"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Iraq: Execution Site Near Mosul's Old City

Mosul, Iraq
Mosul, Iraq
Investigate, Punish Those Responsible for Any War Crimes

International observers have discovered an execution site in west Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today. That report, combined with new statements about executions in and around Mosul's Old City and persistent documentation about Iraqi forces extrajudicially killing men fleeing Mosul in the final phase of the battle against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), are an urgent call to action by the Iraqi government.

Despite repeated promises to investigate wrongdoing by security forces, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held a single soldier accountable for murdering, torturing, and abusing Iraqis in this conflict.

"As Prime Minister Abadi enjoys victory in Mosul, he is ignoring the flood of evidence of his soldiers committing vicious war crimes in the very city he's promised to liberate," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Abadi's victory will collapse unless he takes concrete steps to end the grotesque abuses by his own security forces."

International observers, whose evidence has proven reliable in the past, told Human Rights Watch that on July 17, 2017, at about 3:30 p.m., a shopkeeper in a neighborhood directly west of the Old City that was retaken in April from ISIS took them into an empty building and showed them a row of 17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, surrounded by pools of blood. They said many appeared to have been blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back. They said the shopkeeper told them that he had seen the Iraqi Security Forces' 16th Division, identifiable by their badges and vehicles, in the neighborhood 4 nights earlier, and that night had heard multiple gunshots coming from the area of the empty building. The next morning, when armed forces had left the area, he told them, he went into the building and saw the bodies lying in positions that suggested they were shot there and had not been moved. He said he did not recognize any of those killed.

The international observers also saw soldiers from the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) in the area. They contacted Human Rights Watch by phone from the site and later shared five photos they took of the bodies.

On July 17, another international observer told Human Rights Watch they spoke to a senior government official in Mosul who told them he was comfortable with the execution of suspected ISIS-affiliates "as long as there was no torture." The observer said a commander showed their group a video taken a few days earlier of a group of CTS soldiers holding 2 detainees in the Old City. They said the commander told them that the forces had executed the men right after the video was taken.

Salah al-Imara, an Iraqi citizen who regularly publishes information regarding security and military activities in and around Mosul, published four videos allegedly filmed in west Mosul on Facebook on July 11 and 12. One video, posted on July 11, appears to show Iraqi soldiers beating a detainee, then throwing him off a cliff and shooting at him and at the body of another man already lying at the bottom of the cliff. Human Rights Watch had verified the location of the first video based on satellite imagery. Other videos showed Iraqi soldiers kicking and beating a bleeding man, federal police forces beating at least 3 men, and Iraqi soldiers kicking a man on the ground in their custody.

A 3rd international observer told Human Rights Watch on July 18 that they witnessed CTS soldiers bring an ISIS suspect to their base in a neighborhood southwest of the Old City on July 11. The observer did not see what happened to the suspect next, but said that a soldier later showed them a video of himself and a group of other soldiers brutally beating the man, and a 2nd video of the man dead, with a bullet to his head.

"Some Iraqi soldiers seem to have so little fear that they will face any consequence for murdering and torturing suspects in Mosul that they are freely sharing evidence of what look like very cruel exploits in videos and photographs," Whitson said. "Excusing such celebratory revenge killings will haunt Iraq for generations to come."

A 4th international observer told Human Rights Watch on July 11 that the day before they had witnessed a group of CTS soldiers push a man whose hands were tied behind his back into a destroyed shop near the main road in the west to the Old City. They said they heard several gunshots, went into the shop after the soldiers had left, and found the man's body with several bullet holes in the back of his head. They shared the photo of the body.

On July 10, the same observer said they saw Iraqi Security Forces just outside the Old City holding about 12 men with their hands tied behind their backs. They said an officer told them that the military's 9th Division had detained these men inside the Old City on suspicion of ISIS affiliation. They said they saw the soldiers lead the detained men just out of sight, then heard shots ring out from their direction. The observer was unable to verify what happened.

On July 7, 2 additional international observers told Human Rights Watch that on different occasions in late June, they witnessed soldiers bring at least 5 suspected ISIS affiliates out of the Old City to the west, strapped to the hoods of Humvees, when temperatures in the city often reached 48 degrees Celsius, or 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

The nongovernmental organization Mosul Eye has been documenting abuses by all sides in Mosul since 2014, and has posted numerous videos and witness statements about executions on its Twitter feed since July 14, with one reading: "Mass Executions 'Speicher Style' [a reference to an ISIS massacre in 2014] for the last survivors of the old city. ISF is killing and throwing bodies of everyone it finds to the river."

As of July 10, the Iraqi military has prevented access to west Mosul for most journalists, limiting coverage of recent events inside the Old City. Iraqi forces should allow journalists access to west Mosul to report on the conflict and any alleged abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

Throughout the operation to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces detaining and holding at least 1,200 men and boys in inhumane conditions without charge, and in some cases torturing and executing them, under the guise of screening them for ISIS-affiliation. In the final weeks of the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch has reported on executions of suspected ISIS-affiliates in and around Mosul's Old City.

An Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative told Human Rights Watch on July 19 that he would request a government investigation into the allegations. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and executions in meetings with Iraqi officials in Baghdad as well as with representatives from United States-led coalition member countries. Human Rights Watch does not know of a single transparent investigation into abuses by Iraqi armed forces, any instances of commanders being held accountable for abuse, or any victims of abuse receiving compensation.

Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings and mutilation of corpses, by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes.

"Relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers should be enough to raise serious concerns among the highest ranks in Baghdad and the international coalition combatting ISIS," Whitson said. "As we well know in Iraq, if the government doesn't provide an accounting for these murders, the Iraqi people may take matters into their own hands."

Source: Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017

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Pakistan: Inching away from the hangman

The argument that the lifting of the moratorium on capital punishment is crucial to combatting terrorism simply does not hold ground

National Commission for Human Right (NCHR) recently held a conference titled ‘Moving away from Death Penalty in Pakistan’. The issue is least discussed in Pakistan, as the country always favoured death penalty with the exception of a 7-month moratorium.

The world is divided in two camps: abolitionist and religionist. There were many common arguments both ways. But the reality is a large number of countries have moved away from death penalty by replacing it with life imprisonment, moratorium or they do not practice it at all.

In 1984, General Assembly passed a resolution specifying strict condition for the countries that have not abolished death penalty. The resolution prohibited the application of death sentence on persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of crime, pregnant women, and new mothers or on person who suffer from mental disability.

An accused should be given a fair trial and right to appeal or seek pardon. It further said pardon or commutation of sentence may be granted in all cases of capital punishment. The 1984 resolution was a milestone. 37 more countries either abolished or put moratorium on death penalty, increasing the number of countries without death penalty to 190. The list includes a number of OIC countries like Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Maldives, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, and Mauritania Niger. Pakistan and Turkey had put a ban on death penalty which was recently lifted.

Article 6 of the international covenant on civil and politics rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan is a signatory, states, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.” It further states, “Nothing in the article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any state party to the present covenant. In 2008, the government of Pakistan had placed a moratorium and stopped execution of prisoners on death row.

After a brutal terrorist attack on Army public School Peshawar in December 2014, the voluntarily imposed moratorium was lifted first for terrorism-related cases and then in March 2015, for all capital punishment cases. Although Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR permits application of death penalty, it is restricted to the ‘most serious crimes’, in accordance with ECOSOC (resolution 1984) safeguard.

In countries like Pakistan where investigation and evidence gathering are fragile and conditions to fulfill the requisites of justice are non-existent, fair trial cannot be guaranteed. Sometimes the truth of the deceased being innocent never comes to light even decades later. Wrongful convictions are a common phenomenon. Even well-functioning legal systems have sentenced to death men and women who were subsequently proved innocent.

Recently, in nearly a dozen cases, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused, who had appealed against the high courts, confirmation of their death sentence. The accused had spent 8 to 20 years in prison. Their acquittal was on lack of adequate evidence or collusion between the complaint and the police. Political influence and corruption becomes a major obstacle in dispensation of justice. Even in a country like United States, more then 100 cases of wrongful convictions is a glaring example of erroneous judgement. Human Rights activists believe that it is better to pardon erroneously than to punish erroneously. The killings should not be driven by politics in any case.

In 1947, Pakistan set death penalty for 2 offences only, but now it is increased to 27 offences. Since 2014, 416 people were given death penalty and 425 in 2016. Out of 87 people executed last year, only 14 were terrorists. The argument that lifting of moratorium is to combat terrorism does not hold ground.

Eminent lawyer Faisal Siddiqui says that in reviewing jurisprudence, moratorium has no legal basis hence cannot be a permanent solution and that traditional remedies will not work.

The constitution of Pakistan is neither secular nor theocratic, but a hybrid. The state policy towards crime is to kill everyone who does not comply, which is why the society is completely traumatised and brutalised. There is a death consensus between state and society. The penal law is therefore militarised.

The new phenomenon of ‘mob-violence, to dispense justice is becoming part of our daily lives. Recent killing of Mashal is a case in point. Blasphemy law has been used time and again as a weapon to settle scores.

We need to get out of the stagnant situation and review mandatory death penalty in 27 crimes. The list can be curtailed to most serious offences, definition maintainable human rights standards. These procedures have been laid down by various human rights intuitions, international tribunals and officials. The right to be heard fairly in court, to have a legal counsel, no torture to extract confession and adequate evidence are some of the pre-requisites. The state is bound to provide a procedure for reviewing the court decision, and to arrow capital offenders to seek amnesty, pardon or commutation of death sentence. Juvenile offenders and mental disability cases should be treated according to the procedure laid down for them. The death sentence is not applicable to pregnant women or new mothers. These principles reflect profound universal sentiment.

Instead of mandatory capital punishment, judges should be given options for life imprisonment. One more factor which needs our attention is the lack of legal counsel for accused from poor background. Many death convicts are underprivileged and cannot have access to quality legal assistance. There is also an issue with due process of law. In a recent visit to Karachi jail by NCHR delegation, the common complaint from the prisoner was unavailability of competent legal counsel. Many complained the state council does not turn up on hearings.

Discrimination on the of basis of financial status, sex, ethnicity or political affiliation is a violation of human rights. In Pakistan, as someone remarked either the prime minister or the poor prisoners are sent to gallows. Former chief justice of India Justice Bhagwati once said, “In India, only the poor get death sentence.”

