[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Sep 26 20:21:57 CDT 2007
Europe Spearheads Drive to End Capital Punishment
Italy's leader urged United Nations member states to back a resolution
declaring a moratorium on the death penalty, saying the worldwide campaign
had reached a "decisive moment."
Prime Minister Romano Prodi told the General Assembly in New York City
Tuesday evening that the resolution "will prove that human beings today
are better than they were yesterday also in moral terms."
The resolution Italy is promoting with the European Union's support calls
for a universal moratorium on the death penalty, ahead of eventual total
In an open letter published in Italian, French and Spanish dailies earlier
Tuesday, Prodi acknowledged that the campaign faced challenges. "We know
that we cannot harbor illusions. The battle against capital punishment is
a difficult one, because many countries still practice it."
To pass, the resolution will need the backing of two-thirds of the 192
U.N. member states, or 128 votes, and Prodi told the meeting that Italy
had been working hard to muster the necessary support.
According to Italy's mission to the U.N., an earlier Italian-led
declaration on the subject was signed by 85 nations last December and
another 10 subsequently. It called on countries with the death penalty "to
abolish it completely and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on
Amnesty International (AI) says 133 countries have abolished the death
penalty in law or in practice, while 64 other countries and territories
In 2006, 25 countries carried out executions, the rights group says. It
recorded 1,591 executions last year, of which at least 1,010 took place in
China (although AI says the true figure in China could be as high as
Elsewhere in 2006, "Iran executed 177 people, Pakistan 82 and Iraq and
Sudan each at least 65. There were 53 executions in 12 states in the
Although any General Assembly resolution will not be legally binding on
member states, "it would carry a heavy moral and political weight of
united international pressure," according to AI.
European institutions are at the forefront of the international campaign
to outlaw capital punishment, and the 47-nation Council of Europe (CoE)
says one of its top priorities is "to make abolition a universally
Having achieved a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty across Europe
(Belarus, a non-member, is the sole exception), the CoE says it is working
to extend the prohibition to countries that have observer status,
primarily the U.S. and Japan.
European politicians and officials frequently characterize an anti-penalty
stance as a "European value."
When Poland's conservative government this month went against the E.U.
consensus on the issue of the death penalty, left-wing critics in the
European Parliament questioned its commitment to "European values."
A year earlier, when Polish President Lech Kaczynski argued in favor of
reinstating capital punishment, E.U. Commission spokesman Stefaan de Rynck
reacted by declaring that "the death penalty is not compatible with
Yet in Europe, as in the U.S., opinion polls have for years reflected
significant levels of support for the death penalty.
At an Oct. 2006 press conference in Brussels marking the "world day
against the death penalty," CoE Secretary-General Terry Davis conceded
that "many Europeans are still in favor of the death penalty."
"This is not something we can ignore," he said. "We need to go out and
explain to people why the death penalty is wrong, why it has been
abolished and why it should stay abolished."
In a separate statement the same day, Rene van der Linden, head of the
CoE's parliamentary assembly, referred to member states having "the
political will and courage to abolish the death penalty despite the
potential unpopularity of the measure."
Soeren Kern, senior fellow in transatlantic relations at the Strategic
Studies Group in Madrid, Spain, says that although support for the death
penalty has been declining on both sides of the Atlantic, there is in fact
little difference between Americans and Europeans on the matter.
"Despite all the media hype, public opinion polls consistently show that
Europeans and Americans hold similar views on the death penalty," he said
Tuesday, adding that "roughly half" of Europeans and "roughly half" of
Americans support it.
Kern said there were questions about the basis to Europe's anti-death
"Many analysts say that European opposition to the death penalty has
little to do with morality, and much to do with the desire by European
elites to build a European identity that is based on being different from
the United States," he said.
"Because there is no such thing as a pan-European identity -- unlike, say,
a French identity or a German identity -- Europeans, who for centuries
have been the primary champions of the death penalty, now say they are
purveyors of a superior morality in a contrived effort to be better than
the United States," he said.
