other status,
and that right extends to protection against policies that have a
discriminatory impact regardless of intent.
Although every country has the right to control its borders, and may
deport non-nationals without legitimate claims to legal status, no
government may impose immigration laws that discriminate against a
particular class of immigrants. Governments also cannot discriminate
against immigrants (including undocumented immigrants) in the exercise of
their human rights (such as the right to a fair trial, to unionize and to
be free from arbitrary arrest).
Although it has now been ten years since the US ratified the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - thereby committing
itself to work against racial discrimination, including its effects in the
criminal justice system - glaring racial disparities also continue to
persist in the US criminal justice system, with approximately one-half of
those incarcerated being African American. In fact, two-thirds of the
adult prison population is Latino and African American - even though these
two groups constitute only 25 % of the overall population in the US
combined. In the face of falling crime rates, people imprisoned in the US
constitute 23 % of the total number of people imprisoned in the world
(despite the fact that the US only represents five percent of the world
Despite these facts, this administration has put forward no policies to
address the systemic discrimination experienced by communities of color
within the criminal justice system. Similarly, no effective policies have
been developed by this administration to address the continuing exclusions
and discrimination faced by immigrants, communities of color, Native
Americans, people with disabilities, women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals,
and transgendered people in the workplace, in schools, and in other public
places. Finally, this administration has supported corrupting the US
Constitution with an amendment that legalizes discrimination in the
exercise of the fundamental right to marry based on sexual orientation.
Furthermore, discriminatory policies and practices - including racial
profiling - have been in evidence during the conduct of the "war on
terror." Arabs and other Muslims have borne the brunt of these policies.
This includes the signing of a military order by President Bush
authorizing the trial of foreign nationals by military commission, which
has the power to consider coerced evidence and hand down death sentences
with no right of appeal to any court. These military commissions apply
only to foreign nationals - not US citizens - clearly violating
international law by allowing for the discriminatory application of the
right to a fair trial on the basis of nationality.
The administration must review immigration and security measures to ensure
they do not discriminate against any class of people. It must also accept
its obligations to address long-standing issues of discrimination,
including systemic and institutionalized racism, and engage in public
education efforts to promote tolerance and respect for the rule of law,
which protects the rights of all people. Furthermore, the administration
must ensure that any law enforcement activities conducted in the context
of the "war on terror" are in accordance with international principles,
and do not employ or encourage discriminatory practices. The government
must also make public regularly updated lists of detainees in US custody
specifying their identity, nationality and place of detention, including
the agency under which each person is being held.
The human right of the child to liberty and to fair and humane treatment
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), signed by the US and
ratified by every country in the world except the US and Somalia, requires
that the "arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child shall be used only
as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of
time." (Article 37) The CRC also prohibits placing children in detention
facilities with adults, unless the government can demonstrate that such a
placement is in the child's best interest. Furthermore, the ICCPR requires
the US to ensure that "juvenile offenders [are] segregated from adults
andaccorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status." (Article
Despite these obligations, the US is among a dwindling number of
jurisdictions in the world where child offenders can be sentenced to life
in prison without possibility of parole. It is estimated that the number
of child offenders serving such sentences is in the thousands. In many
jurisdictions, children are detained alongside adults to serve their
sentence. Furthermore, when the US ratified the ICCPR, it reserved the
right to execute children.
The administration must call on all states to protect children against
these human rights abuses, and also call for federal legislation to
provide for such protections, in order to meet US obligations under the
ICCPR. The administration should also support and facilitate the
ratification of the CRC without reservation, and remove its reservation to
the ICCPR regarding the execution of children.
The right of imprisoned people to humane and dignified treatment
The ICCPR requires that "all persons deprived of their libertybe treated
with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person."
