Every 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.
For those working in human rights, the events of the last week have led to some interesting but challenging debates. We have heard government officials and pundits argue that torture led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden. Somewhere, they claim, in a secret detention centre in Poland or Lithuania, or in an interrogation room in Guantánamo Bay or Bagram, someone gave the critical clue that led to this outcome.
As justifications for the legitimacy of torture hit the headlines, Amnesty International has been preparing to release its annual report into the state of the world’s human rights. With the benefit of 50 years of working to prevent torture and promote justice, Amnesty International has found itself re-affirming the centrality of human rights in the key challenges we face today – including the absolute ban on torture.
Some claim that torture works. They argue that last week’s events in Pakistan prove that torture played a role in bringing what they would call justice to the thousands of victims of Al Qa’aeda around the world. So how, they ask, can self-righteous human rights activists criticize torture?
As you may have noticed, we released our Annual Report today. As always, both state and non-state actors are doing a great job at abusing human rights. But what’s becoming clearer and clearer is that governments are evading their responsibility to ensure justice and accountability for the victims of human rights abuses. This year’s Annual Report highlights this trend: the increasing tendency of governments to block advances in international justice by shielding allies from criticism and acting only when it’s politically convenient.
The need for effective global justice is a key lesson from the past year. Justice provides fairness and truth to those who suffer violations, deters human rights abuses, and ultimately delivers a more stable and secure world – Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International
But there’s still hope. On Sunday, State Parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) will gather in Kampala, Uganda, for the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the ICC. From May 31st to June 11th, states will have an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to ending impunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
This is a fundamental break with history. The old era of impunity is over. In its place, slowly but surely, we are witnessing the birth of a new “age of accountability.” It began with the special tribunals set up in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; today, the ICC is the keystone of a growing system of global justice that includes international tribunals, mixed international-national courts and domestic prosecutions – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
There are three proposed amendment to the Rome Statute that will be considered by State Parties during the Review Conference: the deletion of Article 124, which allows states to exempt themselves from the Court’s jurisdiction for the first seven years after their ratification of the Rome Statute; the addition of the crime of aggression to the Court’s jurisdiction; and the amendment of Article 8 to classify the use of certain weapons, such as poison or poisoned weapons, asphyxiating gases and bullets that expand or flatten easily in the human body, as war crimes in non-international conflicts. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
A global justice gap is being made worse by power politics despite a landmark year for international justice. So was the conclusion of our world report released today that documents abuses in 159 countries. State of the World’s Human Rights shows that powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient.
Amnesty International is calling on governments to ensure accountability for their own actions, fully sign up to the International Criminal Court and ensure that crimes under international law can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. States claiming global leadership, including the G20, have a particular responsibility to set an example.
The International Criminal Court’s 2009 arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, was a landmark event demonstrating that even sitting heads of state are not above the law. However, the African Union’s refusal to cooperate, despite the nightmare of violence that has affected hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, was a stark example of governmental failure to put justice before politics.
The UN Human Rights Council’s paralysis over Sri Lanka, despite serious abuses including possible war crimes carried out by both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also stood as a testament to the international community’s failure to act when needed. Meanwhile, the recommendations of the Human Rights Council’s Goldstone report calling for accountability for the conflict in Gaza still need to be heeded by Israel and Hamas.
Worldwide, the justice gap sustained a pernicious web of repression. Our research records torture or other ill-treatment in at least 111 countries, unfair trials in at least 55 countries, restrictions on free speech in at least 96 countries and prisoners of conscience imprisoned in at least 48 countries.
Human rights organizations and human rights defenders came under attack in many countries, with governments preventing their work or failing to protect them.
Amid the global economic crisis, who stole the spotlight? The Big Three car makers? The bigwigs and their bonuses? The big banks that caused all the trouble? That’s where all of the attention has been focused. But what about the little guys, people whose individual stories we won’t hear, but who will be living in poverty, due to the global financial crisis. Well, according to the World Bank, there will be 53 million more of them because of the economic collapse.
This kind of massive deprivation for basic needs – not luxuries like the Palm Beach condos lost in the Madoff scandal – cannot and will not go unanswered.
Some of the repercussions are already occurring: growing repression, racism and violence. The Amnesty International Report 2009: State of the World’s Human Rights, released today, labels these brewing problems the “ticking time bomb” underlying the economic crisis. In Zimbabwe, hundreds of activists protesting economic decline and social conditions were arrested and detained without charge, with police using excessive force to break up protests. Refugees from Zimbabwe in 2008 faced racism and xenophobia in South Africa that led in one instance to 60 deaths and 600 injuries.
While world leaders are focused on attempts to revive the global economy, they are neglecting deadly conflicts that are spawning massive human rights abuses. Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan said that, “Ignoring one crisis to focus on another is a recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations.”
Good point. When John McCain tried to duck the first presidential debate, wasn’t it Candidate Obama who said, “Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time”?
So, President Obama. In addition to running GM, appointing a new Supreme Court justice, winding down two wars, gearing up to advance your domestic agenda and closing Guantanamo legally and fairly (come on, you promised “in concert with our core values” ), can’t you do something to help millions of little guys who need food, water, a roof over their heads and a job?
Yep, the United States is expected to exert leadership on every major world crisis. It’s the responsibility that comes with that label we love: “world’s sole superpower.” And U.S. leadership and respect in the world needs a good makeover. Here’s the perfect opportunity.
President Obama could ensure that the United States plays a leadership role in uniting world leaders to give sufficient attention not just to “trickle down” recovery, but to recovery that helps all people. Recovery that would comprehensively address the problems that lead to and keep people in poverty. That must mean addressing the underlying human rights issues that create and exacerbate human rights violations. His chums in the G20 would be a great place to start.
Come on, Mr. President. Yes You Can!
To read Amnesty International’s new report, please visit thereport.amnesty.org, for facts and figures, images, graphs, audio and video news releases, and regional and country reports.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.