EU Should Ban Trade Of Death Penalty Drugs To US

Lethal injectionLast October, Arizona executed Jeffrey Landrigan using sodium thiopental imported from England.  Other states also acquired this drug from the UK – but many of them (but not Arizona) have since had their supply confiscated by the DEA.

One of those states is Georgia which, in seeking to execute Troy Davis, is now scrambling to find an alternative drug.  Last Friday it appeared that they were close to a decision to replace sodium thiopental with pentobarbital.  This latter is rapidly becoming the drug of choice for our nation’s executioners, as Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Mississippi have all switched to it.

The company that makes the drug these four states are using, Lundbeck, is also based in Europe (Denmark), although the drug itself may be manufactured in the US.  The EU is supposed to have a ban on the trade in “tools of torture”, but a loophole allowed these exports of lethal injection drugs from the UK last fall, and this loophole clearly needs to be closed.  That is why Amnesty International is promoting a petition to José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, to ban the use of EU sourced drugs for US executions.

While these drugs should be banished from US execution chambers, Amnesty is not calling for an end to the manufacture or exporting of drugs which have legitimate and important medical uses; simply for the EU to insist that these drugs don’t end up being used for the opposite of their intended purpose – for killing instead of healing.

Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?

(c) Amnesty International

What does liberty, equality, and fraternity mean for the Roma who are being forcibly evicted from France?  Not much.  But fortunately, today the European Union urged France to immediately suspend the expulsion of Roma people.   This decision was made after the destruction of 300 Roma camps and the expulsion of their inhabitants.

The actoins of President Nicolas Sarkozy are now under heavy scrutiny of the European Union. And rightfully so.  The country which was once viewed as a “lighthouse of democracy and freedom”, has not cast its light on the Roma population which has been discriminated against for decades.  From Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to the 1912 French law requiring identity cards that categorized Roma as ‘nomads’ and encouraged discrimination, to their recent expulsion, Roma have long been the targets of discrimination.

We have called on France to heed the EU’s request, end the cycle of discrimination, and welcome Roma by granting them liberty, equality, and fraternity.

World Leaders Unite Against the Death Penalty

By Laura Moye, Amnesty International USA Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director

Imagine President Obama competing with other nations for world leadership on human rights by putting forward a goal to end the death penalty globally in just five years. Well, that’s exactly what Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero did last Wednesday. He addressed the Fourth World Congress against the Death Penalty in Geneva saying that his country, which now holds the European Union presidency, was very committed to seeing a world without the death penalty by 2015.

Leaders meet in Geneva at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Leaders meet in Geneva at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty

The World Congress against the Death Penalty was kicked off at the United Nations’ historic Palais des Nations. Preceding Mr. Zapatero’s remarks was a string of high level government and UN officials who put forward their commitment to global abolition. Robert Badinter also spoke. Badinter was the French justice minister responsible for the abolition of France’s death penalty at a time when French public opinion was more in favor of the death penalty than not. Today, the European Union is unified on the issue of the death penalty. Abolition has become a major plank in their human rights platform.

In 1977, 16 nations were abolitionist. Today, 139 are. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US are noted outliers in this global trend. And there is a growing global movement working hard to continue the trend toward global abolition.

Abolition of the death penalty everywhere is possible. Abolition of the death penalty in the United States will happen in my lifetime!

There is a global community of human rights activists and governments that stand with us in our struggle to end the death penalty.

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UN Report Echoes NGO Analysis of September Massacre in Guinea

Yesterday, a United Nations panel, commissioned in October to investigate the September 28th massacre in Guinea, released their report on what really happened that day. The report echoes what NGOs have been saying all along, identifying at least 156 people who died that day and at least 109 women and girls who were subjected to sexual violence, including rape, sexual mutilation or kidnap for repeated rape.

Up until now, the military junta in power in Guinea has denied these figures, saying that fewer than 60 people were killed that day and ignoring local and international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, whose investigations have shown the numbers of casualties to be much higher. But this new UN report will make it hard for them to continue denying the true horrors of that day.

The report argues that three specific people are directly responsible for the violence of September 28th: Captain Camara, the leader of the military junta; Lieutenant Aboubacar Cherif Diakite, Camara’s aide-de-camp and chief of the Presidential Guard; and another officer, Moussa Thegboro Camara. Which is ironic, since Diakite recently tried to kill Captain Camara, saying that Camara was trying to hold him responsible for the massacre.