Fair trial means that accused and his lawyer get sufficient facilities and time for their defence. Some countries Like Pakistan and Bangladesh have enacted separate laws for trials of different categories of crimes to combat terrorism. Speedy trials or military courts do not fulfill the criteria of a fire trial. The presumption of innocence is not held in high regard either. It is a common sight to see accused handcuffed, maltreated and in degrading conditions.

In a number of cases, evidence is inadequate and faulty. Our Judicial system does not meet the universally acknowledged human rights standards in awarding capital punishment to offenders of the “most serious crimes.” It needs to be reformed as soon as possible to stop arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention.

Source: Daily Times, Anis Haroon, July 20, 2017. The writer is a member of the National Commission on Human Rights.

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Thailand taking middle path on capital punishment

Public revulsion over a spate of gruesome murders threatens to reverse de facto moratorium on executions

At a press conference last week on the arrest of eight suspects in the recent massacre of eight family members in Krabi, the national police chief said the perpetrators were inevitably destined for capital punishment. 

After a spate of gruesome murders in recent months involving dismemberment of the victims and the execution-style shooting of a whole family including children, many citizens no doubt heartily agree with Police General Chaktip Chaijinda that the cold-blooded killers deserve to be put to death. 

Strong support for capital punishment in Thai society is buttressed by the argument that it acts as an effective deterrent against serious crimes, though human rights campaigners and international organisations deny this and routinely call for the death penalty to be abolished. 

Amnesty International reports that Thai courts handed down 216 death sentences last year, leaving 427 prisoners on death row at the end of 2016 – including 24 foreign nationals. But no execution has been carried out in this country since August 2009. 

Countries can be divided into four major groups when it comes to the issue of capital punishment – those that retain and use it, those that abolish it for all crimes, those that abolish it most cases but retain it for “exceptional” circumstances, and those that have abolished it in practice. 

The latter group of countries have executed no prisoners for 10 consecutive years and have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions. 

Thailand is categorised among the 58 countries that retain and use capital punishment, while a total of 105 countries have abolished the practice completely. Yet Thai policy appears to be shifting towards the latter group of countries who retain the punishment in law but do not in practice.

Last year in May, Thailand accepted recommendations from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to review the imposition of the death penalty for offences related to drug trafficking, to commute death sentences with a view to abolishing capital punishment, and to take steps towards abolishing the death penalty. 

It seems capital punishment is being retained here with the purpose of deterring violent crimes, though no actual executions have been carried out for almost eight years. During that time, those convicted of murder or masterminding murder have simply been incarcerated on an ever-lengthening death row. Some have even had their sentences commuted to life terms after confessing to and showing remorse for their crimes. 

Meanwhile thanks to the Corrections Department’s system of grading inmates, those classified as “excellent prisoners” or “good prisoners” can be entitled to reduced terms and even pardons. These convicts can simply wait to be released after completing their reduced terms. A number of murderers convicted in high-profile cases have already been freed. 

 Thai authorities appear to have opted for a middle path, seeking to appease both rights advocates and those who want capital punishment to be retained. This policy has the merit of helping protect the human rights of both convicted murderers and the victims and their grieving families.

Source: The Nation, Opinion, July 20, 2017

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Iran Must Halt Drug-Related Executions

Public execution in Shiraz, Iran.
Barbaric and medieval punishments: Public execution in Shiraz, Iran.
Spate of Executions Despite Imminent Reforms

(Beirut) – The Iranian government should immediately halt all executions for drug-related offenses while parliament debates amendments to reform the country’s drug law, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament is expected to vote in two weeks on an amendment to the drug law that would drastically increase the bar for a mandatory death penalty sentence.

“It makes no sense for Iran’s judiciary to execute people now under a drug law that will likely bar such executions as early as next month,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It would be the height of cruelty to execute someone today for a crime that would at worst get them a 30-year sentence when this law is amended.”

On July 16, 2017, parliament approved a proposal to amend Iran’s 1997 Law to Combat Drugs to limit the death penalty for some nonviolent, drug-related offenses. However, parliament sent the draft legislation back to the parliamentary judiciary commission for a fourth time to deliberate the proposed changes for certain offenses.

Under Iran’s current drug law, at least 10 offenses, including some that are nonviolent, are punishable by death, including possession of as little as 30 grams of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines. The law also mandates the death penalty for trafficking, possession, or trade of more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin; repeated offenses involving smaller amounts; or the manufacture of more than 50 grams of synthetic drugs.

On December 6, 2016, 146 members of parliament introduced a draft amendment that sought to replace capital punishment for drug offenses with imprisonment for up to 30 years, while allowing the death penalty if the accused or one of the participants in the crime used or carried weapons intending to use them against law enforcement agencies. The death penalty also would still apply to a leader of a drug trafficking cartel, anyone who used a child in drug trafficking, or anyone facing new drug-related charges who had previously been sentenced to execution or 15 years to life for drug-related offenses.

Under pressure from the judiciary and administration, however, the judiciary commission retracted part of their proposed amendments on July 9. It added the death penalty for nonviolent charges of “production, distribution, trafficking, and selling” of more than 100 kilograms of “traditional” drugs such as opium or two kilograms of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines. The commission also restored the death penalty for possession, purchase, or concealing more than five kilograms of “synthetic drugs.” In both cases the death penalty would only apply where the accused had previously been sentenced to more than two years for drug-related offenses. On July 18, Hasan Noroozi, the commission’s spokesman, told IRNA news agency that the commission is adding “possession, purchase or concealing” 50 kilograms of “traditional” drugs to the offenses punishable by death.