(Article 10) However, many men and women imprisoned in the US face
violence on a daily basis - including sexual assault by other inmates and
prison guards. Furthermore, those in prison are often exposed to diseases
- including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis - due to overcrowding and
unsanitary and inhuman conditions. These diseases often go untreated due
to inadequate medical care. At the same time, the federal and many state
governments have outsourced the running of prison facilities to private,
for-profit companies making oversight and accountability more difficult to
The administration must use all monitoring and accountability mechanisms
at its disposal to guarantee humane and dignified conditions and treatment
in US prisons. In the federal system, it should prohibit outsourcing to
private for-profit companies, unless such outsourcing is accompanied by a
detailed and enforceable accountability plan. The administration should
also create incentives for states to comply with human rights standards
aimed at protecting those in prison.
The death penalty
The ICCPR states that "every human being has the inherent right to life
... No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." (Article 6) While
the ICCPR, which came into force in 1976, does not absolutely prohibit the
use of the death penalty in all cases, international human rights law has
moved swiftly in the direction of abolition. This is most evident with the
entry into force of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR Aiming at
the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
The vast majority of countries in the world today does not allow for the
death penalty or does not enforce it. On average, four countries per year
have abolished the death penalty since 1987. Only the US, Iran and China
are known to allow the death penalty for child offenders.
Although there have been some recent welcome developments toward reigning
in the application of the death penalty in the US - such as the 2002 US
Supreme Court decision that the execution of mentally ill and mentally
retarded persons is unconstitutional, in line with international law -
over 3,400 men and women and children remain on death row in the US.
Since 1976, 118 people have been released from death row due to evidence
of their innocence. Of those still on death row, approximately 54 % are
racial minorities. 90 % of those for whom the federal government seeks the
death penalty are racial minorities, while together African Americans and
Latinos comprise only 25 % of the overall population in the US.
In the face of these profound concerns, and to bring the US in line with
international standards and practices, this administration must introduce
legislation that repeals the federal death penalty, remove the reservation
from the ICCPR regarding the prohibition on imposing the death penalty on
children, and sign and send to the US Senate for its advice and consent
the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Aiming at the Abolition of the
Death Penalty. Once this is ratified, the government should introduce
implementing legislation that would make the death penalty illegal across
The right to freedom of association and to form unions
The ICCPR recognizes the right of everyone to "freedom of association with
others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the
protection of his interests." This right is also protected by a range of
covenants of the International Labour Organization. Yet, in 2000 Human
Rights Watch issued a report, "Unfair Advantage" stating that "unfair
labor practice charges against employers increased by 750 % between 1957
and 1980, while the number of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
elections (a measure of workers' organizing activity) increased by less
than 50 %." The report goes on to note that, "by the 1990s . . . one of
every 18 employees involved in union election campaigns was subjected to
discharge or other discrimination to discourage union representation."
Experts in the field, according to the report, have concluded that "[t]he
intensity of opposition to unionization which is exhibited by American
employers has no parallel in the Western industrial world." Finally, the
report references a 1997 study by the Secretariat of the North American
Commission for Labor Cooperation under NAFTA's labor side accord which
finds "that employers threaten to close the workplace in half of the
organizing campaigns undertaken by workers in the United States, but
rarely in Canada or Mexico." Studies also report that "53 % of managers
said they would oppose any unionization effort in their workplace."
It is manifestly clear that existing labor protections to form unions are
not adequately enforced. Moreover, certain categories of workers, such as
agricultural workers and domestic workers, are not even afforded basic
protections to unionize. In light of this inexcusable failure to protect
the right to association of workers, the administration must ensure that
all existing protections are vigorously enforced and that all workers are
afforded these necessary protections.
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
"the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can
only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his
economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political
rights"----International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The human right to health
The right to health is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (Article 25); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (Article 12); the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(Article 24); the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial
Discrimination (Article 5); the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms
of Discrimination against Women (Articles 12 and 14); and the American
Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (Article 11). Together, these
instruments guarantee the "right to the enjoyment of a variety of
facilities, goods, services and conditions" necessary for the right to
health. At a minimum, this includes:
"[the right to] timely and appropriate healthcare[and] also to the
underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable
water and adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition
and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access
to health-related education and information, including on sexual and
reproductive health." (General Comment 14 of the ESCR Committee)
Governments must ensure the right to health without discrimination on any
basis, including class, race, age, language, disability, or health status
(such as HIV/AIDS). This prohibition on discrimination applies with
special force to vulnerable groups such as prisoners and undocumented
immigrants, who must have access to adequate healthcare.
