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 We will stand in solidarity with others who do not agree with this outdated, cruel and unusual punishment”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

Letter to Austin

At the suggestion of Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network , I wrote an email today to Mike Martinez. Scott asked

Mike Martinez on Austin City Council

“For those of you who live in Austin, we are meeting with Austin city council member Mike Martinez on Monday to get his support for a city council resolution for a moratorium on executions. If you live in Austin, send him an email letting him know that it is important to you that the City of Austin endorses a moratorium…. The Austin Human Rights Commission has passed our resolution twice, most recently last Fall. The HRC wrote a letter asking each city council member to support a city council resolution. So, now we are lining up support on the council to pass a resolution.

If you don’t live in Austin, but you have connections to Austin, like you went to school here or used to work here, etc, then you can write too. Mention that you like to visit Austin, and you would like it even more if Austin would take a stand on the death penalty.”

Here’s what I wrote. I don’t apologise if it sounds patronising or naive. Texans need to know that the world thinks they are bonkers. The good councillors of Austin probably possess a degree of rationalism above the rest so I wish Scott and his team the best of luck in their continued endeavour.

Dear Mayor Pro Tem Martinez,
I understand you are meeting with Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network on Monday. As a UK citizen and global traveller, who has had the pleasure of visiting Austin on more than one occasion, I was delighted to hear that you have agreed to accommodate this meeting on a topic which continues to be contentious across Texas, the United States and the rest of the world. I am privileged to reside in Europe, where death is no longer an acceptable form of punishment, and I am confused over the chaotic criminal justice system which seems to be perpetuated in Texas.

Through the work of Scott and his associates, linked with campaigning organisations and Human Rights activists worldwide, Texas’ stance and record on capital punishment continues to be exposed on the global stage as a bizarre anomaly. It seems quite at odds with the advances being made in the United States in arts and culture, business and technology innovation, welfare reform and so on. On a personal level, I enjoy visiting the United States and have done so many times for both work and pleasure, but I have to admit that this crazy reluctance to consider reform of the capital punishment system has me questioning whether I want to visit the State on business again. I know that Austin has a fantastic reputation for its great quality of life, its arts, sports, entertainment, level of education and relative progressiveness. It would mean a great deal to visitors to the City to know that the Council have the courage to make a contrarian call on this most significant matter in the field of Human Rights. Please give open consideration to what Scott and his colleagues will discuss with you and lend your support to the matter of raising a moratorium on capital punishment within the Austin city boundaries. I am confident we will see change in this area in the coming decade; it would be so good to know Austin was one of the first districts willing to take a step in the right direction.

Thank you for giving this email your attention. Though not a citizen, I do have the interests of your citizens at heart.

With kind regards

Kathy

Hope it helps :-S

Hank Skinner: What should we hope for next?

It became clear on Wednesday night, as we celebrated (“crying AND doing the Happy Dance” as my friend Carol Crowe-Leonard said on Twitter), that there was a lot of remaining confusion about exactly WHAT had been granted to Hank Skinner and what that actually meant. It was a relief to see this clarification posted by Change.org. I urge everyone to read it. It looks like there are still a number of weighty ‘Ifs’ between Wednesday’s indefinite stay of execution and freedom for Hank.

Governor Rick Perry and smiling fans

Smiling Perry and fans

So – if the worst happens and the treacle of the American justice system becomes too thick for reason to prevail at the next phase – what chance remains for a reprieve? Well let’s not forget that even if the Supreme Court denies review, there is the final recourse to Governor Rick Perry to continue the stay for an additional 30 days, and to just TEST THE DNA. Would he give the instruction do so? Well, just as the Texas Board of Paroles is a closed and secretive body, it’s hard to read Governor Perry. Instinct would say it’s unlikely. He’s the beloved figurehead of the ‘Hang ‘Em High state’ after all, and he’s busy fighting the corner of his hardcore Republican fanbase on the matter of the healthcare reform bill right now amidst cries of ‘Lead us into secession, Governor Perry, save us from Washington!’. But those cries also mingle with the ones saying ‘Please, Governor Perry, run for President!’ Looking at his snakeoil charm and devout, if misguided, following, and coupling that with the past form of Texas Governors in acceding to the Presidency*, it’s entirely possible that his unstated ambition is that of one day becoming POTUS. And if so, could he in years to come enter into that race knowing that everyone in the Western world had watched him deny a man his last, earnest chance to clear his name?

