[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 12 06:13:03 UTC 2007
To hang or not to hang
Everyone regardless of political, religious and other persuasions must
feel an abiding sense of despair and personal intimidation from the daily
brutal and vicious murders which continue to plague our nation.
Pointless would it be to console ourselves with the belief that, for the
most part, these murders are domestic, turf or drug-related, and as such,
as long as we maintain the right lifestyle, we will be spared a gruesome
death. Sadly, this is not necessarily so.
With just cause therefore, we seek the solutions. Deputy Leader of the
Jamaica Labour Party, Derrick Smith, came upfront this week and reportedly
declared that his party will, on assuming office, ensure that convicted
murderers who have exhausted all legal channels are brought to the gallows
within the five-year period which is allowed for them to be hanged.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (DEATH PENALTY)
The issue at hand is whether the country supports capital punishment or
its abolition. Capital punishment, also referred to as the death penalty,
is the judicially ordered execution of a prisoner as a punishment for a
capital crime. The definition of capital crime varies from country to
country; for example, in the United States; capital punishment may be
imposed for treason or murder.
METHODS OF EXECUTION
Over the past centuries there have been various methods of execution.
These include: asphyxia, burning (for crimes such as treason, heresy,
witchcraft - usually the condemned is bound to a stake - 'burning at the
stake'), boiling (Europe and Asia), crucifixion (ancient method, practised
by the Roman Empire, in which the accused is nailed to a cross and left to
hang until death - eg Jesus Christ), decapitation (by axe, sword, knife,
guillotine), electrocution (electric shock, usually involving an electric
chair), lethal injection (injecting a fatal dose of a drug to cause
death), firing squad (soldiers fire simultaneously at the condemned who is
usually blindfolded or hooded), hanging (suspension of a person by a cord
wrapped around the neck)
In Jamaica, under the Offences Against the Person Act, every person who is
convicted of a capital murder (eg murder of a member of the security
forces acting in execution of his duties ) "shall be sentenced to
death.and the same may be carried into execution as heretofore has been
the practice" ."the form of sentence shall be to the effect only that he
is to "suffer death in the manner authorised by law" ." The accustomed and
authorised manner here in Jamaica is that of hanging. So in essence, Mr.
Derrick Smith is telling the country that his party will ensure that the
laws of the country are adhered to in so far as they relate to the death
DEATH PENALTY POPULAR WORLDWIDE
Although almost half the countries in the world have abolished the death
penalty in law, a significant number, if not the majority of persons
worldwide do not support its abolition.
Amnesty International reports that: 88 countries and territories have
abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 11 countries have abolished
the death penalty for all exceptional wartime crimes, 29 countries can be
considered abolitionist in practice; they retain the death penalty in law
but have not carried out any executions in the past 10 years or more
(Jamaica falls in this category), making a total of 128 countries which
have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
In the UK, the Murder Abolition of Death Penalty Act suspended the death
penalty in England, Wales and Scotland for 5 years (1965-1969), and in
2003 it was abolished in all circumstances. Even then, the majority of
citizens objected to its abolition.
In Canada, the death penalty by hanging was discontinued in 1976 but in
the USA, in that very year, the death penalty was reinstated.
Interestingly, 67% of capital convictions in the United States are
eventually overturned, mainly on procedural grounds, incompetent legal
counsel, police or prosecution who suppress evidence and judges who give
jurors wrong instructions.
The People's Republic of China has the distinction of executing more
people per year than the rest of the world in total. In that country,
crimes which attract the death penalty include tax evasion, corruption,
racketeering and murder.
DEATH PENALTY AS A DETERRENT
To the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific research which shows
that the death penalty reduces crime more effectively than other forms of
punishment. A survey conducted by the United Nations in 1988 and updated
in 2002 states:
"It is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters
murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application
of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.." The study
further states: "The fact that the statistics continue to point in the
same direction is persuasive evidence that countries need not fear sudden
and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance
upon the death penalty."
There is no evidence that I am aware of, which suggests that countries
which have abolished the death penalty have suffered an increase in the
capital crime rate. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000
population fell from 3.09 in 1975 (the year before abolition) to 2.41 in
1980 and by 2003 the rate was 1.73 per 100,000, a 44% decline.
