Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Death penalty victims speak out

Execution leaves a prisoner dead, but it leaves their families serving a deeply painful life sentence. Yet we rarely hear their stories, and we are almost never confronted with the consequences for them of having a loved one killed by the state.

A new report in the USA has broken this silence surrounding the families of executed people.

The report by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), released on Human Rights Day -- 10 December, documents the experiences of the families and how they suffer similar effects to others who have experienced violent loss.

MVFHR said it produced the report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind "to highlight the similarities between the experiences of survivors of homicide victims and survivors of people who are executed".

MVFHR is an organisation of the families of people killed through murder and terrorist acts, and the families of people killed by the state. It works against the death penalty, based on a human rights perspective.

"Family members of the executed are the death penalty's invisible victims," said Renny Cushing, executive director of MVFHR.

"With each execution, we create a new grieving family who experience many familiar symptoms of trauma, some of them long-lasting. As a society, what are we doing to address the suffering of these families?"

Hearing their voices
The report is based on the deeply moving testimony of many families from "this new group of victims".

"I don't think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed," said Billie Jean Mayberry, whose brother Robert Coe was executed in Tennessee in 2000.

"To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives."

Robert Meeropol, whose parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed when he was six years old, emphasised the devastating effect of execution on children.

"What impact does this event have on children’s impressionable lives, and what cost does society pay for that impact?"

The report makes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates.

MVFHR has also sent a copy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with a request that she undertake a study of the impact of executions on surviving families.

Read their stories
Our colleagues at the Abolish the Death Penalty blog are running a two-week, ten-part series with the families' stories from the MVFHR report.

The first post is available here.

The full report is available here. (Please note the file is 2.46Mb.)

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