Opponents of the death penalty tend to look upon Texas as an almost unassailable mountain to climb – it does after all hold the record as the State with most executions under its belt, by a long way – but I can’t help but feel that whatever the outcome for Hank, we have turned a small corner. Perry is in a difficult position, the rationale of the TBPP has again been called into question, and the entire machinery of the capital justice system, which would allow a man’s life to be callously terminated while exculpatory evidence remains, MUST be under increased scrutiny…

So we need to hope that SCOTUS reviews the case for civil appeal. We need to hope that they agree that a constitutional right exists for Hank to have access to the DNA evidence thus far denied. We have to hope the DNA is conclusively in Hank’s favor. And we have to hope that the evidence of his innocence concludes rapidly with a full pardon and release. Above all, we must hope that everything that has happened in Texas since long before Tim Cole and Cameron Todd Willingham, right up to the present day, will be ringing loud and irrepressible alarm bells in courtrooms and police stations across the land.

That’s a lot of hope. I think we’re up for it!!!

Here’s a video interview with Hank’s daughter Natalie soon after we had news of the stay.

* Governor George W. Bush notoriously once claimed that not one innocent man had been executed on his watch.

Protest the planned execution of Hank Skinner on March 24th!

Sandrine and Hank Skinner

Here for the benefit of those not on Facebook is the substance of today’s plea from Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner. With only a few days remaining for the Board of Paroles and Pardons and Governor Perry to grant a stay of execution so that critical DNA materials can be tested, it’s important to do whatever you can to petition the State and secure a chance for Hank.

Too many death row prisoners have been exonerated upon DNA proof of innocence. Too many people have been executed on unsafe grounds. The criminal justice system is not perfect. Please – Help give this man the chance for life he deserves.

*     *     *     *

Hank’s clemency petition is seeking a commutation of Hank’s death sentence to life in prison in order to enable him to prove his innocence and seek a pardon.

WRITE, FAX OR CALL GOVERNOR RICK PERRY

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 512-463-1849

Main number: 512-463-2000
Website email contact form/ http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact/

or use the online letter signing page set up by the Innocence Project here:
http://www.change.org/innocence_project/actions/view/order_dna_testing_for_hank_skinner

THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

All the details of the case are available on the website, however, here are some of the points you can raise:

  • Hank was sentenced to die on the basis of a perjured testimony and circumstantial evidence
  • The accusation theory relied on that one witness, who later recanted and explained how she was threatened to make a false statement to the police and give a deposition at trial which was based on a script supplied by the district attorney’s office
  • Both the State’s star witnesses (Andrea Reed & Howard Mitchell) have testified that they believe Hank to be innocent
  • The little forensic analysis done before his trial excluded him as the killer
  • The additional and minimum testing done during his post conviction appeals excluded him too
  • The available scientific evidence proves his physical incapacitation at the time of the crime
  • The significant quantity of evidence remaining to be tested is essential to reveal the truth about his innocence
  • His motions for DNA testing have been denied although he has always offered to pay for the costs
  • The state of Texas has a very poor record in terms of wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations
  • The interest of justice is to find out the truth and to not execute an innocent
  • The state is withholding the untested evidence that can prove Hank’s innocence
  • All three of the previous D.A.s have publicly stated that they believe the evidence needs to be tested
  • The D.A. has admitted in Ch 64 DNA pleadings that the evidence is in a condition making testing possible, that the chain of custody has been maintained, that the evidence is capable of providing a probative result and identity is an issue in Hank’s case
  • Texas should not execute a man it does not know for a fact to be guilty. After Andrea Reed’s recantation, according to the state’s own experts, the remaining evidence does nothing to prove guilt at all. The A.G has stated through his spokesman that it would violate the constitution to murder someone who is innocent – that has got to apply equally to someone they do not know for a fact to be guilty