On April 9, the commission proposed to apply the amendments retroactively, which would dramatically reduce the number of people currently on death row in Iran. In addition, on July 5, judiciary commission members asked the judiciary to suspend executions of drug offenders until parliament could vote on the bill.

A Human Rights Watch review of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights Organization’s database, which documents executions in Iran, shows that Ghezelhesar and Karaj Central prisons have not carried out any executions since the beginning of Ramadan on May 26, but that other prison authorities in Isfahan, Western Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Sistan and Baluchestan, and Khorasan Razavi, have continued to execute people convicted of drug offenses. The group said that the authorities have executed at least 39 people since July 5 on drug-related charges.

In mid-July, Human Rights Watch interviewed via smartphone applications six family members of prisoners who are on death row. They said that they are hopeful that the new law would spare their loved ones from execution. The mother of a man executed in Khoram Abad prison in Lorestan province on June 24, said, “If authorities hadn’t executed my son today, [under the new law] he would have been sentenced to imprisonment.”

Iran has one the highest rates of executions in the world. According to Amnesty International, in 2016, Iran executed at least 567 people, the majority for drug-related convictions. In December 2016, Noroozi, the parliamentary judicial committee spokesman, urged parliament to amend the law, stating that 5,000 people are on Iran’s death row for drug-related offenses, the majority of them ages 20 to 30.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented serious violations of due process, torture, and other violations of the rights of criminal suspects facing drug-related charges. Such flawed judicial proceedings heighten grave concerns about the application of the death penalty.

Under article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, countries that still retain capital punishment may apply the death penalty only for the “most serious crimes.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that interprets the covenant, has said that drug offenses are not among the “most serious crimes,” and that the use of the death penalty for such crimes violates international law. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because it is inherently inhumane and irreversible.

“Parliament should resist any pressure to curb reforms to the drug law and move forward with a bill that better protects the right to life,” Whitson said. “This would be the first step in addressing the epidemic of executions in Iran and a move toward abolishing the death penalty.”

Source: Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017


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Gopalkrishna Gandhi on why India should abolish death penalty

Abolish the death penalty
"Capital punishment is a macabre folly that swings between tragedy and idiocy."

The following text is an excerpt from: Abolishing the Death Penalty: Why India Should Say No to Capital Punishment; Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Aleph Books; Rs 270.

In its last and most defining and irreversible stage a death penalty case gets to be scrutinised for its wider, non-judicial ramifications, by politically wired brains. The death sentence when implemented is not a coin made of law’s pure gold but an alloy, in fact, a coarse alloy of many ores, of high, medium and low grade, that have passed through the smelteries of reason, emotion, pride, prejudice, a state’s hubris, a society’s moods that swing between pity for the victim and rage at the culprit in an unspooling of feelings that are as old as that of the Plebeians who ran amok in 44 BCE in Rome following Caesar’s assassination and killed Cinna the poet mistaking him for Cinna the assassin, the mob that bayed for Christ’s blood in Judea around 29 CE and all those "popular" upsurges down the centuries right down to our times demanding the death of men believed to have done harm to society and nation. And so the death penalty is also, somewhere in its DNA, a political murder. This is said not to debase lawfully passed sentences of death, but only to describe the syndrome in the fullness of its construction.

When executions were until not so long ago routinely carried out in public, the actual act was a public spectacle. Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Arthur Koestler and Camus are among the many who have written of the revulsion they felt on witnessing an execution. George Orwell’s essay "A Hanging" (1931) is a classic of bare description that takes the hood off the scaffold. But not every witness of executions suffered revulsion. Accounts have recorded the witnesses’ perverse and even prurient enjoyment of the spectacle provided by this public termination of an individual’s life. And there are many records, not all of them ancient or medieval, of executioners deriving a sadistic pleasure in the performance of their task.

The prevailing social attitude to the death penalty in India, coloured by revulsion over the 2012 gang rape of Nirbhaya (as she came to be called by the media) and rage over terrorist attacks cannot but influence, in less or more degree, the institutions of the state and those at its helm. While leaders can let the winds of opinion blow them off their feet, a few have tilted against the windmills of popular predilections.

François Mitterrand, trying after two failed attempts, in 1981, to contest for the office of President of France, declared himself, with the encouragement of the fervent abolitionist Robert Badinter, to be against the death penalty. This could well have brought him, in "guillotine France", his third failure. But, praise be to his tenacity and France’s perspicacity, it did not. One of the first things that President Mitterrand did on assuming office was to sign the abolition of capital punishment bill, making France the last European nation to abolish the death penalty.