Yet, 45 million US citizens - most of them working people - are denied the
possibility of affordable health insurance and access to care. Rural areas
and poor and minority communities suffer severe shortages of health care
workers. Drug costs continue to rise far above what many sick and needy
people are able to pay. Immigrant and low-income communities now have even
less access to health care as result of recent changes in the Medicaid
eligibility rules and a lack of employer-based health insurance plans in
industries that employ the majority of immigrants. Restrictions on funding
and services in the area of reproductive health threaten the health status
of countless women.
Unlike in other parts of the world, these systemic failures to protect
health are not due to resource constraints. The US spends more per capita
on health than any other industrialized country. However, these
expenditures are not distributed equally across society. In fact, the US
health system ranks only 55th in the world in terms of fairness in the
distribution of resources.
A human rights approach treats health care as a public good - not a
private gain. The administration must develop a national plan of action to
ensure universal access to comprehensive and affordable health care for
all. This requires an equitable distribution of health care resources that
are adequate, accessible and affordable. Human rights standards also
require that private actors, such as insurance companies, pharmaceutical
companies and hospitals be held accountable for fulfilling their
appropriate roles in ensuring the right to healthcare. Consequently, this
administration must also develop policies that hold these private actors
accountable for actions affecting the right to healthcare.
The human right to housing
The right to housing, intended to ensure access to a safe, secure,
habitable, and affordable home with freedom from forced eviction, is
enshrined in several international and regional human rights instruments
including: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25); the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article
11); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 27); the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
(Article 5); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (Article 14); and the American Declaration on
the Rights and Duties of Man (Article 11).
Yet, at least 840,000 people are homeless on any given day within the US.
Up to 3.5 million people are affected by homelessness within a given year
- 1.35 million of whom are children. It is estimated that 12 million
people - 6.5 percent of the population - will experience homelessness at
some point in their lives. A quarter of those homeless are children.
Families with children make up 37 % of the homeless. According to a
federal government survey, 44 % of homeless people report that they work
full- or part-time, yet cannot afford housing.
While millions are affected by homelessness, even more are at risk because
of the lack of affordable housing. There are 4.7 million more poor
households in need of rental housing than there are available affordable
units. Some 14.3 million households, representing almost one in seven
households, are severely burdened by the cost of housing and 38 percent of
elderly renters are severely cost burdened. Of these, some 12.5 million
are at grave risk of becoming homeless, because wage levels, particularly
for those working at minimum wage, are woefully insufficient to meet the
rising costs of housing. Furthermore, an estimated 600,000 people released
from prisons, and 10 million released from jails each year face exclusions
based on federal law from many federal housing programs, worsening this
human rights crisis.
In light of this crisis, the administration must not support or permit any
cuts to the housing budget for people in the US. The administration must
propose increasing housing assistance funding, support proposals to end
criminalization of the homeless, and support creative solutions that
encourage, through zoning or other laws and programs, the development of
The human right to education
The right to education is both a fundamental right in itself, and an
essential enabler of other fundamental rights -- such as the right to
participation in a democratic society, the right to decent work under
reasonable conditions, the right to health, and many other rights. The
ICESCR recognizes "the right of everyone to education...directed to the
full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity,
[that] shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms...[and] shall [also] enable all persons to participate
effectively in a free society...." (Article 13) Moreover, the right to
education is enshrined in nearly every international and regional human
rights instrument, including: the UDHR (Article 26); the ICESCR (Articles
13 and 14); the CRC (Articles 28, 29 and 40); the CERD (Article 5); the
CEDAW (Articles 10 and 14); and the American Declaration on the Rights and
Duties of Man (Article 12).