LATIN AMERICA: Broad Support for UN Moratorium
Many Latin American governments have not yet adopted a position, or have
not communicated one, but the majority trend in the region appears to be
to support the resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty proposed
by a number of countries to the United Nations General Assembly. The
motion in favour of a global suspension of executions, which Amnesty
International describes as only one step away from outright abolition of
capital punishment, will be supported by Brazil, according to a Foreign
Ministry statement received by IPS.
The communiqu says that Brazils position at the U.N. General Assembly will
be "above all to abolish the death penalty," as this country itself did in
1979. At present the maximum prison sentence in Brazil is 30 years.
Complete abolition of capital punishment is among the human rights goals
Brazil proposed to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Foreign
But if this goal is not achieved, "Brazil will support the moratorium,"
and if this is not agreed either, Brazil "will keep a watching brief to
ensure that application of the death penalty follows international
standards, that is, international human rights law," said the statement
from the centre-left government of Luiz Incio Lula da Silva.
Perly Cipriano, deputy secretary for the defence of human rights at the
Special Secretariat on Human Rights of the Presidency of Brazil, told IPS
that this is indeed Brazil's strategy, and pointed out that the country
has historically maintained this stance at international forums.
However, Cipriano stressed that although the death penalty had been
officially abolished in Brazil, "hundreds of political prisoners were
killed during the dictatorship (1964-1985) in military and police
establishments, and those deaths were not officially recognised."
He said that only recently had the Lula administration published the book
"Direito Memria e Verdade" (The Right to Memory and Truth), in which for
the 1st time the state accepts responsibility for those deaths.
Argentina, where capital punishment was abolished for common crimes in
1984, appears to be following Brazil's lead as regards the moratorium,
proposed for consideration at the 62nd U.N. General Assembly, which opened
on Sept. 18, with general debate beginning Tuesday.
A source at the Argentine Foreign Ministry's office on human rights told
IPS that the resolution for a moratorium, sponsored by a number of
countries including leading EU countries, has not yet been sent to the
Nstor Kirchner administration, but added that Argentina "is totally
prepared to support it."
In Venezuela, where capital punishment was abolished by the constitution
for all crimes in 1863, no official position for the U.N. General Assembly
has yet been taken. However, sources consulted by IPS said the government
is leaning towards voting in favour of the international moratorium on
Caracas is also likely to give its support to Mexico City, which formally
abolished the last vestiges of the death penalty in the armed forces in
2005. In practice, though, no one has been executed in Mexico since 1961.
Sources at the Mexican Foreign Ministry told IPS that the question has not
yet been defined, but said at the same time that the administration of
Felipe Caldern "is completely against the death penalty."
The most likely outcome is that Mexico will support the proposal. At the
2nd summit between Mexico and the EU, held in Guadalajara, Mexico in May
2004, the parties signed an agreement, article 7 of which declared "a firm
mutual commitment" to the universal abolition of capital punishment.
Caldern belongs to the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which is
against capital punishment. The Mexican Supreme Court will not extradite
any person to a country where they might face the risk of being sentenced
However, in Peru, President Alan Garca has other ideas. He wants to bring
back the death penalty and has introduced a draft law to that effect in
Congress, where it has not yet been debated.
Activists therefore take the view that Peru will oppose the moratorium.
"If the governing party lawmakers are in favour of the death penalty, Peru
will vote against the moratorium at the U.N.," the president of the local
chapter of Amnesty International, Ismael Vega Daz, told IPS.
Cuba and Guatemala are the only countries in Latin America that retain the
death penalty for ordinary crimes. It has been abolished even for the
military courts by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico,
Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela.
But this is not the case in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador
and Peru, where the death penalty is retained for exceptional
circumstances, under the Military Code and for certain crimes in wartime.