On another continent, Nelson Mandela, likewise, stood rock-firm in his opposition to the death penalty. Under apartheid, the death penalty had been applied much more to blacks than to whites and Mandela could well have decided to keep the penalty alive and "return the compliment". But Mandela being Mandela said the death penalty was "a reflection of the animal instinct still in human beings" and as president of the new rainbow nation, invited it to look beyond the temptations of vengeance and the taste of vendetta. For a start, he asked his Cabinet to decide on abolishing the death penalty as a moral issue. But the Cabinet, comprising his own colleagues in the struggle, was unsure. It remitted the matter to the new Constitution Court which, under the sagacious chairmanship of Justice Arthur Chaskalson, gave, in 1995, the historic ruling that the death penalty was indeed unconstitutional.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
The court’s unanimous decision of 7 June 1995 stated, "Everyone, including the most abominable of human beings, has a right to life, and capital punishment is therefore unconstitutional... Retribution cannot be accorded the same weight under our Constitution as the right to life and dignity. It has not been shown that the death sentence would be materially more effective to deter or prevent murder than the alternative sentence of life imprisonment would be."

The African National Congress applauded the death penalty ruling, saying, "never, never and never again must citizens of our country be subjected to the barbaric practice of capital punishment".

Both those political statesmen, Mitterrand and Mandela, greatly assisted by two non-political judicial intellects, Badinter and Chaskalson, led rather than allowed themselves to be led by inconstant public opinion. But more often, leaders and institutions move along the grain of prevailing public opinion. This is seen — and explained — as a sign of being democratic when in reality, it is a sign of moral unventuresomeness and intellectual feebleness.

The United States of America is a case in point. New York University School of Law’s Professor Anthony G Amsterdam, described as "the most extraordinary legal mind", has this to say of his country: "Our political and legal machines today are obsessed with the symbolic image of the victim — largely portrayed as white, middle class, mainstream, deserving, and desperately endangered — with the danger portrayed as predatory, parasitic, wilfully jobless, promiscuously multiplying people of colour. So, it is little wonder that American governments administer their criminal systems like colonial penal colonies."

A superficial view holds that advanced countries can be so evolved as to abolish the death penalty and countries not so developed need that punishment on their statute books to keep heinous crime in check. The USA, an advanced country, is yet to abolish the death penalty. Latin America, which does not belong to what used to be called the First World, has abolished it. Of the 140 countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty, there are several that are not "advanced" countries. And among the countries that have not abolished it is, as we have seen, the world’s only superpower, the United States of America. The country that ranks first in the 2015 Human Development Index, Norway, and the country that ranks lowest in it, Burundi, have both abolished the death penalty comprehensively.

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Source: daily O, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, July 19, 2017



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3 Kenya men sentenced to death for stripping, abusing woman

My Dress My Choice
A Kenyan court on Wednesday sentenced three men to death for stripping naked and abusing a woman during a wave of attacks by mobs claiming that women were inappropriately dressed.

The three men were found guilty of robbery with violence, which carries a death sentence. 

Kenya's death penalty, by hanging, has not been carried out since 1987 and all such sentences are commuted to life imprisonment.

Most of the series of attacks in 2014 were captured on cell phone video. They prompted protests in Kenya called #MyDressMyChoice.

The victim told the court the three men were among seven on a public bus who tried to rape her but stopped when she said she was HIV-positive.

"They subjected her to humiliation and untold degrading, inhuman treatment," Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi said. 

The three men pleaded for leniency, asking the court to consider that they had spent three years in custody during the trial.

Attacks on women who are deemed inappropriately dressed are common in some East African countries. 

Rights groups have said the attacks illustrate an identity crisis: Men claim that women are inappropriately dressed according to African culture, yet some Kenyans on social media have pointed out that many African tribes traditionally wear few or no clothes.

Source: The Associated Press, July 19, 2017

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Editorial: Ending the death penalty in Utah would save money and save souls

The chair used in Utah for firing squad executions
The chair used in Utah for firing squad executions.
Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty. Utah isn't one of them. In fact, Utah is the only state in the modern era to use the firing squad. That's not something to shout from mountaintops.

Granted, Utah doesn't see many capital offense cases. Since 1976 Utah has executed seven people. Utah currently has nine inmates on death row. But on these most important of cases, attorneys struggle to get paid. This tension between budgets and priorities puts attorneys in the unfortunate position of choosing between zealous representation, which ethics require, and adequate representation, or even barely-competent representation.

Death penalty cases require a specialized skillset. In 2008 the state Supreme Court noted it would start overturning death penalty sentences and sending cases back for re-sentencing if qualified attorneys were not available to take the cases.

Yet counties are still limiting the pool of qualified attorneys by capping case costs at a rate that makes representation, especially by solo practitioners, economically impractical. Unnecessarily strict limits on the number of defendant visits and witness, investigative and expert resources is completely inapposite to zealous representation.

The state's Division of Finance has capped payment for a capital offense case at $60,000. If you reduce an attorney's rate to $100 an hour, $60,000 equates to 15 weeks at 40 hours a week. Few attorneys work 40 hours a week, and no capital offense cases are ever resolved in 15 weeks.

The solution to underfunded capital cases, of course, is to abolish the death penalty. As English jurist William Blackstone famously stated, "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." There is something wrong with a nation that mistakenly puts its citizens, mostly poor, and disproportionately black, to death.

More than 159 people have been freed from death row after evidence of their innocence exonerated them.

Since 1976 1,456 people have been put to death under the death penalty. Of those, 34.5 percent were black, yet only 13.3 percent of the American population is black. Ninety-six percent of states that have studied race and the death penalty found discrimination.