Despite human rights standards requiring that governments guarantee the
right to education to everyone, there are deep inequities in the US
educational system, with some receiving a high level of quality education
and others barely being afforded basic literacy skills. Nonetheless, there
have been promising advances in securing the right to education.
In state after state across the US, courts are finding that local systems
of funding for education are inequitable, fail to provide a basic sound
education and are in violation of their respective state constitutional
right to education. The outcomes of these court victories have yet to be
seen, but they provide a necessary foundation for addressing existing
inequities. However, despite these advances, localities continue to allow
mistreatment of children in poor and minority schools, including the
imposition of zero tolerance policies that primarily serve to push
children out of the educational system.
Federal policy is also still deeply flawed and inadequate to protect the
right to education. Though the "No Child Left Behind Act" has created
accountability for children and schools, it does not reflect the
accountability of the government to those children to provide the
resources they need to be successful. The human right to education
reflects this notion of reciprocal accountability - of the students and
schools to succeed, and of the state to provide them with the means to do
Furthermore, in contravention of international human rights law, tens of
thousands of young people are being prevented from pursuing a college
education because they have no immigration papers, almost no access to
financial aid, and no right to work to support themselves if they attend a
university or college.
The administration must refrain from any cuts in the education budget,
support equitable distribution of existing resources, develop programs to
support the rights of parents and communities to participate in ensuring
the right education in their local schools, and create federal programs to
develop a cadre of highly trained teachers and principals for low
performing schools. The administration must also support legislation to
ensure equal access by immigrant students to higher education.
The Right to Work for Fair Wages and Under Safe and Reasonable Conditions
The right to decent work is recognized by a wide range of major human
rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and by
the various covenants of the International Labour Organization. The
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
specifically guarantees the "right of everyone to the enjoyment of just
and favourable conditions of work which ensure remuneration provid[ing]
all workers with: (i) Fair wages (ii) A decent living for themselves and
their families [and] safe and healthy working conditions. (Article 7)
The right to work has suffered grave deterioration in the US. People in
the US now work more hours than workers in any other industrialized
country (including Japan), and many of these additional work hours are
mandatory. According to the International Labour Organization, just and
favourable conditions of work require affording workers a 40-hour work
week at a living wage (40-Hour Week Convention, 1935). This understanding
is reflected in our national laws requiring extra payment for hours worked
above this amount for hourly workers in most sectors.
Despite these hard and long work hours, many in the US still cannot afford
to meet their basic needs. One in four workers, constituting 30 million
people, survives on poverty wages. The minimum wage has dropped
approximately 40 percent in real value since 1968. Indeed most families
that lack health insurance have one or two workers, and many people facing
homelessness or overcrowding are working full-time at salary levels that
do not cover basic housing costs in their areas. This violates the right
to fair wages providing a decent living.
Long hours and low pay also put great strains on families, including the
ability of parents to care for their children - undermining the
fundamental right to family, also protected by human rights instruments
(Article VI, American Declaration on Rights and Duties of Man).
US workers also face extreme job insecurity, as most employment situations
are "at will," meaning that employers may fire workers without cause so
long as it does not constitute race, sex or age discrimination.
Finally, five million workers suffer injuries on the job each year and
then face a decrepit worker's compensation system that does not provide
adequate benefits, routinely denies legitimate claims, and denies needed
medical care. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has
a history of not responding adequately to workplace injuries. Over the
last 20 years, for example, in more than 1000 workplace deaths resulting
from injury due to willful employer violations, OSHA referred less than
seven percent to the Justice Department for prosecution.
This administration must address the economic rights of workers in the US
by raising the minimum wage at least 40 percent to its past value,
providing the necessary social support that workers cannot afford on their
current wages (such as health care and housing), ensuring that all workers
are adequately included under OSHA protections, and vigorously enforcing
and monitoring OSHA standards.