Both petitions (commutation and reprieve) as well as three statements attached to the petitions can be dowloaded in the “legal documents” section of the website.

http://www.hankskinner.org

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)

Justice for Victims – perspectives from Geneva, 2010

The theme of victims’ rights was a common, distinct thread across all three days of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva. It cropped up in different guises and from different angles in both open plenaries, in the workshops and roundtables, and came into its own during the incredibly moving ‘Words of Victims, Voices of Experience’ theatre evening.

Renny Cushing of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights told us that many speak of the death penalty as a way for those left behind to achieve healing, justice and closure, when in fact many of the bereaved reject the notion of ‘closure’ completely. Coming to terms with loss is one thing, retribution is quite another. Having sought opinions widely on this matter, Renny has been given many reasons which emphasise that the death penalty is the wrong solution for the victims.

Murder Victims Families for Human Rights parade with banner

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights parade with banner

‘Having someone murdered by the State does not give me what I need,’ people say. ‘It would be better if the resources spent on maintaining the instruments of capital punishment were to be spent on other things: assistance for victims’ families and close friends, better crime prevention, resourcing for police, DNA testing to help solve unclosed cases.’ Now THAT is justice – diverting dollars away from needless vengeance and into resolution, and perhaps even more importantly, into reparation. Many people do not consider the burden cast on the families of those murdered. Renny himself recalls how, after his father was shot dead at point blank range, in his own home, his elderly mother, who had witnessed her husband’s killing, received an invoice in the post for the cost of the ambulance to take her husband’s body away to the morgue.

‘I can’t believe I have to pay for my husband’s murder,’ she said at the time. In short, there is little or no understanding of victims’ pecuniary needs after murder. There is the cost of the funeral to bear, the loss of income both from the victim and from the grieving family, and no form of compensation. To rub salt into the wound, it often seems like the State does not blink at the expense involved in an execution; yet gives no thought to the needs of those who have been harmed emotionally, pyschologically and financially by the wrongdoing. Renny, for one, believes the USA has this all wrong, when the (often very extensive) emphasis is on the death of the perpetrator, rather than the dignity of the victim and his or her family.

James Abbott, the New Jersey Chief of Police, agrees with him. ‘There is no way to fix the Death Penalty and make it right,’ he affirms. His sympathies in murder cases have always been squarely with the families of victims. The stress of the protracted appeals system does not in any way bring closure; it just gives almost celebrity-level attention to the perpetrator. ‘Just stop and think how many high-profile murderers you can name. Now name their victims,’ he says, and we nod in agreement.

And then there is the cry for compassion: ‘My loved one(s) has/have already died. Why add to the death toll and create a world of suffering for someone else’s family?’

These are powerful messages coming from the mouths of people who have suffered the worst anguish imaginable. Fortunately, they have had an impact in New Jersey, where the death penalty was abolished in 2007. Chief James Abbott was part of the commission set up to report on whether the state should abolish. At the outset, he was personally pro-death penalty. He admits, he still has views which would favor it for certain crimes; but now he knows that capital punishment is not a workable form of criminal justice. Often, he is asked ‘But what if it were a police offer who was killed?’ His answer is still that execution is not the answer. He would not want any officer’s family to suffer the way he knows others have, forced to be reminded through a protracted and flawed appeals process of their tragedy, while simultaneously being ignored in the aspects where it matters. Instead, a system which guarantees that the guilty party is behind bars for life, and which provides support for the family of the victim, is a far better solution. LWoP (Life without Parole), he adds, is fairer on a socio-cultural basis, prevents the risk of wrongful execution and assists families to recover.

