Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.


It's Time for Women's Rights in South Caucasus

Azerbaijan’s pardoning of its most celebrated journalist behind bars and Armenia’s release of all of its jailed oppositions is good news. But both ex-Soviet countries have a terrible record of women’s rights, and things seem to be getting worse.

Zaruhi Petrosian, a victim of domestic violence in Armenia

Armenia, for one, is the only country in the South Caucasus (which is made up of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) without legislation on domestic violence. An ongoing trial of a man who murdered his wife is still being dragged while the woman’s mother-in-law, reportedly also involved in the killing, is free.

In November 2008, Amnesty International issued a report on domestic abuse in Armenia stating that more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.


Georgia Execution Drugs Seized by DEA

Yesterday, the DEA seized Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental, the anesthetic most states use as the first drug in a three drug cocktail to execute prisoners, explaining that there are “questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.”

States have been importing sodium thiopental because the one US-based, FDA-approved manufacturer, Hospira, has ceased production over concerns about its use in executions.  Georgia, Arizona, Arkansas, California and Tennessee have all imported this drug from non-FDA approved sources in the U.K., and Nebraska recently acquired a large quantity from a non-FDA approved source in India.

Attorneys in Georgia in particular have objected that the drug came from a “fly-by-night supplier operating from the back of a driving school in England.” Raised in advance of the execution of Emmanuel Hammond in January, these concerns, though ignored by the courts, apparently were noticed by the DEA.

Outside the U.S., Swiss-based Novartis, the company responsible for a generic, non-Hospira version of sodium thiopental recently announced its intention to prevent its drug from being used in executions.  And Denmark-based Lundbeck, maker of pentobarbital, the substitute drug currently being used by Oklahoma and Ohio, has also strongly objected to the use of their product in the killing of prisoners.

The fundamental problem is this: carrying out executions with drugs meant for healing is an unresolvable and unsustainable breach of basic medical ethics (not to mention human rights). States like Georgia sneaking around and skirting the rules to import the drugs just makes it worse.

Georgia: Execution Info Could Inspire Terroristic Acts

The nexus between human rights violations and government secrecy is well-known. The abuse of human beings thrives where there is no oversight or accountability. And the promiscuous use of words like “national security” or “terrorism” to justify secrecy is also well documented.

So maybe it’s no surprise that the state of Georgia, in refusing to turn over mundane information on its lethal injection procedures, has made the outlandish claim that such disclosure could “compromise security against sabotage, criminal or terroristic acts.”  A few months back, a similarly absurd claim was made in Texas, but thankfully, and to his credit, this nonsense was overruled by the Texas Attorney General. Georgia’s ridiculous position here should also be overruled.

Other states and countries have also tried to conceal execution information, but for a democracy to function, citizens have to be able to keep track of what their government is up to. It should go without saying that, of all things, the state’s killing of prisoners must be subject to public scrutiny.

Emanuel Hammond is scheduled for execution on January 25, and his lawyers have been trying, since November, to get information about the drugs that will be used to put him to death. The state’s refusal to comply, and its over-the-top reason for refusing, is an insult to the public’s right to know what is being done in their name.

ACTION: Halt Forced Evictions in Georgia

A room containing a toilet has been allocated to be the main living area for an internally displaced family in Georgia.

This family is among about 5,000 people – out of 246,000 internally displaced persons – who have been forcibly evicted from their homes in Georgia since mid-June.

Amnesty International fears that more forced evictions are likely to take place in the near future.

Take action to tell Georgia’s president to stop forced evictions in Georgia and secure human rights for the displaced.

Georgian Government Must Secure Human Rights for its Displaced

Two years after the Georgian-Russian war, about 6 per cent of the population of Georgia (some 246,000 people) are displaced within the post-Soviet country. Most of the displaced, however, are not from the 2008 war. Instead, 220,000 left their homes during conflicts that took place in the early 90s. Amnesty International’s newest report, Georgia: In the Waiting Room, documents shortcomings in internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) access to economic and social rights, as well as the deprivation and marginalization they still experience.

Back in 2008, Amnesty International USA’s Science for Human Rights Program documented destruction of property in the war through satellite imagery comparison reaching the following conclusion:

Not only do the images reveal significant damage in the region after the end of the major hostilities from the first two days of the conflict, but they support eyewitness accounts of arson attacks by South Ossetian forces, paramilitary groups and privately armed individuals against property owned by ethnic Georgians. The images support AI assessments that the majority of the damage in Tskhinvali was sustained prior to August 10, and that more than 100 civilian houses in Tskhinvali were hit by shelling during the initial Georgian bombardment.

Satellite image of the Georgian village of Tamarasheni, South Ossetia, taken on 19 August. The red dots represent all buildings sustaining damage (152 structures in total). © 2009 ImageSat. All Rights Reserved. Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Amnesty's Conclusions about 2008 Georgia-Russia Conflict Supported by New EU Report

Yesterday, the EU published its final report detailing international law violations that occurred during the Georgia-Russia war in August last year and its aftermath.  This report highlighted many of the original findings detailed in Amnesty International’s November 2008 report (pdf). The AI report expressed concern for both parties’ use of indiscriminate force against civilians and the use of inappropriate and inaccurate weaponry in largely civilian areas. It also documented extensive looting, arson and violent attacks directed towards Georgian-majority villages in South Ossetia by South Ossetian forces, paramilitary groups and privately armed individuals. The findings of the AI report relied on research gathered from four fact finding missions and the analysis of satellite imagery provided by AIUSA’s Science for Human Rights project .

Some of the findings of the new EU Report include:

The refugee crisis in the region remains since Russia is still refusing to allow ethnic Georgian refugees to return to their homes in South Ossetia  Furthermore, the EU report concludes that the risk of renewed violence remains.

Don't Forget the Victims in Georgia

Now I don’t have a house. The weather is nice and I can sleep in the garden, but I don’t know what to do when the rain comes. Nobody is helping me.” A former teacher, Kazbek Djiloev, shared his hardship with us a few months ago as he stood before the ruins of his home in Tskhinvali. His house was one of many that were shelled during the recent Georgia-Russia conflict.


We captured this man’s story as an example of how such a military clash impacts civilians. He echoes the voices of thousands more civilian victims, many of whom are unable to return to their previous lives. Stories like Kazbek’s provide a human face to the evidence, including satellite imagery, which demonstrates the effect of the conflict on civilians.


Three months after the fighting broke out, 20,000 Georgians are still unable to return home because their homes were destroyed by rockets, looting and torching. Don’t forget them and their stories when you go home for the holidays this year.