The human rights situation within the US calls for serious self-assessment
and reflection. Recent trends and events have raised significant doubts
about this administration's commitment to human rights and have put the US
at grave risk of becoming a place where human dignity and freedom are
In order to emerge from the human rights crisis that we have begun to
outline above, this administration must begin to put into practice its
stated commitment to fundamental freedoms and human dignity by rectifying
its abject failure to protect human rights both at home and abroad.
We hope that this memorandum and the recommendations contained therein
will help to set the administration on a path in the right direction. We
will be following up this memorandum with a more detailed Human Rights
Agenda for the Bush Administration and welcome engagement with the
administration regarding ways in which we can bring US policy and practice
in line with international human rights norms and standards.
(source: United States Human Rights Network)
March 1st is International Death Penalty Abolition Day ----"Death Penalty
Foundations Crumbling" -- Activists to Mark 158 Years Without Death
Contact: Abe Bonowitz, for Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death
Penalty (CUADP), 561-371-5204 cell, or David Elliot, National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty: 202-607-7036
Dozens of anti-death penalty organizations throughout the United States
are organizing around Tuesday, March 1st, in celebration of International
Death Penalty Abolition Day, the 158th anniversary of the date in 1847
when the State of Michigan officially became the 1st English-speaking
territory in the world to abolish the death penalty.
FOR A LISTING OF SOME OF THE EVENTS SCHEDULED ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, as
well as background information on Abolition Day, please visit
http://www.cuadp.org and click on the Abolition Day Banner.
STATES WITH LISTED ACTIVITIES INCLUDE:
and also Toronto, Canada.
"People in the United States are beginning to take a hard look at how our
criminal justice system is failing," said Abe Bonowitz, Director of
Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CUADP). "As a
former supporter of the death penalty, it is clear to me that anyone who
examines the system from a non-emotional standpoint will find that
economically, socially and morally, the practice of the death penalty is
bad public policy. Billions of dollars have been spent on the death
penalty in this country since 1972, for a net result of 950 dead bodies.
This is hardly a good return on that investment. Alternatives to the death
penalty exist that punish severely while protecting society, without more
Even as we approach the 950th execution since 1977, scheduled to take
place in Georgia on Abolition Day, CUADP notes the following very current
events which point to a crumbling of the foundations of the death penalty
in the modern era:
* Conservative voices and policy makers continue to acknowledge at least
the need for a Time-Out on executions in the form of a moratorium on the
death penalty pending review and reform of legal systems throughout the
nation. Even George W. Bush, who executed 152 prisoners as Governor of
Texas and who as President has overseen the first three federal executions
under current law, acknowledged in his State of the Union address that
serious problems exist in our legal system (see
http://www.cuadp.org/pressrel72.html ). For more on conservative voices,
* The US Supreme Court has taken up the question of "evolving standards of
decency" with regard to juvenile offenders and the death penalty. Numerous
states are this year considering bills to ensure that no person under the
age of 18 at the time of the crime will face the death penalty.
* Where it was previously considered political suicide to question any
aspect of the death penalty, state legislatures are considering ways to
limit or even do away with the death penalty. In the past year several
states raised the minimum age for death penalty eligibility to 18. In
Florida the effort to raise the age to 18 is led by one of the most
pro-death penalty legislators, Senator Victor Crist. New York, New Jersey,
and New Mexico are all approaching the tipping point, with serious death
penalty repeal efforts in consideration in current legislative sessions.
* More than 118 prisoners have been exonerated and released from death
rows in the United States - SO FAR.