 John Van de Kamp

John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General of California "Redemption opportunities exist"

John Van de Kamp, former DA of Los Angeles and Attorney General of California, has always been an opponent of the death penalty, but spent many uncomfortable years in prosecution, condemning many to death. Today, he is free to state his mind. He knows that in California, popular support for the death penalty is high, but his experience shows that this is largely down to society’s fear of recidivism.

‘People don’t believe that Life without Parole truly means life. And yet there are no examples of LWoP prisoners being released, other than as a result of exoneration.’

Polls show a huge drop in favor of executions when people are offered the alternative option of ‘guaranteed real life’ (LWoP). This is even higher when LWoP + work-based restitution is an available choice (i.e. make convicts work to earn their keep and deliver compensation to victims’ families).

But what about other countries, where vengeance is de rigueur? We heard in Geneva from Toshi Kazama, a Japanese photographer, and survivor of a murder attempt in which he was left for dead and was unconscious for three days. Toshi had already been responsible for photographing victims’ families, inmates, execution chambers in the USA and has met many families who have shown compassion to perpetrators. This, says Toshi, helped him to get through his own experience. However, if he were at home in Japan, reconciliation  through compassion would be nigh-on impossible.

‘There, as with many Asian communities, it is a collective society,’ explains Toshi. ‘You have to fit the accepted framework. You must HATE the perpetrator.’

In Japan, it is most unusual to support the perpetrator and ask for clemency, and it leads to the victim becoming an outcast; indeed a victim twice over. Those who do not seek vengeance against wrongdoers are treated as outcasts, and become subject to bullying and intimidation. Often families are forced to separate so as not to have one person’s desire for clemency reflected in punitive social actions being meted out against those closest to them. Voicing free opinion and compassion is simply taboo, having a contrarian view in capital punishment goes against culture. Although many victims will say in private that they do not want the death penalty brought in their case, they continue to argue it in principle. It is a similar story in Taiwan and in China, where the same issues arise from the collective nature of society. So it is virtually impossible for individuals to find peace through open forgiveness, as this would almost certainly lead to their own victimisation.

Toshi believes education is very important in this respect. He take victims’ families groups, including Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) to Japan and Taiwan. In 2010 a further tour is planned, during which Toshi hopes to tell many people ‘It’s OK – the victim’s family can react how they want to react to handle their pain. They don’t have to adhere to the framework and norms.’

Elsewhere more sympathetic measures are being taken to help victims on the road to healing. Mariana Pena of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) spoke to us of victims’ rights at the international level. In France, victims have a legal right to act in partnership with law enforcement and criminal justice elements to bring about justice for their case and seek reparation. Reparation can include both restoration – coming to terms with what has happened, often via reconciliation with the criminal; and satisfaction, meaning the honouring of the victim. Opportunities are increasingly given for the victim to participate in justice, and this is important because it impacts the victim on many levels: emotional; psychological and financial. In too many countries, the victim is ignored. Acknowledgement of suffering can help with the psychological healing process although it can be very traumatic for the victim… and requires psycho-social assistance from the state or NGOs.

Retribution: the need for vengeance is primal, a gut reaction to being hurt or seeing a loved one harmed. Many, many victims know this is not the solution to their grief. However in some countries and regions, vengefulness is seen as the norm; here, it can be difficult for a non-conformist to ever come to terms with loss. FIDH hopes that advocacy for legal reforms at international level will lead some countries to replace the death penalty with more reparation and support for victims.

Rehabilitation and Redemption: both James Abbott and John Van de Kamp spoke of the need for opportunities for offenders to seek redemption through work and rehabilitation. One such way would be for reformed LWoP prisoners to undertake to assist in education programmes for young people.

Reparation, satisfaction, restitution and compensation, remedy and redress: these are all things that the justice system could help to achieve for the victim’s family.

Restoration and reconciliation: we heard in the previous post how Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope has found peace through forgiveness. Restorative justice clearly has a role to play here and it will be intersting to see whether the success which some countries have seen in this area, particularly with young and first-time offenders, might ever have an effect on the scale of murder and life imprisonent. It would be nice to have a chance to find out, but we’re going to have to ditch the death penalty first!