Even aside from mistaken and racists convictions, the death penalty as a deterrent to murder is ineffective. The 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South, which accounts for more than 80 percent of executions, has the highest murder rate. If the death penalty is supposed to deter murder, it isn't working.

Fiscal analysts have estimated it costs an additional $1.6 million to litigate a capital offense case. But repudiating the death penalty is more than an opportunity to save money. It's an opportunity to save souls.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Editorial, July 19, 2017

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Ohio death penalty opponents urge Gov. John Kasich to postpone executions

Ohio: 27,503 signatures
27,503 signatures. Photo Ohioans to Stop Executions (via Facebook)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Death penalty opponents on Wednesday called on Gov. John Kasich not to resume executions next week after a 3 1/2-year hiatus.

Ohioans to Stop Executions delivered 27,503 signatures to Kasich's office, urging the Republican governor to postpone the state's 27 scheduled executions.

The petition calls for better safeguards to prevent innocent people from being sentenced to death, including 2014 recommendations from the Ohio Supreme Court's death penalty task force.

Retired Dayton-area Judge James Brogan, who chaired the task force, said executions should not resume before state legislators consider the 56 recommendations from the panel.

"This lack of action is disconcerting and will enable the core problems we identified to continue and potentially lead to wrongful death penalty convictions," Brogan said in a statement.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die using a new and untried lethal-injection cocktail involving midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative.

State officials have had difficulty getting lethal injection drugs because European pharmaceutical companies have barred their sale for the purpose of executions.

But they said earlier this year they have enough of the new three-drug combo to carry out several executions.

Ronald Phillips
Ronald Phillips
Convicted Akron killer Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die July 26. Phillips was convicted in 1993 of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter. The Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended against clemency for Phillips in December, calling his crime "among the worst of the worst." The young victim's half-sister and aunt asked state officials to move forward with the execution to bring the family closure.

Phillips' execution has been delayed several times as death row inmates and death penalty opponents have challenged the state's untried protocol. Phillips' attorneys made a plea this week to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the next three executions while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

In a separate letter to Kasich, 17 former corrections officials and administrators, including three from Ohio, warned of possible errors with the use of midazolam, which has been used in problematic executions in Ohio, Arizona and Alabama. The group warned a disturbing execution could traumatize corrections officials carrying it out.

Rex Zent, a former Ohio prison warden and Department of Rehabilitation and Correction official, said execution team members often deal with stress and anxiety from carrying out routine executions.

"Think of the psychological damage when something does go wrong or when they think of the men who have been exonerated from death row," Zent said at a Wednesday news conference.

Source: cleveland.com, Jackie Borchardt, July 19, 2017

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maldives Could Resume Executions within Hours after 60-year Moratorium

Maldives flag
The Maldivian government could resume executions within hours after a moratorium that has lasted 60 years, Reprieve understands.

Reports suggest that President Abdullah Yameen is preparing to go through with his repeated threat of starting to carry out death sentences before the end of July. 

There are currently three men who have had their death sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court who could be executed immediately. 

Local media have quoted the Home Affair Minister, Azleen Ahmed saying the government have expedited efforts to implement the death penalty in recent days.

The de facto moratorium on the death penalty has been in place in the Maldives for more than 60 years. 

In June 2013 the Parliament rejected a new death penalty law but in one of his first acts after coming to power, President Yameen enacted a regulation reintroducing the death penalty, bypassing Parliament.

Forced confessions, politically-motivated charges, and other abuses are commonplace. Children and those suffering from mental illness have been sentenced to death, in violation of international law.

Commenting, Director of Reprieve, Maya Foa said: “This is a worrying move from a President who is trying to distract from instability in the country and opposition to his leadership. Evidence shows that the death penalty does nothing to reduce violent crime – especially when it is imposed for political convenience and with no due process. This is a naked attempt by President Yameen to suppress dissent and tighten his grip on power. He should listen to the international community, keep the moratorium on executions and start the democratic reforms that are needed to bring stability back to the islands.”

➤ Click HERE to call on President Yameen of the Maldives to not break the six decade moratorium on the death penalty by resuming executions (Reprieve online petition).

Source: Reprieve, July 19, 2017

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Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov: Families should kill their gay relatives

Chechnya’s leader President Ramzan Kadyrov
Chechnya’s leader President Ramzan Kadyrov
Chechnya’s leader President Ramzan Kadyrov has defended honour killings of gay men.

Speaking to HBO, the Chechen president said that he would defend the rights of families to murder their gay relatives.

‘Honour killings’, or the murder of relatives due to the belief that the victim has brought shame to the family, are illegal in Russia and Chechnya.

Kadyrov has ruled the Muslim republic since 2007 after the assassination of his father.

In the TV interview, he declared: “If we have such people here, then I’m telling you officially, their relatives won’t let them be, because of our faith, our mentality, customs and traditions.

“Even if it’s punishable under the law, we would still condone it.”

Kadyrov not only rules over Chechnya, but also runs the Akhmat Fight Club gym and the Akhmat MMA promotion in the Chechen capital of Grozny.

The interview with HBO was to promote the country’s sports industry – with numerous sports stars agreeing to appear with the warlord, it’s presumed for large fees.

President Kadyrov once again denied reports of the gay purge in the region, however.

“If there were any gay people living in the region, then they should move to Canada.

He also said that “they are not people”.

