[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jan 4 21:32:34 UTC 2007
Death is death is death: Short HR course for UNs new Secretary General
Ban Ki-Moon managed to start his job as UN Secreatry General making a
U-turn to UN's traditional opposition to death penalty. Well done Ban!
Maybe it would be time to read up a bit on ethics and international law.
So the New Year has started and it did not take long to see that we are
still in the same world full of stupidities, problems and lack of
commitment. Something confirmed by the actions of the new Secretary
General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, when commenting the death penalty of
On his first day in office Ban Ki-Moon made a complete turn in UNs
traditional strong stand against the use of death penalty, while refusing
to condemn the use of it, instead pointing at each nations right to decide
on the use of this punishment or not, and its consistency with
For a so called "first impression" stand point - and indeed New Year
standpoint! - on international law and ethics I would have hoped for a
less medieval stand by Ban Ki-Moon. It is clear that the death penalty is
a violation to just about every human right starting with human dignity
and right to life.
On an ethical side it is questionable why a state would posses a bigger
right to take someones unquestionable right to life then other humans, and
that "evil" could ever justify "evil". On a practical level it is hard to
see what is gained with statistics showing higher murder rates as a
consequence of the use of death penalty in the US states still
implementing it, and with for example Kurds asking why Saddam was killed
before put on trial for genocide on Kurds.
Today there are only 65 countries that allow death penalty (including
South Korea - Ban Ki-Moons home country), a number sturdily decreasing.
2005 executions only took place in 22 states, clearly indicating that we
are moving away from an outdated ethic and practice (China is still
dominating and US of course). Still, US are a defender of death penalty,
in strong contrast the EU. The UN has officially always kept a firm line
against the use of death penalty, even in the case of war crimes, crimes
against humanity and genocide, something for example clearly stated in
recent weeks by the UN representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.
That Ban Ki-Moon chose to diverge from this line, and the line of Kofi
Annan, I think is a very unpleasant start for 2007.
If the UN fails to defend human rights and the rightful implementation and
development of international law - what is then the purpose of the
And what, to go to the extreme, would be the consequences of for example
international tribunals implementing death penalty with the support of UN?
Could the majority of the world that has condemned death penalty even
support such institutions?
No, Ban Ki-Moon. We expect something more from the Secretary General of UN
and you can expect an unpleasant starting time unless you read up on the
federal core ideas of human rights, international law and progressive
international institutions setting the individual before state
(source: Asa Gunven, The New Federalist)
A Question of Justice
Justice in Iraq has not been served by Saddam Hussein's execution, and
more, not less violence, is the likely outcome of this vengeful and unwise
act. Hussein was a cruel tyrant, and no doubt was culpable for many
heinous crimes -- including, possibly, those for which he was convicted
But he was rushed to trial well before the Iraqi legal system, which had
crumbled through years of Baath party rule, had regained the capacity to
fairly and effectively administer a complex international criminal trial.
The case arose from the summary executions of 148 men and boys from
Dujail, a Shiite Muslim village northwest of Baghdad, after a 1982
assassination attempt there against Hussein, the Sunni Muslim president.
Hussein and his co-defendants were not the direct perpetrators of the
killings, but were alleged to be instigators and planners. Hence, the case
raised intricate issues of criminal responsibility, and involved special
forensic challenges due to the age of the evidence. Such a trial would be
a challenge for a healthy legal system, let alone one that had suffered
decrepitude and many years' isolation from the international legal system.
Hussein and his co-defendants were brought before a tribunal that had
originally been constituted through a 2003 order of the U.S.-led Coalition
Provisional Authority. The CPA -- and the Iraqis -- insisted on Iraqi-led
proceedings, instead of a mixed or purely international tribunal, that
would have drawn on the expertise of experienced international lawyers and
judges. American lawyers provided the tribunal only non-binding advice.
More reliable and fair mechanisms were sacrificed for political goals: to
rejuvenate the Iraqi legal system; to speedily dispatch Hussein and
thereby deflate the Sunni insurgency seeking his return to power; and,
perhaps, to deprive the defendants of the wider pulpit an international
tribunal would have afforded.
The result was predictable: a trial seriously marred by irregularities
that undermined the integrity of the verdict. 3 defense attorneys were
murdered during the proceedings, and a fourth was abducted and wounded.
Intense political pressure was exerted on the court, leading to the
mid-trial resignation of the presiding judge. Prosecutors were recurrently
late or failed to provide the defense with evidence, including some that
was exculpatory. Human Rights Watch carefully monitored the trial, and
reported serious gaps in the evidence against the accused.
The case already echoed the Sunni-Shiite sectarian struggle that is
tearing Iraq asunder. Nothing in the administration of the trial
diminished that resonance. This year, the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha began
on Saturday for Sunnis, and Sunday for Shiites. When the judge
representing the Iraqi tribunal was told that Hussein's Saturday execution
would violate an Iraqi law barring such actions on holidays, he allegedly
snapped: "Sunday is the official beginning of Eid al-Adha." Hussein's
executioners, by dialect and skin tone discernibly Shiite, taunted and
cursed him in his final moments.
A scrupulously fair trial for Hussein could have edified the legal system
within Iraq, and fortified the principle of accountability for violations
of human rights everywhere. Instead, it affirms that the institutions of
the Iraqi state are still the instruments of sectarian vengeance, only
with the tables turned.
People in the region are likely to remember that many of Hussein's most
terrible crimes -- including the launching of an aggressive war against
Iran that consumed nearly a million Iraqi and Iranian lives -- were
committed with the active support of the United States. They will also
contrast U.S. sponsorship of the Hussein trial with our government's 2003
role in suspending the investigation of a Belgian court into then Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's culpability in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila
massacres. Up to 2,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were slaughtered
by Israel's Lebanese allies, acts for which Sharon's own government had
held him indirectly responsible. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, primarily concerned over possible prosecutions of U.S. officials
for war crimes in Iraq, threatened to move NATO headquarters from Belgium
if the law establishing that country's jurisdiction for the case were not
changed. Soon thereafter, the case against Sharon was put on indefinite
Many will say that the real offense for which Hussein paid with his life
was not the mass killings that he likely ordered, but that he eventually
crossed the United States. Is that the lesson that we wish the world to
draw: It's our way, or the gallows?
(source: George Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the
Law and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East; San
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