Voices for Death Row Inmates to stage second, bigger London event

It’s great to know that coordinated support is growing in the UK for the abolitionist cause. The UK group Voices for Death Row Inmates are organising their second peaceful protest in London this year, this time to coincide with World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10th October 2010, whose primary focus this year is the USA.

The Facebook event page invites you to sign up to attend if you know you can definitely make it – and more details will become available closer to the day.

The October protest will build on the April event, which was supported by Abolition UK and speakers from overseas.

“The day was a fantastic success. Many friendships where formed and it was a highly emotional day.

To coincide with World Day Against the Death Penalty, Voices for Death Row Inmates will be holding another protest outside the US Embassy to show the US authorities that we do not agree with them murdering other men and woman as a punishment. We will stand in solidarity with others who do not agree with this outdated, cruel and unusual punishment”

Confirmed speakers are:

Michael O’Brien – wrongfully conflicted of murder, spent 11 years in jail.
Juan Melendez – spent 18 years on Florida’s death row.
Jo Berry – Jo talks about forgiveness. Her father was killed by the IRA in Brighton.
Connie Wright – Connie sat and watched as her husband was executed by the state of Texas.
Bente Hjortshoj – witnessed her good friend executed by the state of Texas.
Gabi Uhr – Gabi has witnessed two executions.
Susanne Cardona – Chairperson of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Sandie Blanton – witnessed the execution of her fiancée Reginald Blanton

Please join the action on 10th October and lend your voice to help support those living in intolerable circumstances in the USA, facing execution, often for crimes THEY DID NOT COMMIT. Taking a life for a life is always reprehensible, but not only are there significant risks in the USA of miscarriage of justice, but in many cases – such as that of  Jeff Wood – the sentence of death was brought KNOWING the defendant did not commit the crime, but under Texas’ capricious and extreme Law of Parties.

Other things you can do:

Voices for Death Row Inmates Ceramic Mug

Don't be a mug - visit the VfDRI website

Please visit the merchandise pages for Voices for Death Row Inmates and make a donation or buy an item. Money raised from merchandise sales are used to help fund the expenses related to mobilising speakers and continuing to raise the profile of the cause.

Visit Abolition UK’s pages and perhaps support or attend their summer events. Jo Royston, founder of Abolition UK, travels to summer Green fairs and Peace fairs to promote the cases of several prisoners facing execution. She (and others amongst us) can also be booked to speak at student and other events about the facts behind the death penalty.

Join The Optimism Club Facebook Group and see events and causes posted there – and feel free to add your own or contribute to discussions.

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Greg Wright: Peter Bellamy speaks out in memoriam in London

The following is the text of a speech made by Peter Bellamy on the occasion of the protest against the death penalty outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London, on Friday 30th April 2010, organised by Voices for Death Row Inmates.

Peter Bellamy speaks outside the US Embassy, London UK

*     *     *

The date October 30th 2008 will forever live in my memory. It was the day my friend, Gregory Edward Wright, was wilfully and wrongfully executed by the State of Texas, USA. His final words to me were:

“I sure did not want to be writing a letter like this to you. If you are reading this, then you know the State of Texas has killed me. I am going to the other side of the door with my head held high. I know I am innocent, and the people killing me will suffer, when their time comes, for the crime against me. Thanks Peter for all of the help and the support. I hope I will be able to see you again.

With brotherly love, much respect, big hug, Greg.”

My correspondence and support of Greg lasted approximately three and a half years, from Spring 2005 to the day of his execution in October 2008. We exchanged hundreds of letters in that time, and I was able to speak with him on the telephone from Dallas, when he was having his DNA test and taking a polygraph; also, minutes before the execution. We became good friends and I came to understand the deficiencies of his trial and the broken system of US justice in respect of the death penalty. Gregory Edward Wright was innocent of murder.