The comments came after David Scott of HBO asked Kadyrov about “the alleged roundup, abduction and torture of gay men in the Republic”.

Kadyrov retorted: “Why did he come here? What’s the point of these questions?

“This is nonsense. We don’t have those kinds of people here.

“We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada,” he said.

He went on to add that homosexual needed to be removed from Chechnya to “purify” the “blood” of the region.

He said: “Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home.

“To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.

“They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.

“God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the Almighty for this.”

Chechnya has been in an almost permanent state of war for generations, with most Chechens knowing nothing but bombings and attacks.

“This is how they teach us from childhood,” Kadyrov said.

“My father told me when I was a little boy, if you’re coming home because you got scared, don’t come home.

“I have no need for you. You’re not a girl, you’re a man.

“While a Jewish parent might say to their child, ‘You’ll be a professor, a scientist,’ here our parents say, ‘He’s going to be a warrior.’”


Initial reports of gay men being detained in the region, which is subject to federal law as it falls under the Russian federation, were revealed by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Journalists who exposed the purge have been forced into hiding as they have received numerous threats from the largest mosque in the region, which has declared jihad against the newspaper.

Following the initial exposure, it has been revealed that Chechnya authorities are forcing gay men into concentration camps, sparking an outcry from LGBT and human rights activists across the world.


Tanya Lokshina, from the Human Rights Watch, said that Chechen authorities had been conducting “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel and degrading treatment” over the span of the last two decades.



Source: Pink News, Benjamin Butterworth, July 19, 2017

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Three Ohio death-row inmates ask Supreme Court to stay executions

Three death-row inmates in Ohio asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to stay their executions as they challenge the state's use of a lethal execution method that they say raises the risk of a painful death.

Ohio has not executed anyone since January 2014, when the state first used a lethal injection method that includes the sedative Midazolam. It took the inmate, Dennis McGuire, 25 minutes to die, and witnesses reported he had uttered loud sounds and gasped several times during the execution.

Attorneys for the inmates - who include a man convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter - argue the execution method raises the risk of causing pain so severe it violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Tuesday's filing asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling last month by a 3-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. In the 2-1 decision, appeals court judges, reversing a lower court ruling, said the plaintiffs failed to prove the execution method "is sure or very likely to cause serious pain."

Use of Midazolam in executions has been blamed for unnecessary pain or struggles in Arkansas, Arizona and Virginia.

The January execution of convicted murder Ricky Gray in Virginia left him with blood in his lungs and other indications that he had struggled, an autopsy showed.

Some critics have called for a ban on the use of Midazolam in executions.

In their filing Tuesday, attorneys for the inmates argued the appeals court ruling violates the Constitution, contradicts Supreme Court precedent and "involves an issue of recurring and national importance."

Ronald Phillips is the 1st of the 3 inmates scheduled to be executed, on July 26, for the 1993 rape and killing of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron. Gary Otte's execution is scheduled to die Sept. 13 for a 1992 double murder in a Cleveland suburb, and Raymond Tibbetts' on Oct. 18 for a 1997 fatal stabbing in Cincinnati.

Source: Talk Media News, July 19, 2017


Ohio: Judge denies request for execution witnesses


A federal judge has denied a request by attorneys for Ohio death row inmates to allow extra witnesses of upcoming executions.

Attorneys want 2 "appropriately trained persons" such as a nurse anesthetist and a lawyer to ensure the execution is carried out in a constitutional manner.

The state is scheduled to resume executions July 26 after a more than 3-year delay while Ohio searched for new supplies of lethal drugs.

Judge Michael Merz rejected the request Tuesday. He said there's no evidence a nurse anesthetist would be able to evaluate an inmate's consciousness from the viewing room.

He also said the person would be perceived as biased coming from the inmate's legal team.

Source: Daily Journal, July 19, 2017

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Saudi Authorities Execute Two Men Convicted of Murder

RIYADH – Two Saudi men were executed on Tuesday for killing two people in the southwestern city of Abha, the interior ministry said in a statement published by the official news agency SPA.

The first convict was identified as Ahmed bin Musa, who was sentenced to death after stabbing another person in a personal dispute.

The other, identified as Abdel Rahman Saad al-Ahmary, was found guilty of shooting and killing a person, according to the interior ministry note.

The two verdicts were issued by the general court and later confirmed by the appeal court and the supreme court of Saudi Arabia, and the execution order was ratified by royal decree, according to the procedure in these cases.

Most of the executions in Saudi Arabia are carried out by beheading, using a strict interpretation of Islamic law or “sharia,” which punishes those guilty of murder, drug trafficking, homosexuality, witchcraft and other crimes with the death penalty.

Human rights organizations have denounced that since the arrival of the monarch Salman bin Abdelaziz to the Saudi throne in January 2015, executions have soared, from 88 in 2014 to 158 in 2015 and 153 in 2016.

Source: LAHT, July 19, 2017

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No Mercy: Pranab Mukherjee rejected 30 mercy petitions as President

Pranab Mukherjee
Pranab Mukherjee
As president, Pranab Mukherjee rejected 30 mercy petitions, a number greater than the combined total of mercy petitions rejected by his four immediate predecessors.

Next Tuesday, when Pranab Mukherjee demits the office of the President of India, he will leave behind an in-tray empty of any mercy petitions requesting him to commute a death sentence to life. 