JAMAICA'S CALL FOR THE DEATH PENALTY
During the mid-1970s Jamaica ranked # 10 (just below Trinidad and Tobago)
in the list of the 10 worst countries for murder. At the time, 7 of the 10
countries applied the death penalty by law and/or practice.
By 2003, Jamaica had moved up to # 3 on the list, while all the other
countries which had been previously listed, including the Bahamas and
Trinidad and Tobago, removed themselves from the list by reducing their
murder rate. In this list of 10 countries with the highest per capita
murder rate, Jamaica is the only country which currently applies the death
penalty by law (not practice).
It is not surprising that given the murderous profile of the country, the
majority of the population favours the death penalty. In a democratic
society, the will of the people is usually adhered to. I therefore
understand the commitment of Derrick Smith, opposition spokesman on crime.
THE PAIN OF ERROR
Nonetheless, the lack of adequate human resources and technology to
investigate crime in this country is reason for great concern when
applying the death penalty. The lack of procedures enshrined in law which
ensure the security and protection of the crime scene as well as those
which govern the chain of custody of items of evidence stand as an
indictment of policy makers in a country so riddled with brutal murders.
The death penalty when applied is irrevocable.
In 1830, years after the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de
Lafayette (a French general of both the American and French Revolution)
said: "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I
have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me".
Clearly, when we support the death penalty, we do so fully aware that some
innocent persons will be put to death for crimes which they did not
commit. The Roman Catholic Church (of which I am a practising member)
opposes the death penalty, with Pope John Paul 11 declaring in 1999 that
the penalty is "cruel and unnecessary". If you have concluded that I do
not support the death penalty, you have done so justifiably. Both parties
have declared that this issue will be left to a conscience vote which I
will exercise at the right time.
It is my belief that supporters of the death penalty, for the most part,
are of the view that its retention is fair and just punishment for the
offender, even though, its retention may not be a deterrent to murder. I
hope that Jamaica will succeed in its efforts to rid itself of the scourge
of brutal murders by implementing the many recommendations of the various
crime committees over the past many decades. Only then will we have a
relatively low murder rate in this country.
(source: Column, Shirley WIlliams, Jamaica Observer)
Ghosts of our bungled history----When the placards come calling for a
reinstatement of the death penalty -- as they have with the trial of
Robert Pickton -- we must stop to remember botched executions and wrongful
Just after midnight 51 years ago yesterday, 7 chimes sounded and the death
flag was raised at Bordeaux Jail, where Wilbert Coffin was led from his
cell and taken to the gallows. Minutes later, and just as the judge had
pronounced, the affable Gaspe hunter was hanged by the neck until he was
Convicted of the 1953 murder of 3 American hunters in the Gaspe bush,
Coffin went to his death proclaiming his innocence -- innocence that all
but screamed from every shred of evidence and testimony (despite his
criminally bungling defence lawyer), innocence that, many believe,
threatened premier Maurice Duplessis's determination to have a speedy
solution to the crime and no disruption to Quebec tourist traffic.
Doubts about Coffin's guilt were overwhelming, and he still has many
defenders, including his 75-year-old sister who has been pushing to get
his name cleared. Recently, his cause was taken up by Canada's Association
in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, and the federal Justice Department is
reviewing his case.
The probable wrongfulness of his 1956 execution is thought to have been
one of the key catalysts in Canada's elimination a few years later of the
But the Coffin case still needs to be shoved back into Canadian faces
occasionally, particularly if the news is filled with accused murderers,
sensational trials and very high emotions. Whenever the placards come out
calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty -- as they have,
predictably, with the trial of Robert William Pickton -- Wilbert Coffin
needs to be returned to the spotlight. He needs to be back in the public
consciousness not because there is any similarity between him and the
Coquitlam pig farmer, but because any thoughts about Coffin should also
provoke serious larger reservations about all calls for the return of
For one thing, consider the possibility of error.
Coffin was the possible victim of dark political motivations. On this date
138 years ago, Patrick James Whelan swung from a rope outside Ottawa's
Carleton County Gaol, convicted of the murder of D'Arcy McGee. There were
enormous doubts about his guilt at the time, and most historians today
believe he was innocent, a quick and easy scapegoat for a new government
reeling from the new country's first political assassination.