In a polygraph volunteered by Greg, and paid for by his supporters, he protested his innocence. The conclusion of the polygraph expert was:

“After 3 test charts and a number of stimulus tests were administered, an analysis of the polygraph charts was made, and in my professional opinion Mr Wright is being truthful in all his answers to the relevant test questions.”

The story

Greg was accused of the murder of a woman in DeSoto, on the edge of Dallas. John Adams was separately tried and convicted of the same crime. Donna Vick, the victim, was in fact a friend, a good Samaritan, who offered Greg accommodation in exchange for help around the house and in the grounds outside. They became good friends in a very short time and Greg was able to get to grips with life again after time on the street following the temporary loss of his licence for a minor traffic offense. He was a long-distance truck-trailer driver. Donna and Greg identified a job opportunity for him nearby, but it required two people, and Greg remembered another homeless person, Adams, whom he thought would also be interested. Greg and Donna picked Adams up from Dallas with the idea that he would stay overnight with them in Donna’s home, and then set off early to try to get the jobs. During the evening, after a disagreement between Donna and Adams, the murder was committed while Greg was in the bathroom. He is deaf in one ear and thought the noise was coming from the TV. By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late to help Donna. It was at that point that Greg made his mistake – and it cost him his life in turn. Because Adams had pulled an assailant off him in a fight some weeks earlier, he thought he owed Adams a favour and didn’t report the murder. Over the next 24 hours, Adams decided he was likely to be identified as the killer from the evidence left in Donna’s stolen car. So he set Greg up to take the blame by planting the jeans and murder weapon in and close to the hut where Greg was sleeping out. In fact they had both shared the hut for a time. Adams made two 911 calls to the police, or rather the first was made by a businessman who reported Adams first confession. Then after wandering off, Adams made a second call himself. Greg’s defence attorneys were never told of that first 911 call until minutes before the start of the trial. And then they said the tapes could not be produced because they had been lost, in spite of the evidence that they had been delivered to the Prosecutor’s office. Because the tapes could not be produced, the evidence of Adams confession was deemed by the trial judge to be inadmissible in court. The jury never heard of it before making their judgment.

The trial

The indictment against Greg was as the sole killer. During the trial the prosecution tried to hedge their bets implying that even if the jury was unconvinced that the evidence proved he committed murder, they could convict on the law of parties. At that time the judge ruled they could not use that claim. However, the jury heard it, and was undoubtedly influenced by it. Also the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Criminal Appeals, in their final rejection of Greg’s appeals, used that same claim.

During the trial, the prosecution committed other inexcusable and illegal strategies to ensure Greg’s conviction. They hired an out-of-State ‘forensic expert’ to testify that he could identify a fingerprint taken at the scene as belonging to Greg. That, in spite of rebuttals of such possibility, both from State forensic officials and an independent forensic expert found by the prosecution, told the jury that he could not demonstrate by any means how he came to his conclusions of a match to Greg, but they would have to take his word for it. In other words, he was using ‘junk science’ to give the prosecution what they wanted. The defence attorneys failed to protect Greg’s constitutional rights in respect of this evidence, and it could therefore not be effectively challenged later by more competent appeal attorneys.

Prosecutorial games

Greg was denied DNA testing until the final months of his life, and then I and other supporters were obliged to pay for it. The prosecutors and trial judge then chose to interpret the inconclusive results against Greg, in spite of the fact that Adams DNA was found on the jeans, claimed by the prosecution to have been worn by the killer. Adams always denied having ever worn the jeans. Greg had admitted having tried them on once, as they had been included in a package sent to him by his family. But they were too small for Greg as was evidenced by physical measurements taken of his at the time of his arrest. In contrast, the jeans were the correct size to fit Adams. There was other evidence that Greg had been seen wearing jeans of a different colour and character, earlier on the day of the crime. In its final conclusions to the final appeal by Greg, the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Criminal Appeals, on the 29th October 2008, one day before Greg’s execution, said this:

“The recent [DNA] profile match clearly favours Wright to some degree, as it renders it more probable that Adams wore the jeans [used by the killer] at some point. However, even assuming that Adams wore the jeans at the time of the murder, there is still substantial evidence that Wright actively participated in the stabbings. In sum, the cumulative effect of the DNA testing and Adams’ letters cannot possibly amount to clear-and-convincing evidence that no reasonable jury could have convicted Wright of the murder. Wright has failed to make the threshold showing of innocence necessary to file a subsequent application pursuant to clause 2244 Accordingly, we need not consider the merits of Wright’s underlying claims for habeas relief.”