Over the five years of his presidency, Mukherjee has disposed of 34 mercy pleas (35, if you consider the case of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts financier Yakub Memon who, unsuccessfully, appealed for the presidential pardon twice).

Mukherjee has rejected 30 mercy petitions (31, again, if you include Memon's follow-up plea), and has given fresh leases on lives in four cases. His record of rejecting mercy petitions is unparalleled among his immediate predecessors and, in the history of the Indian republic, is second only to President R Venkatraman, who rejected 45 mercy pleas.*

When Mukherjee's successor, who trends suggest will likely be Dalit leader and Bharatiya Janata Party member Ram Nath Kovind, takes office, they will have no pending mercy pleas to act upon, an event that hasn't happened in three presidencies.

When Pranab Mukherjee became president on July 25, 2012, he inherited at least 10 pending pleas for mercy, including one from President Kocheril Raman Narayanan's term (1997-2002).

In fact, President KR Narayanan and his successor President Abdul Kalam (2002-2007) hold the distinction of sitting on mercy petitions, or what the Law Commission said in a 2015 report, putting the "brakes on the disposal of mercy petitions."

President Narayanan did not act upon a single mercy petition sent to him, while President Kalam disposed of a grand total of two pleas - commuting one, rejecting the other.

The ten years of indecision under Narayanan and Kalam were in stark contrast to the term of Pratibha Patil (2007-2012), India's first female president who quickly became known for being one of India's most lenient head of state.

Patil's term saw 34 commutations and five rejections. Only India's first two presidents (Rajendra Prasad with 180 commutations and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan with 57) accepted more mercy petitions than she did.

RUBBER STAMP?


Under the Indian constitution, the president acts on the advice of the executive, i.e. the prime minister and his cabinet. And so, the argument has often been made that a president's decision - on mercy petitions or otherwise - should be seen in context of the political dispensation in power.

However, the 20 years of presidents Mukherjee, Patil, Kalam and Narayanan have been divided almost equally between governments led by the Congress (2004-2014) and the BJP (1998-2004; 2014-now).

Furthermore, the constitution does not set a time frame in which the president must act upon a mercy plea, though the Supreme Court has indirectly set some restrictions by ruling that an inordinate delay in settling a mercy petition could be grounds for commuting a death sentence altogether.

This allows presidents to express dissent by refusing to act on a mercy petition, a trend seen during the Narayanan and Kalam years.

There have also been precedents, though rare, of presidents going against government advice - just this year, President Mukherjee commuted to life the death sentences of four men, going against the Centre's recommendation.

An analysis of denials (or commutations) of mercy pleas suggests that the person occupying the president's chair does matter, even though the Rashtrapati Bhavan has sought to argue otherwise in the past, for example, in 2012, when it released a statement on behalf of Pratibha Patil to convey essentially that the president acts on behalf of the government and not out of her own will.

The Law Commission in its 2015 report too noted the influence a president has on deciding mercy petitions, saying, "A perusal of the chart of mercy petitions disposed by Presidents suggests that a death-row convict's fate in matters of life and death may not only depend on the ideology and views of the government of the day but also on the personal views and belief systems of the President."

HOW PRESIDENTS HAVE ACTED ON MERCY PLEAS


Based on data collated by the Law Commission, here's how India's presidents have dealt with mercy petitions:

  • Rajendra Prasad accepted 180 mercy pleas and rejected just one.
  • Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan allowed 57 mercy petitions while rejecting none.
  • Zakir Hussain did not send a single man to the gallow, accepting 22 mercy pleas.
  • VV Giri too did not reject a mercy petition, and accepted three pleas.
  • Fakrudhin Ali Ahmed and N Sanjeeva Reddy did not deal with any mercy petitions in their tenures.
  • Zail Singh rejected 30 mercy petitions, allowing just two.
  • R Venkatraman holds the record of rejecting the highest number of mercy pleas - 45. He allowed five petitions.
  • SD Sharma did not hand out a single commutation, rejecting 18 pleas for mercy.
  • KR Narayanan kept all mercy petitions pending.
  • APJ Kalam ruled on just two pleas, rejecting one and accepting the other.
  • Pratibha Patil commuted 34 mercy petitions and rejected five.
  • Pranab Mukherjee rejected 30 mercy petitions and allowed four.


HOW MERCY PETITIONS ARE DECIDED


Once the Supreme Court gives in its final ruling in a death penalty case, a convict on the death row can approach the president directly, via prison officials, via the Union Home Ministry or via the governor of the state where he/she is incarcerated.

The president then seeks the opinion of the Union cabinet, which is provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The president might, in some cases, send the MHA's recommendation back for further clarifications. The Home Ministry may also recall its recommendation in order to provide a fresh opinion.

Once the MHA submits a recommendation, the President will then accordingly decide upon a mercy petition. However, there is no set time frame within which a President must act.

* The numbers in this article are based on data collated by the Law Commission in its 2015 report. However, in a hallmark of Indian bureaucratic record keeping, exact figures on the mercy petitions rejected or allowed by India's first few presidents aren't easily available. Even the Law Commission in its report noted that the figures it was able to collate were based on empirical verification from the archives which may not be complete.

Source: India Today, Dev Goswami, July 18, 2017

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