John Diefenbaker, who commuted 52 of 66 death sentences during his time as
prime minister, commented in a 1975 interview on the terrible finality of
the death penalty. "It's too dangerous," he said, "and innocent men can be
and have been executed."
Yes. Ask Donald Marshall, David Milgaard and Guy Paul Morin for their
views on reinstating capital punishment. Or ask Steven Truscott, another
name in today's news stories about possible errors of the past. His
sentence was ultimately commuted and he spent time in jail instead, but
ask him what it was like for him, a 14-year-old boy in 1959, to stand in a
courtroom and hear a judge tell him he would be hanged by the neck until
he was dead.
In The Death of Innocents, Sister Helen Prejean's book about wrongful
executions in the United States, the crusading abolitionist addressed the
error issue. Outraged citizens may want to see killers executed, she
wrote, but they "also recognize that government bureaucracies can scarcely
be trusted to get potholes in the streets filled, much less be allowed to
decide who should live and who should die."
Prejean believes there is also a profound moral error in the
state-sanctioned administration of the death penalty. Morally, she wrote
in Dead Man Walking, "the death penalty costs too much. Allowing our
government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon
which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human
For nearly 30 years, my grandfather was the deputy sheriff of Montreal. As
a child, until my mother set me straight, I harboured romantic images of
him galloping a stallion down Ste. Catherine Street, totin' a six-shooter.
But the truth was, he was a lawyer in a nice sober suit, his deputy role
in that branch of the administration of justice simply a reflection of his
non-political, civil-service status. He worked at a desk downtown at the
old provincial courthouse -- except for those 28 times, over the course of
3 decades, that he had to be present at Bordeaux Jail, up on the northern
shore of Montreal island.
When the sheriff was unavailable, my grandfather was required to be the
government's official witness to the administration of its ultimate
justice. According to my mother, he was vehemently opposed to capital
punishment. The executions he was forced to witness always made him
One of those occasions was even more horrific than usual, and it became a
cause celebre. It happened in March 1935, when a woman named Tomasina
Teolis Saro (sometimes found in records as Thomasina Sarao) was hanged for
her role in the murder of her husband. "Arthur Ellis" (the pseudonym for
Arthur English, "Official Executioner to the Dominion of Canada") used the
wrong body weight in calculating the length of rope needed. He said it was
because he didn't have access to her, while others said he had been
drinking. When Saro, 32 pounds heavier than Ellis's calculations, dropped
through the trap, she was decapitated. She was not the first executed
person to suffer this fate, but she was the only woman, and this
sensationalized the gruesome reality even more in the public imagination.
Not that botched executions were rare. When Whelan met his end in Ottawa
138 years ago, newspaper accounts described his prolonged and agonizing
death. Apparently it took him nearly five minutes to die at the end of the
rope, choking and retching in the February air. One ex-con described a
horrible scene in Toronto's Don Jail that saw two guards pulling on the
legs of the hanging man, trying to hasten a death that, it was said, took
While other countries moved to different modes of execution, Canada stuck
with hanging for all the executions performed in our name since
Confederation. After killing 710 people (697 men and 13 women), our
government finally put an end to capital punishment with a moratorium that
began in 1967, 5 years after Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas (who did not
know each other) were placed back to back, blindfolded, noosed and dropped
jointly into eternity -- the last victims of the death penalty in this
Perhaps symbolically, it was not a neat job, again because of a weight and
rope miscalculation. The 54-year-old Lucas, who did not die instantly like
Turpin, was partially decapitated.
The death penalty in Canada was eliminated formally in the summer of 1976,
when a free vote in the House gave abolitionists a slim majority of 6
votes. 11 years later, the Mulroney government's motion to reinstate it
was defeated by 21 votes. 10 years after that, the Canadian Police
Association called for the return of the death penalty in certain cases --
and was informed categorically by then-justice minister Anne McLellan that
this was simply not on the agenda.
Like the close votes, public sentiment around capital punishment has
always been divided. Still is -- although, unlike that of the politicians,
majority public opinion has usually favoured the death penalty.