This verdict was described by his Defense Attorney as ‘legal fraud’ since Greg had never been on trial under the unique and much criticized Law of Parties, still employed in Texas. Also the ‘substantial evidence’ referred to by the court had already been shown by the defence to have no credibility of fact – including as it did the disputed fingerprint, unreliable evidence from a drug dealer suspected of having been given an undeclared deal of immunity, and evidence of other prosecutorial misconduct including the withholding of the 911 tapes and the confession made in them by Adams.

The confession

Finally, Adams himself had written letters of confession in the weeks just before Greg’s execution. Although later in court he had withdrawn his confession, which specifically absolved Greg of any complicity or function in the killing of Donna Vick, it is inconceivable that he would have made such multiple confessions, taking the risk that it would have been accepted as valid by the court. Especially since he had already gained a court order for the review of his own sentence. Had his confession been accepted as true then that sentence review would have almost certainly failed to alter his own sentence of death. Hi subsequent denial of the substance of his confession was then, motivated by the need to save his own life. As an addendum to the written confession, Adams specifically made this statement:

“My name is John Wade Adams. I want the record clear that Greg Wright is innocent of the crime he’s here on death row for. If you kill him you are killing an innocent man. Greg Wright was used as a scapegoat. I’m doing this because I’m tired of seeing innocent people being killed for murders they’ve not done. The statement I made is a lie, the one I made at the time of our arrest. Greg Wright is innocent! I was there and I know better. I set him up.”

He went on to say:

“If the District Attorney and Judge can’t accept [this confession] then his murder is on their hands. I set Maverick (Greg’s nickname in prison) up for the crime. Now here’s my fingerprint seven times. If they can’t get this right then they are dumb!”

Final words

Can I end by reading to you the statement Greg made from the gurney moments before the lethal drugs were pumped into his body?:

Greg Wright

“There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity intact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep him from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my Commercial Driver’s License was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there was anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adams. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin’ for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the TV was up too loud. I ran into the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in the heart, and that’s what killed her. I told John Adams, ‘Turn yourself in or hit the high road.’ I owed him a favour because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my family. I’ll be waiting on y’all. I’m finished talking.”

An innocent life was taken that day. Greg rests in peace, but the United States should hang its head in shame. Please, abolish the death penalty.

Peter Bellamy

http://www.freegregwright.com

Belarus: Capital punishment’s last stand in Europe

Article copied from Belarus Digest. Very interesting to get some perspective on the last remaining European nation to cling to capital punishment. Belarus flies in the face of European law, and is refused membership of the EU or Council of Europe because of its stance. As with many of the retentionist nations, this status is characterised by a lack of transparency. The first step being addressed by Human Rights organisations is to push for more information on the processes and statistics around executions, so that we can have a clearer idea of what we are working with. If such nations are proud of their record on the death penalty and human rights then they should have nothing to fear or hide from the rest of the world.

Capital Punishment in Belarus

Map showing Belarus in Europe

Belarus, the last retentionist nation in Europe

Last week Belarusians Andrey Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk were secretly executed in the Minsk Detention Center No. 1. They were informed of the execution only minutes before they were shot. Their families were not notified that the execution would take place, given the bodies after the execution, or told where the executied were buried. Having circumnavigated the globe by means of the foreign media, the news of the executions has still not been confirmed by the Belarusian authorities. The official notification of the punishment will probably take months.