Most importantly, the report calls for the referral of these three individuals to the International Criminal Court to be tried for crimes against humanity. Because Guinea is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, the court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo does not have to wait for a referral from the UN Security Council to open an investigation. And Ocampo already has a head start: he began a preliminary examination back in October after he received information, including pictures, about what had happened.

This report is a positive step in the quest for justice for the victims of Captain Camara’s regime. Already, the European Union has responded by increasing its sanctions on the military junta, adding to its existing arms embargo an assets freeze and an export ban on equipment that could potentially be used for state repression, as well as adding additional names to its travel ban. Hopefully, other nations will follow suit and ensure that the reign of impunity in Guinea ends now, including by supporting an ICC investigation.

Loss of Foreign Humanitarian Aid Brings Major Implications for the Honduran People in Need

As always, it is those with no resources that lose out first. Despite of the acute international pressure, protests, threats of violence and the possibility of a civil war, the arrogant power struggle the Honduran Government has been playing at, has led to a critical consequence: the European Union has officially suspended millions in aid to Honduras, as Washington suspends 18 million in military and development assistance, warning the facto Government of more “consequences” to come.

The European Union’s decision to suspend 65.5 million Euros in aid comes after failed attempts to negotiate talks for the resolution of the political crisis in the country, the worst political crisis in Central America in two decades. Recently negotiation talks were mediated by the Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias, who proposed a six-point plan that first and foremost requests the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to finish his term until late January. Delegates speaking on behalf of the interim government said that Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to his country, a statement that ignores the claims of the United Nations and the international community. Among the other proposals put forth by President Arias is: to form a coalition government, to declare amnesty for political crimes, push for advancing elections and the resignation of Zelaya to a referendum, among other things.

It is a devastating problem for a country like Honduras to lose humanitarian aid and support of entities like the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the European Union and United States. For the members of the Honduran Congress who opted for not only an illegal, but a rebellious solution to resolve an issue in their administration, the loss of millions of Euros, may not be much. Though, the loss of foreign aid has a direct and instantaneous effect for the millions of Hondurans in need living in this impoverished nation. The Honduran government should react as soon as possible before we see more violations of human rights, or more acts of violence and attacks on democracy in Central America that already hangs by a thread.

Deposed President Zelaya took a few steps into Honduran territory on Friday, immediately turning back without being confronted. As of Sunday night, Manuel Zelaya remains on the Nicaraguan border with Honduras, where he has vowed to stay until allowed to enter the country.

Whatever happened to American leadership?

(c) US DoD

(c) US DoD

Yesterday the Council of the European Union, made up of ministers from all 27 EU countries, agreed to allow former Guantanamo inmates cleared for release to settle in those countries prepared to take them.

The EU ministers made this decision despite the fact that, once inmates are resettled in the EU, they will able to move from country to country relatively freely.

27 European states, all with good reason to be concerned about the terrorist threat posed Al Qaeda, are prepared to take this step to help America out of a jam of entirely its own making.

Yet, not one U.S. State is prepared to do the same. Not one U.S. state has shown the strength of character of tiny Luxemburg, Ireland or Portugal. I wonder if you feel as ashamed of our elected officials as I do.

And what kind of message does this send to Al Qaeda? It tells Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri that Americans are so frightened that they have abandoned the most fundamental principle of American justice: that an individual is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

And we are even more scared of those inmates that might actually have done something. So scared, that we are apparently unwilling even to risk holding Al Qaeda members in our maximum security jails – no strangers, surely, to violent men.

Indeed, we seem to forget that our prisons already hold such Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists as the World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (who also happens to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew), the failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam and the aspirant 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui. All men, we should also note, successfully convicted in the federal courts.

Talk about giving succor to the enemy. This timidity must surely come as a welcome boost to Al Qaeda’s flagging morale and it stands in stark contrast to the courage shown by our men and women in uniform.

The Harvard terrorism expert and former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann has written that a little terrorism goes a long way. Terror is a psychological weapon that relies on the victim to magnify its power.

Embracing the politics of fear plays into Osama bin Laden’s hands. It spreads a message Al Qaeda wants spread. This message is best countered by demonstrating to Al Qaeda and its supporters that they cannot subvert our values or our way of life.

Right now, we can do that best by finally doing the right thing on Guantanamo and making sure that those inmates cleared of posing any threat are found new homes, either in Europe or on American soil. We cannot expect our allies to take this step alone.