Now, 20 years after the last Commons defeat and 10 years after McLellan
said no, a sensational trial in British Columbia is sparking some calls
for reinstatement. Add to that the model provided by our next-door
neighbour, with whom we are daily developing closer ties in all things,
and there's a danger that the war may not be entirely won. (Since the end
of a four-year moratorium in 1976 -- the same year Canada finally ended
the barbarism -- the U.S. has executed 1,060 people, 35 per cent of them
South of the border, there are still lots of people who feel that the
death penalty is not only acceptable, but also a fit punishment and
deterrent. In lesser but still frightening numbers, there are people in
Canada who believe the same. That is why we need to remind ourselves of
Whelan, Coffin, Saro and the rest.
The ghosts of our bungled history haunt our collective conscience,
speaking to us over and over of moral duty. No, they remind us, never
(source: Janice Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen)
Iraqi High Tribunal Should Not Impose Death Penalty in Dujail Trial ----
Don't Add Death Penalty to Dujail Sentence
The Iraqi High Tribunal should not impose the death penalty against former
Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, especially given the lack of
evidence linking him to the alleged crimes, Human Rights Watch and the
International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) said today. The
Dujail Trial Chamber is expected to hold a hearing today to determine
whether Ramadans life sentence should be increased to death.
In a 300-page judgment issued on November 5, 2006, the tribunal's Trial
Chamber found Ramadan guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him
to life imprisonment. Defense counsel appealed this decision on December
5. On December 26, the tribunal's Appeals Chamber issued a 17-page
judgment confirming Ramadans conviction and, without giving any reasons,
returned the case to the Trial Chamber to increase the penalty to a death
"The tribunal found Ramadan guilty without evidence linking him to the
horrific crimes committed in Dujail," said Richard Dicker, director of the
International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Ramadan was
convicted in an unfair trial, and increasing his punishment from life
imprisonment to death reeks of vengeance."
In November 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report, "Judging Dujail: The
First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal", that highlighted a number of
serious flaws in the Dujail trial, including the lack of evidence linking
Ramadan to the underlying criminal acts. That same month, the ICTJ issued
"Dujail: Trial and Error?", in which it also raised concerns about the
fairness of the trial proceedings, including actions by the Iraqi
government that threatened the Iraqi High Tribunals independence and
impartiality from the outset.
The 2 reports also highlighted the tribunal's failures to disclose key
evidence to the defense, violations of the defendants right to question
prosecution witnesses, and the presiding judges demonstrations of bias.
The findings of the 2 reports were based on 10 months of observation,
dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and an
analysis of the evidence presented in the case, conducted by Human Rights
Watch and the ICTJ.
The Ba'ath Party's "Popular Army" militia was alleged to have arrested
suspects and delivered them to the custody of the General Intelligence
Directorate and the General Security Directorate following the
assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein in Dujail in 1982. Ramadan
was the national commander of the Popular Army, yet no evidence was
presented at trial concerning the army's command structure, the actual and
legal authority of Ramadan as army commander, his relationship to the
armys operational commander on the ground in Dujail, and the reporting
lines between Ramadan and his subordinates. Instead, the judgment relies
heavily on broad inferences drawn from Ramadans superior position and
proximity to Saddam Hussein, who was convicted and swiftly hanged for his
role in the Dujail killings.
"The Appeals Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal acted too hastily and did
not conduct a serious review of the evidentiary and fairness shortcomings
in the Dujail trial," said Miranda Sissons, head of the ICTJs Iraq
Program. "Instead of a sound verdict, the victims were dealt a flawed
process. Executing Taha Yassin Ramadan will further deprive them of the
chance to see him face justice for other egregious crimes."
Human Rights Watch has spent nearly two decades documenting the widespread
human rights violations committed by the former Iraqi government of Saddam
Hussein and campaigning for those responsible to be brought to justice.
These violations include the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in
northern Iraq as part of the 1998 Anfal campaign. The victims, including
women, children and the elderly, were selected because they were Kurds who
remained on their traditional lands in zones outside of areas controlled
The ICTJ worked in Iraq prior to the beginning of the Dujail trial and
since then has played a crucial role in monitoring the trial, evaluating
the trial dossiers, and corresponding with tribunal staff.
Both organizations are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances,
as it is an inherently cruel and inhuman punishment.
(source: Human Rights Watch)
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