* Countries normally allied with the United States are unequivocal in
their opposition to the death penalty, refusing to extradite prisoners to
the US without guarantees that those prisoners will not face execution -
even in the cases of terrorists and war criminals. Mexico has successfully
sued the United States over its violation of the Vienna Convention on
Consular Affairs with regard to more than 50 Mexican nationals on US death
* Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Peter Schieder last
year launched an appeal for the abolition of the death penalty, saying
"The abolition of the death penalty is one of our Organisation's
priorities, and any new member state must pledge to take this step. We
have succeeded in making the territory of our 45 member states, with its
800 million inhabitants, a death-penalty-free zone. Our ambition is to
persuade Japan and the USA, who both hold observer status with the Council
of Europe, to join us. Japan and the United States are leading democracies
which have been very vocal on their commitment to human rights. We are
calling on them to stand by their own standards of civilised behaviour. My
message on the eve of International Death Penalty Abolition Day (1 March)
is a call on states across the world to reject the use of capital
punishment. Death penalty is not justice. And as Martin Luther King said:
'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"
Organizers of "Abolition Day" events point to the State of Michigan as an
example that viable alternatives to the death penalty exist. "They got rid
of the death penalty because they found that they could not trust
themselves to use it fairly, and they learned too late that they had
killed an innocent man," said Bonowitz. Michigan has been without the
death penalty for 158 years. The first act of their new legislature when
Michigan became a state was to abolish the death penalty.
"Politicians owe it to the people of this country to take a serious look
at the alternatives to the death penalty already in use across this
country," said Bonowitz. "Violent criminals can be punished, and society
protected, through the use of long-term prison sentences before a
convicted person can be considered for parole. It works in Michigan and in
other states like California, which has the oldest 'Life Without Parole'
(LWOP) statute in the country. Not one of the people sentenced to LWOP has
been released. We are saying to the people our country, 'Don't make us
become that which we deplore. Don't kill in our names. We can do better.'"
FOR DETAILS ON THE HISTORY OF INTERNATIONAL DEATH PENALTY ABOLITION DAY,
PLEASE VISIT http://www.cuadp.org and click on "Abolition Day."
ON THE WEB: www.CUADP.org and www.NCADP.org
For more information, please contact CUADP director Abe Bonowitz at
800-973-6548 or 561-371-5204. Free information is available to the public
from Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CUADP), a
Florida-based national organization working to increase the level of
informed dialogue about viable alternatives to the death penalty. CUADP
may be reached toll-free at 800-973-6548 or on the internet at
(source: Christian Communication Network)
Death penalty trial begins this week in Barnwell shootings
A man accused of killing 2 teens in a fast-food restaurant during a
robbery more than 4 years ago will stand trial for his life this week.
Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Alfred Walker.
Authorities say Walker was 18 when he walked into a Sonic Drive-In after
closing time in October 2000 and killed 17-year-old Joshua Brewer and
18-year-old Albert "A.J." Still Jr.
A 3rd employee was wounded, but locked himself in a bathroom and survived.
Walker's co-defendant, Wallace R. Priester, who was 15 at the time of the
killings, was convicted in 2001 and is serving back-to-back life
sentences, plus 75 years.
A jury will be selected in Edgefield County because of pretrial publicity,
then brought back to Barnwell County for the trial.
Circuit Court Judge Perry Buckner has issued a gag order not only for the
attorneys, but also for the family of the victims.
(source: Associated Press)
New U.S. penitentiary scheduled to open soon
Federal officials are preparing to open a new maximum-security prison that
will house about 1,200 inmates, nearly doubling the capacity of the U.S.
penitentiary complex near Terre Haute.
The new facility is being built south of the existing 63-year-old prison.
By this spring, the third prison of what will soon become the Federal
Correctional Complex gradually will fill with life as federal prisoners
classified as maximum-security risks are transferred from the old building
to the new.
The original building was built in 1940 and houses the government's only
death row. Currently, 32 federal prisoners await execution, but none has a
confirmed date, said Chris Nickrenz, executive assistant to Warden Mark
Nickrenz said the new facility would be much more secure than the old one.
Once the new prison opens, the old red brick penitentiary will become a
medium-security installation. Its image appears in the new prison in the
form of inmate-painted murals on walls near entrances.
(source: Indianapolis Star)
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