The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Amnesty’s Death Penalty Report

Today, Amnesty International released its annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide. Although 2013 saw more executions than in previous years and several countries resuming executions, there was also progress towards abolition in all regions of the world. Below, see the top 10 things you need to know from our newest report:

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The Death Penalty is Just the Tip of an Iceberg of Injustice

We have ended the death penalty in two thirds of the countries around the world and in 18 states in the United States. On Wednesday, New Hampshire may get a bit closer to becoming the 19th (Photo Credit: Mike Simons/Getty Images).

We have ended the death penalty in two thirds of the countries around the world and in 18 states in the United States. On Wednesday, New Hampshire may get a bit closer to becoming the 19th (Photo Credit: Mike Simons/Getty Images).

 

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post under the title, “The Death Penalty Is The Tip of an Iceberg of Injustice.”

For much of my working, adult life, I have been witness to the consequences of our country’s addiction to the death penalty, and to the damage it does even as we loosen its grip.

This week, we at Amnesty International USA and anti-death penalty activists around the country hope to witness a moment we will one day say was another important step towards our collective recovery.

Wednesday, March 12, the New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote on a bill that, when signed into law, would end the death penalty in the state. Thirty-two states throughout this country have yet to rid themselves of a punishment that is not just cruel, unfair and expensive, but is tainted with human error.

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Why Executing the New Delhi Rapists Won’t Help the Women of India

Women call for the death penalty for the four men convicted of rape and murder today in New Delhi, India (Photo Credit: Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images).

Women call for the death penalty for the four men convicted of rape and murder today in New Delhi, India (Photo Credit: Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images).

By Tara Rao, Director of Amnesty International India

Today, a New Delhi court found four Indian men guilty of a December 2012 gang-rape and murder and sentenced them to death. A 17-year old convicted in the same case was sentenced to three years detention in a juvenile home on August 31. Another accused was found dead in his prison cell in March.

The rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi last year was a horrific crime and our deepest sympathy goes out to the victim’s family. Those responsible must be punished, but the death penalty is never the answer.

Far-reaching procedural and institutional reform, and not the death penalty, is needed to tackle the endemic problem of violence against women in India.

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Gambia’s President Suspends Executions Amid Outcry

gambia executions protest

Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

When we found out that Gambia was to break a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty by starting an execution spree last month, Amnesty activists went into overdrive.  Supporters sent over 30,000 messages to President Yahya Jammeh and rallied around the world to stop the mass killings of prisoners – many convicted after unfair trials.

Last Friday we got good news:  President Jammeh heard our call and announced the suspension of executions following “numerous appeals” at home and abroad.

The bad news? The halt may be temporary.  The President’s statement said:
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Gambia’s Execution Spree: “We Don’t Know Who Will Be Next!”

gambia executions protest

Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

While many nations have eliminated the threat of execution by abolishing the death penalty, the president of the Gambia is taking a very different and far more troubling approach.  President Yahya Jammeh pledged recently in a televised broadcast to empty his country’s death row by executing all its prisoners by mid-September.  This West African nation about the size of Connecticut had not executed anyone in more than a quarter of a century.  In the past week alone, authorities have executed at least nine people.

A rising number of organizations and governments around the world are calling on President Jammeh to stop the executions, including the Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal, along with the African Union, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Amnesty International.

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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.

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Here We Go Again: Iran Condemns Yet Another "Spy"

Amir Hekmati iran prisoner

Amir Hekmati

By now I can write the script in my sleep: Foreign citizen (but usually Iranian in origin) picked up and slapped into detention; family told to be quiet about it and things will “go well”; implausible televised confession to acts of espionage or involvement in plot to undermine the Iranian government made by weary-looking defendant is aired on Iranian television; unfair trial in Revolutionary Court; harsh sentence handed down; media fire-storm ensues.

Yes, I have been ticking off each item on my check list again. The only “surprise” in the case of Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati is the severity of the sentence.  The death sentence imposed on him is the first time that a U.S. citizen has been condemned to be executed in Iran since the Iranian Revolution took place 33 years ago.

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Iran Resorts to Mass Executions to Deal with Its Drug Crisis

Arrest of drug offenders in Iran

Arrest of drug offenders in Iran.

Iran faces a drug abuse crisis of enormous proportions. It has an estimated 2 million or more addicts and users, remains the world’s largest market for opium, as well as other illegal drugs, and is a major conduit for drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan. Further compounding the problem is the high incidence of HIV/AIDS infections among intravenous drug users in Iran.

The Iranian government’s solution to the problem is predictably heavy-handed, as well as ineffectual: large-scale executions of those convicted of drug related offenses.

In recent years, Iran has enjoyed the dubious status of being the world’s “Number Two”—it executes the second highest number of people after China. But this year’s total of at least 600 executions and counting will vastly exceed even the numbers from the previous several years. And an astonishing 81% of those executed were convicted of drug offenses.

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35 Years Of Death Penalty Regrets

Thirty-five years ago, on July 2, 1976, on the eve of massive bicentennial celebrations, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia voted 7-2 to re-instate capital punishment.  There had been no executions in the U.S. since 1967.

The U.S. could have been a leader in the subsequent worldwide trend toward death penalty abolition; instead the U.S. has become an outlier along with a minority of other countries (like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) that still kill prisoners.

What might have been?

Three of those 7 justices (Stevens, Blackmun and Powell) have since regretted their vote in Gregg, meaning that if there could be some sort of time-travel Stevens, Blackmun and Powell’s Excellent Adventure do-over, the death penalty might have never come back.

But, as with executing likely innocent people, you can’t go back in time to undo your mistakes. The death penalty did come back.

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North Korean Prison Camps Grow Larger

By Jack Rendler, North Korea Country Specialist

Satellite image of Political Prison Camp 15, North Korea (aka Yodok)

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea. ‘Guilt-by-association’ (with his parents) meant that he faced a lifetime of imprisonment. He was tortured along with his father. He was forced to watch the execution of his mother and his brother. He witnessed the deaths of many children under the impossible demands of forced labor.

On May 4, Amnesty International released a new report on prison camps in North Korea, accompanied by satellite images that reveal the scope and location of these facilities. Most are located in vast tracts of wilderness: isolated, remote, harsh. And, over the last ten years, they have grown.

Amnesty estimates that these camps hold at least 200,000 men, women and children (estimates by other human rights groups are much higher.) Untold numbers of innocent North Koreans have passed through and passed away in the camps since they were created 60 years ago. Most have no idea why they were arrested; they are held without charge or trial, without access to an independent judiciary.

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