Secrecy a-la Felix Dzerzhinsky is how the capital punishment is routinely carried out in Minsk, a city in the heart of Europe (dis?)graced with a 10.5-foot-tall statue of the founder of the Soviet secret police. Belarus is the only European country that still carries out the capital punishment. In the 21st century even Russia observes moratorium on the death penalty.

Capital punishment is prescribed “for especially grave crimes and only in accordance with the verdict of a court of law,” according to Article 24 of the Belarusian Constitution. The “grave crimes” include treason, conspiracy to seize state power, sabotage, and murder of a police officer. With a population of approximately ten million, Belarus has executed about 400 people since 1991, according to Amnesty International’s estimate.

Last week the heads of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have condemned the execution pointing out that “the UN Human Rights Committee was still considering individual applications” on Zhuk’s and Yuzepchuk’s cases. They have yet again “called on the Belarusian government to suspend the enforcement of the penalty.”

Responding to criticism in the past, Minsk used to call capital punishment an internal affair. It would also bring up the 1996 referendum, in which the Belarusians people voted against abolishing the death penalty (not in the least because the second best alternative was a mere 15-year-long prison sentence).

Retaining the death penalty has kept Belarus out of the Council of Europe, and by carrying out executions in secrecy Belarus has been violating its commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Revoking or imposing a moratorium on capital punishment – or at least making the information about the executions public – could be Minsk’s small but important step toward Europe. However, the country has not matured enough to belong to the European institutions founded on the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democratic development.

Belarus refuses to revise its stance on capital punishment or even make executions more humane. The authorities ignore valid international criticisms that the Belarusian justice system does not accord with international standards for fair trial, prevent the use of torture (Yuzepchuk’s lawyer contended the defendant was beaten into confessing), or grant the convicted right to a public hearing.

Why are the Belarusian authorities insisting on maintaining the Soviet-like secrecy about the executions? Perhaps because had the Belarusian people aware of the true number of people sentenced to death, the domestic debate on the issue of capital punishment would have been much more energetic and constructive.  

(with thanks to Susanne Cardona of www.gcadp.org, the German Coalition Against the Death Penalty)

Event: Voices for Death Row Inmates – London, UK, April 2010

Please see the Facebook Event Page.

On the 30th April Voices for Death Row Inmates have organized a day of action. This involves London, Ohio, Australia and Texas all confirmed with other locations awaiting location confirmation.

At the London event we will have several guest speakers and hopefully an exonerated former death row inmate. We are proud and honoured to announce that Gilles Denizot has confirmed that he will be there to speak about his life working to end the death penalty.

We are holding this peaceful event to show that the world have not forgotten the inmates who sit awaiting their state sanctioned murder. We urge the U.S to abolish the death penalty. They need to be heard and we are their voice.

So make the 30th April available in your diary and get yourself to London, we all fight for the same thing and so join us in solidarity.

This WILL be a day of success and will be the first of many events held by ”VOICES FOR DEATH ROW INMATES”

Venue: Outside US Embassy, London (tbc)

Say No to the Death Penalty! Day two in Geneva – afternoon plenary session

A daily blog from the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, Geneva, Switzerland

OK – this is a long post – it was a long session!

International and Regional Organizations: commitments to abolition of the death penalty

The afternoon session at the Centre International des Congrès de Genève was a large-scale plenary session with a series of panels. The purpose was to give a ‘state of the world’ overview of where we are at, globally speaking, with the death penalty, and what instruments are at our disposal with regards to both opportunities and challenges/obstacles. This post does get rather long-winded – but please take a moment to read through as there were some very revealing anecdotes and useful points of view given.

First up were representatives from major civil bodies: the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Commission. 

Examples of Instruments at Europe’s disposal

  • Instruments available for Human Rights within Europe include money for funding  – some £8 million is set aside annually for the management of around 16 abolitionist projects around the world.
  • Specific sanctions: internal EU rules prohibit the trade in tools of execution and torture: gallows, guillotines, automatic drug injection systems such as those used in the lethal injection procedure, for example.
  • The Council of Europe has added articles to European Law aimed at human rights and capital punishment is a priority. The Russian Federation is the only state in the Council of Europe not to have adopted this but it has at least set up a moratorium, and no executions have occurred since 1997. Russia is now committed to a path leading to eventual abolition.
  • Additionally, protocol 13 of the Treaty of the Council of Europe has also now been ratified prohibiting executions in wartime.

