[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA
j_sommer at gmx.net
Wed Mar 2 14:22:50 CST 2005
death penalty news
March 2, 2005
An end to killing kids
Americas Supreme Court has abolished the death penalty for those under 18
when they committed their crimes. It is just another nibble at the edge of
still-popular capital punishmentbut does it show that America can
sometimes be swayed by world opinion?
Which country seems the odd one out in this list: China, Congo, Iran,
Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States? These eight
countries are the only ones in the world that have executed children under
18 since 1990. Now, at last, the worlds self-proclaimed beacon of freedom
will be able to take itself off the list. On Tuesday March 1st, Americas
Supreme Court ruled, by five votes to four, that putting to death those who
were minors at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.
Of course, the death penalty will remain in place for convicted murderers
in America. Indeed, it remains populartwo-thirds of Americans support it
(though this number drops to half when life imprisonment without parole is
offered as an alternative). Despite this weeks ruling, America is clearly
still out of step with most of the countries it considers its friends.
More than half of the worlds countries have either abolished the death
penalty for normal crimes or have imposed moratoriums, according to Amnesty
International, a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against
capital punishment. These include all but two countries in Europe and
Central Asia (Belarus and Uzbekistan), as well as both of Americas
neighbours, Canada and Mexico, and like-minded countries such as Australia
and New Zealand. Among large democracies, only India, South Korea and Japan
still practise capital punishment. But it is rare in those places.
According to Amnesty, in 2003, 84% of the worlds known executions took
place in just four countries: China, Iran, Vietnam and America.
Though Americas polls do not show it, the tide may be creeping against the
death penalty. One reason to think it will not last forever is that in most
of the countries where it has been abolished, a majority of the public
remained in favour of keeping it at the time. In most cases, crime rates
failed to shoot up after abolitionthus putting paid to the argument for
execution as deterrenceand populations came to believe that judicial
killing was wrong under any circumstances. Only one formerly abolitionist
country has resumed executionsthe Philippinesthough it has since
suspended them again.
A second trend is the gradual nibbling away at the death penalty within
America itself. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that most Americans now
regarded the mentally retarded as categorically less culpable than the
average criminal, and banned executing them. Ten years earlier, Bill
Clinton, then a presidential candidate, had burnished his law-and-order
credentials by letting the execution of a retarded man go ahead in
Arkansas, where he was governor. But more recently, another governor with a
national profile, George Ryan of Illinois, put a moratorium on his states
use of the death penalty, and later granted clemency to all prisoners on
death row. He was concerned about the number of inmates exonerated by DNA
evidence after already having been sentenced to die.
A third trend against the death penalty in America is the increasing
attention paid to moral views elsewhere. In the Supreme Courts majority
opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court acknowledged the
overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death
penalty. While the court explicitly said that foreign opinions, legal or
moral, are not binding in American law, they were nonetheless respected
and significant confirmation for Tuesdays ruling. Antonin Scalia, the
courts conservative stalwart, stoutly rejected any such notion.
Conservatives are bound to be furious when they feel that more liberal
societies values are being foisted on a fundamentally different America
But it is not the first such case. In the 2002 ruling in Lawrence v Texas,
the Supreme Court struck down a state statute forbidding private homosexual
conduct. The court ruled that: Where a cases foundations have sustained
serious erosion, criticism from other sources is of greater
[T]o the extent Bowers [a previous case that had upheld the
anti-sodomy law] relied on values shared with a wider civilization, the
cases reasoning and holding have been rejected by the European Court of
Human Rights, and other nations have taken action consistent with an
affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in
intimate, consensual conduct.
In other words, courts have previously cited other countries, or sometimes
pre-American traditions, in making their case. The anti-sodomy Bowers
decision had argued that prohibitions on homosexuality went back to
biblical times from which much of Western ethics and morality is drawn. The
Lawrence decision essentially replied that shared tradition is shared
tradition, and that if the rest of the Judeo-Christian world is changing,
America should not be blind to it. But conservatives are bound to be
furious when they feel that more liberal societies values are being
foisted on a fundamentally different America.
The death penalty is far from dead in America. The capture last weekend in
Kansas of a serial murderer who had taunted his victims families and the
police for decades will remind Americans that sometimes evil is just evil.
Victims-rights groups remain potent. And anyway America remains happy to
swim against the Western cultural mainstream in a host of areas. At a
United Nations conference this week on womens rights and health, for
instance, the American delegation insisted that any declaration explicitly
rule out the creation of new international human rights, a reference to a
putative right to abortion.
America may be happy to differ sharply from the worlds other democracies
on some moral and ethical issues, and this often irritates its closest
friends. But this weeks death-penalty ruling seems to show that even a
superpower can sometimes be swayed, even if just a bit.
(source: Economist, UK)
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