The generalised opposition to capital punishment by governments in the
region does not, however, keep the issue from cropping up again during
periods of increased public insecurity, when certain sectors begin to
This happened in Argentina in the 1990s, when amid a wave of violent
robberies and kidnappings, then President Carlos Menem (1989-1999)
suggested reinstating the death penalty for cases of kidnapping in which
the hostages were subsequently murdered.
However, human rights organisations mobilised against the initiative and
it did not prosper.
In Brazil, too, the debate has been reactivated by the increasing sense of
urban insecurity. Eloisa Machado and Daniela Ikawa, of the Sao Paulo-based
Conectas Human Rights, told IPS that "the view that social problems will
be solved by stiffer sentences is widespread."
But that just appears to be "an easy way out, whereas its completely
inefficient as a solution for the problems that deeply afflict a large
part of Brazilian society, such as poverty, unemployment, poor quality
education, inadequate housing and the lack of human security," for which
structural solutions are needed, the human rights lawyers said.
In Mexico, in spite of the governments stance against the death penalty,
debate is stirring again, although without any changes in practice.
According to a February opinion poll by AP-Ipsos in Mexico, 71 % of
respondents were in favour of the death penalty and 26 % were against.
However, when the question was put differently and interviewees were asked
to select a penalty for a person found guilty of murder, only 46 % chose
Meanwhile, Peru may join Cuba and Guatemala if the Garca administrations
draft law, reintroducing the death penalty for rapists of children under 7
who kill their victims, is passed.
The initiative will be debated again in the Constitutional Commission, the
commission chairman Javier Velsquez Quesqun told IPS, because "conditions
are now more favourable" for its approval.
Velsquez Quesqun pointed out that this was an electoral promise of Garcas,
as "the country wants tougher sentences for sex offenders."
Amnestys Vega Daz said he was concerned by the announcement. "When the
International Day Against the Death Penalty is coming up (on Oct. 10), its
very bad news that the governing party is insisting on its bill" to
reinstate it, he said.
In Guatemala the death penalty is on the books, but there have been no
executions since 2000 because of a legal vacuum which prevents condemned
prisoners from asking for a presidential pardon, and exhausting all legal
means of defence.
During the administration of Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004), Congress
repealed the 1892 Pardons Law. Since then the country has lacked
procedures for convicts to exercise their right to apply for a pardon, an
amnesty or a commuted sentence.
In order to overcome the impasse that has been keeping 21 death row
inmates in limbo, the rightwing Unionist Party (PU) submitted a draft law
to Congress in 2006 that would restore the procedure for applying for a
(source: IPS News -- With additional reporting by Marcela Valente
(Argentina), Diego Cevallos (Mexico), ngel Pez (Peru) and Humberto Mrquez
Hanging delayed: Supreme Court stays domestic help's ganging
The execution of a domestic servant convicted of killing five of a family
here in 2003 will not take place as scheduled on Thursday, an official of
the city jail said Wednesday.
"The hanging has been stayed by the Supreme Court," said A. Minz, jail
superintendent of the Birsa Munda Central Jail here.
Minz said he received the copy of the court order Wednesday.
In April earlier this year, a special Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI) court here had convicted Pal of killing the 5 members of the family
he worked for, and gave him the death sentence. The Jharkhand High Court
on Aug 28 upheld the CBI court's verdict.
On Sep 5, the CBI court fixed Sep 27 as the date for hanging as the
accused had neither appealed in the Supreme Court nor sought any clemency
from the governor or the president.
Ajay Pal, a resident of Jhalda in West Bengal, killed the 5 members of a
family on June 2, 2003 by burning them alive. He was working as domestic
servant with the family of Dhirendra Kumar.
Pal was reportedly unhappy with behaviour of Kumar's wife. He first
poisoned the food, which the family members took in dinner. Later, when
they were sleeping, he burnt them alive by sprinkling petrol in the house.
Those killed included Dhirendra's wife, his son Harshit, niece Anmol,
nephew Ayan Kumar and domestic help Kaleshwar Mahto. When the incident
took place Dhirendra was then away from Ranchi.
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