The Shame of Europe

Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe – it would not sign to the requirements and so was kicked out. It is the sole European state to retain the death penalty.

Staying on-message in Europe

Other things that have been done: lobbying; the Council of Europe organized an international Day against the death Penalty. There is a consciousness that in spite of progress in Europe, the death penalty is still a popular and emotive subject (and potential vote-winner). States require constant persuasion that it is wrong, doesn’t work, and should remain abolished. This, the panellists acknowledged, is a constant struggle.

Observation and intervention in non-member states.

The Council of Europe has a role to intervene in individual cases in the USA and Japan to argue for stays and/or clemency

Next, panellists were asked about current obstacles to abolition. The following were notes I took on the responses

  • Russia and South Africa demonstrate how quickly change can happen. Just a few years ago they both maintained that the death penalty was ‘very popular’ domestically and said they had the high crime rates to warrant it (!.) Today, each of them have either abolished or committed to abolish the death penalty.
  • Anecdotally, Ireland recently hosted a re-introduction debate; which was ended with immediate effect when they realised they would have to leave the European Union. So – international law works.
  • A later panellist told a similar story about a recent visit to Albania, where a discussion about ending culture of blood feuds descended into a positing that re-introducing the death penalty would solve it (because family members would not have to seek vengeance if the state did it for them when a loved one was murdered). Reminding Albania that this would mean having to leave the EU and Council of Europe put a swift end to the argument.
  • This niggling to reinstate the death penalty is a common theme. Individuals respond to heinous crimes by saying we need to bring back the death penalty. This is something which needs to be addressed across Europe at the popular level. The arguments are clear:
    • The death penalty is NOT a deterrent
    • All sorts of practices which once were considered acceptable and normal are today inconceivable in modern culture and for decent people: slavery; restricted franchise for women…
    • DNA advances mean that proof of innocence is increasingly being shown for the wrongfully condemned. Laws of averages imply that this is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider how many wrongfully convicted inmates are still on death rows or worse, have been executed.
  • This popular sentiment obstacle could be overcome in part by creating allies for the cause amongst the business world: corporate social responsibility could include refusal to invest in countries or states where the death penalty exists.

Note – nobody on the panel mentioned educating the young; this however, did come up more than once in the evening session hosted by Journey of Hope  , campaigning organisation run by families of victims, and Joaquim José Martinez , an exoneree (next post).

Human Dignity and the Right to Life

Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture gave an interesting presentation summarising his recent report to the UN on the right to human dignity.  This right is written all across International Law and Codes, and includes treatment of slavery, torture, cruel and inhumane punishment. He made the point that in 1950, only 8 countries had abolished for all crimes, and only 11 more for ‘ordinary crimes’.  At that time, corporal punishment was also practised. Today, corporal punishment is widely considered CIDP (Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Punishment).  So our understanding of what constitutes degrading punishment has evolved.

Today, 138 countries (two-thirds of all states) have abolished the death penalty. Some states continue to separate CIDP from the ‘right to life’ element of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its flavours in constitutional law. e.g. The USA – they do not condone CIDP and yet they do not recognise the right to life. This ‘separate’ interpretation is no longer compelling though – by extension, if every other form of physically injurious punishment is degrading, how can capital punishment not also be cruel?

Nowak believes the UN needs a fresh look at the relationship between human dignity and the right to life to reinforce the connection.

