The Death Penalty In 2011: Three Things You Should Know

noose death penaltyEvery year around this time, Amnesty International releases its annual survey of capital punishment worldwide.

As in previous years, the report – Death Sentences and Execution 2011 – shows that support for executions continued to diminish, and that the U.S. is in the wrong company but moving in the right direction. There are three main takeaways from this years report.

1. Globally, the use of the death penalty remained in decline.  At the end of 2011 there were 140 countries considered abolitionist in law or practice (it’s now 141 with the addition of Mongolia), while only 20 countries were known to have put prisoners to death.  Only in the tumultuous Middle East was there an increase in executions.


Sri Lanka: Justice for the ACF 17

You may not have been aware of it, but this past Wednesday, Aug. 19, was the first World Humanitarian Day.  August 19 was designated by the U.N. General Assembly last December as a day each year to honor aid workers around the world, especially those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

The UN website about the World Humanitarian Day noted that in Sri Lanka, 17 staff of the French aid agency Action contre la Faim (ACF) (Action Against Hunger) were killed in August 2006.  While the Sri Lankan government has blamed the opposition Tamil Tigers for the killings, a recent report by the Sri Lankan human rights group, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), provides evidence pointing to the security forces as the killers.  And Amnesty International’s report, “Twenty Years of Make-Believe:  Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry, details serious deficiencies of subsequent government investigations into the massacre.

It’s been more than 3 years, and still the killers of the 17 ACF staff have not been brought to justice.  One more example of the continuing impunity enjoyed by the Sri Lankan security forces.  I hope that by next year’s World Humanitarian Day, I won’t be able to make the same statement.

Sri Lanka: end impunity for human rights violations

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said last Tuesday that no one should be above the law, including members of the police or armed forces.  This follows a widely publicized incident last week in Sri Lanka:  two youths were arrested by the police on August 12 and their bullet-ridden bodies were discovered the next day.  The killings sparked public anger and riots against the police.  Several police officers have since been arrested in connection with the murders.

I dearly hope justice is done in this case and the killers held accountable.  But there remain thousands of cases of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan security forces, including the police, where no one has been prosecuted or convicted.  The recent Amnesty International report on presidential commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka details the government’s failure to deliver justice for serious human rights violations for decades.  I hope President Rajapaksa’s recent statement will lead to a serious, sustained effort by the Sri Lankan government to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice at last.  The ongoing impunity enjoyed by the security forces for past violations must end.

The Media Hype May Be Over, But There Is Still A Crisis In Honduras

Amnesty International issued a report today about the ongoing crisis in Honduras following the coup d’etat which took place June 28. Many press outlets have covered the report and accompanying press release which comes at a crucial time as the crisis in Honduras must be kept in the attention of the mainstream media and general public.

AI’s main concerns with the crisis as cited in the report are:

Two of the ten students who took part in the peaceful march on 30 July 2009. The imprint of the police batons is clearly visible on both students. Amnesty International

Two of the ten students who took part in the peaceful march on 30 July 2009. The imprint of the police batons is clearly visible on both students. Amnesty International

  • Excessive use of force
  • Gender-based violence
  • Use of military in civilian law enforcement
  • Freedom of expression
  • Curfew measures
  • Safety of human rights defenders

I’ll let the words of Hondurans speak for themselves to end this post, as their words are much more powerful than mine:

“We were demonstrating peacefully. Suddenly, the
police came towards us, and I started running. They
grabbed me and shouted “why do you (all) support
Zelaya’s government? Whether it’s by choice or by
force, you have to be with this government”. They
beat me. I have not yet been informed as to why I
am here detained.”

[“Fernando”, 52 year-old teacher, at a police station in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 30 July 2009]