The OSCE (Organisation for Security and C… Of Europe)

This body includes ALL European states and the USA. Of this group, only the USA and Belarus are retentionist. There is no OSCE ‘commitment’ against the death penalty as this requires a consensus – and the USA and Belarus will not agree. But, states have committed to some things, such as making information public. So – the OSCE is able to publish the facts and this increases pressure on the non-conformists to some degree. They are also subject to peer ridicule: the matter of the death penalty is raised at weekly meetings with these states – again this increases pressure on them from outside to abolish.

African nations – summary of approach

First off, it was noted that African nations do comment that the USA still carries out the death penalty, while they are all being asked to sign moratoria – and this sends out an inconsistent signal.

The context in Africa is one of believing that “we cannot afford to keep incorrigible, dangerous individuals in society” so we need to kill them.

The world is divided between retentionists and abolitionists. In Africa this division is serious: culture, history, colonialism have all taken their toll in creating strong pro-death-penalty views. On the other hand, human rights organisations have been able to make some headway putting the opposite case. Efforts across the African nations are focussed on two areas:

  1. How do we disentrench capital punishment from penal codes?
  2. Attempting to embed the ‘right to life’ in national constitutions.

Across the Arab-African world, the only nation to have abolished the death penalty is the smallest – Djibouti. It can’t help but be noticed that most countries across the entire Arab and African region which have the death penalty are Muslim. Islam plays a key role here. Despite many discussions with Sharia Islamists about the right to life, they still promote the death penalty for

  1. Murder
  2. Apostasy (rejection of the Muslim faith)
  3. Adultery

Tales from Asia and the Middle East

Philip Alston of the UN Human Rights Council admits he gets nowhere with the Middle East. In Iran, persistent execution of juveniles is unquestionably against international law. They have no compunction whatsoever about this in Iran. It’s the same in Saudi Arabia. Neither country responds to UN HR Council correspondence.

[Note there was no opportunity ( or time) to ask questions during the course of the afternoon panel. I would have liked to know whether the UN could recommend or enforce further economic sanctions against these countries to force them to talk about Human Rights.]

In the Philippines, the death penalty has been abolished. In effect this is because the Philippines is a great exporter of labour, and they were finding that a lot of its migrant workers were being executed with impunity in the Middle East. So they were forced to get rid of the death penalty themselves in order to get that ‘off their books’.

Singapore: the judge is obliged to sentence a person to death for drug possession, even the smallest amount. There is zero tolerance. This contravenes international law as no due consideration is given to potential extenuating circumstances. Singapore’s reaction to Philips’s attempts to visit is complete rejection. However that said, Singapore’s execution rate has reduced in recent years.

In Indonesia there is currently a stated commitment to the death penalty but ongoing pressure both internal and external to abolish [no opportunity here to ask question about the recent introduction of Sharia Law to national penal code]. Interestingly, in Indonesia there is an inexplicably high number of foreigners on death row. It is unclear whether this is down to police or court discrimination, because obviously it is not just foreigners who handle drugs. But discrimination is surely indicated.

In Thailand there are some 757 currently on death rows in Bangkok alone. These convicts are hungry for information as they are kept completely in the figurative ( and possibly physical) dark. They are permanently shackled, crowded, share cramped dormitories, and have little access to medication and food.

China, India, Pakistan – no invitation to visit is ever extended to Philip: they simply will not countenance meeting with a UN rapporteur for the death penalty and torture. They will however meet with other rapporteurs for ‘softer’ human rights issues. Philip made the point that while abolition is important, we mustn’t lose sight of other wins we can achieve in these geographies, e.g. Question of ‘transparency’. In China, we are told they perpetuate the death penalty because ‘public opinion wants it’. The UN’s response is ‘ does the public know how many citizens are executed, where and why?’ The answer, as we know, is that of course they don’t. The public information is based on no information. Meanwhile, due process was recently introduced in China whereby the central court needs to confirm every single death sentence. This makes it harder for regional courts to be profligate with their  executions. Also of importance, in China the range of ‘serious crimes’ warranting the death penalty, while more rangy than most other retentionist nations, is nonetheless shrinking.

This question of ‘what are the most important crimes?’ is a very sensitive one. In Nigeria for example, it is believed that sodomy destroys the very fabric of society, and is therefore the worst possible crime and must be punished by death.

Say No to the Death Penalty! Geneva, Day 2 – Morning Session

 A daily blog from the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

[Please note, hoping to add some photos later on…]

Today, Tuesday 24th February 2010 is a date that resonates for two reasons.

  • It is the day Hank Skinner was due to be executed in Texas (stay of four weeks granted …)
  • It’s the day the world came together at the United Nations in Geneva to celebrate progress and promote further action against the death penalty.

It was an early start: we’d been advised to turn up in good time to the United Nations building in order to get security-cleared and to guarantee a seat in the main hall. This room is grandly titled ‘Room XX of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations, at the Palais des Nations’, and you’d recognise it from TV – the huge, artistically designed domed ceiling, the circular seating with personal deskspace at each, and comprehensive audio assistance. So exciting! The setting certainly created the atmosphere for a serious gathering of world-class speakers, and it quickly became obvious that there were some genuine icons in human rights present in the room.

 We heard welcoming words from dignitaries from around the world. Countries represented were Switzerland (our hosts), the USA, Benin, France, Argentina, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.  Highlights from the morning included:

Bianca Jagger, Goodwill Ambassador for the death penalty on the Council of Europe. Bianca spoke in detail and with great passion about the gross injustice of the death penalty and admitted that the USA and China’s stance sickened her. She drew particular attention to specific current cases in the USA. She also reminded us that some 42 cases of lethal injection since 1992 have gone horrendously wrong, with inmates insufficiently anaesthetized. 

‘This is not an execution it is a murder. I was stunned and very sad that SCOTUS ruled the lethal injection ‘humane’ in 2008.

 ‘There is a shocking lack of access to executive clemency in USA. Bush is renowned for having said “I am confident that every person executed on my watch was guilty”.  State-sanctioned murder has no place in the modern world. America must get its house in order. ‘

Gry Larsen, Norway’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke eloquently about progress being made, particularly in Europe.

‘The global shift over last 20 yrs shows us it IS possible to choose to abolish,’ she said. ‘Those countries who have abolished have not suffered poor consequences with respect to stability or serious crime. Countries are free to choose and Norway says “The door is open now for greater freedom to choose not to take lives”.  The balance has tipped. In 2008 only 25 nations carried out executions. We have seen rising respect for human dignity. We need more!’

Jean  Asselborn, Foreign Affairs Minister for Luxembourg explained that we have to convince humanity in media, schools, parliaments and through collaboration and he hopes for enlightened public debate at national levels across retentionist states. He congratulated the political courage of Mongolia, Burundi and Togo in abolishing, and additonally hopes that other US states will follow the example in 2009 of New Mexico. He reiterated Bianca Jagger’s insistence that the USA should lead by example.

Robert Badinter, former French Minister for Justice and author of French abolition – France was the 35th country to go the distance in 1985 – and there are now 138 worldwide.

‘Consider Europe’s bloody past and realise what a huge step it is that European states are now forbidden under law to execute!’ he said.

Abdou Diouf, Former President of Senegal, a rare African nation to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. He also spoke inspirationally.

‘Death rows are rows of shame,’ he stated. ‘Man is the remedy to man.’

We also heard from Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish President. Although unfortunately I couldn’t get an instant translation for his speech. But never mind, it was on message for sure, given the applause…

If Britain still had the death penalty…

BBC News:Sean Hodgson in Payout for ‘millions’
(Published on the BBC News website Monday 11th Jan 2010)
Compensation to a County Durham man who spent 27 years in jail for a murder he did not commit could run into the millions, the BBC has learned.

The conviction of Sean Hodgson from Tow Law for killing Teresa De Simone, 22, in Southampton in 1979 was quashed after new DNA evidence came to light. He is pursuing compensation from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Forensic Science Service and Hampshire police.

The MoJ said it could not comment on individual claims. Read more