Monday, 29 June 2009

Pakistan: President Zardari should commute death sentences

19 June 2009

Pakistan: President Zardari should commute death sentences on Benazir Bhutto’s birthday

On 21 June 2008, marking the birthday of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani proposed to the National Assembly that all death sentences in Pakistan should be commuted to life imprisonment.

Amnesty International calls on the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari —Benazir Bhutto’s widower—to mark his wife’s birthday and the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Gilani’s proposal by immediately commuting all death sentences to terms of imprisonment. The President holds the Constitutional authority to commute death sentences without further delay.

Amnesty international is encouraged by the decreasing number of death sentences and executions in Pakistan in 2008. But Pakistan continues to apply the death penalty and some 7,500 prisoners remain on death row. In 2008, an estimated 236 people were sentenced to death, 36 of them were executed, including 16 after the Prime Minister's June statement.

These executions, along with the November 2008 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance--which provides for the death sentence when “the offence of cyber terrorism” causes death--defy the spirit of Prime Minister Gilani’s commutation proposal.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and without exception, believing it to be the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. The death penalty legitimises an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims, as has been persistently demonstrated.

Amnesty International’s research shows that lower courts in Pakistan frequently impose the death sentence for murder in the expectation that the sentence will not be carried out as families are likely to reach a compromise, and forgive the alleged perpetrator, leading to his or her release in accordance with the provisions for qisas in Pakistani law. Sometimes negotiations over compensation continue while the convict stands ready to be hanged.

The law on murder and physical injury based upon the principles of qisas and diyat (retribution and “blood money” in the form of financial compensation) are in practice discriminatory: the rich and powerful usually have the means to secure the pardon of the victim’s family and thereby obtain their release, whereas the poor and powerless are often executed.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has further developed this point by stating: “where the private diyah pardon stands alone and when it relates to the death penalty, it is almost certain to lead to significant violations of the right to due process in situations where a pardon is not granted. To the extent that the procedure does not provide for a final judgement by a court of law, or for the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence from the State authorities, the requirements of international law will be violated. Where the diyah pardon is available it must be supplemented by a separate, public system for seeking an official pardon or commutation.” (See report of the Special Rapporteur to the UN General Assembly, A/61/311, paragraph 61.)

Amnesty International’s concern about the large number of death sentences in Pakistan is heightened by the fact that many appear to be imposed in unfair trials characterised by lack of access to legal counsel and acceptance of evidence inadmissible under international law, including by special courts. Members of religious minorities seem disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and unfair and erroneous convictions in capital cases.

On 18 December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 62/149 on “Moratorium on the use of the Death Penalty”. The resolution was adopted by 104 votes in favour, 54 against and 29 abstentions. Pakistan’s previous government under President Pervez Musharraf voted against the resolution. A second resolution 63/168 on the moratorium was adopted a year later in December with an even greater margin of support. Amnesty International was disappointed that Pakistan voted against the resolution despite Prime Minister Gilani’s promise regarding commutation of death penalties on 21 June 2008.

We urge the President of Pakistan to follow through on Prime Minister Gilani’s commutation proposal and the example set by former Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, who shortly after being elected Prime Minister in 1988 commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment.

Momentum is gathering across the world to end capital punishment. As of today, 139 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal. Pakistan sent a positive signal by acceding to three human rights treaties in April last year.

Amnesty International now call upon Pakistan President to seize the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s birthday, and one year on from the commutation proposal and to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment as a first step to abolition of the death penalty.

Friday, 26 June 2009

End the Death Penalty for Drug-Related Offences

Joint Statement by The Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN), of which Amnesty International is a member, Human Rights Watch and the International Harm Reduction Association

As the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking approaches on 26 June, the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN), of which Amnesty International is a member, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) call upon governments in Asia to cease applying the death penalty for drug-related offences.

There is a clear, long-standing and worldwide move toward restriction or abolition of the death penalty. Only a small minority of countries continue to implement the death penalty: in 2008, 25 countries carried out executions. ADPAN, Human Rights Watch and the International Harm Reduction Association oppose the death penalty in all cases as a violation of fundamental rights- the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Sixteen countries in Asia apply the death penalty for drug-related offences. As many countries in the region do not make information on the death penalty available, it is impossible to calculate exactly how many drug-related death sentences are imposed. However, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, reports indicate that a high proportion of death sentences are imposed upon those convicted of drug offences. ADPAN, HRW, and IHRA express particular concern that China, Indonesia, and Vietnam continue to execute individuals for drug offences – and that some countries, such as China since the early 1990s, and Indonesia in 2008, have marked the occasion of June 26 with such executions.

Despite the executions in Asia there is no clear evidence of a decline in drug-trafficking that could be attributed to the threat or use of the death penalty. There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters serious crime in general more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations (UN) in 1988 and updated in 1996 and 2002, concluded: "...research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis."

UN human rights mechanisms – including the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and the UN Human Rights Committee -- have concluded that the death penalty for drug offences fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime”, under which the death penalty is allowed only as an “exceptional measure” where “there was an intention to kill which resulted in the loss of life” (UN Doc, A/HRC/4/20, 29 January 2007, para 53). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have likewise expressed grave concerns about the application of the death penalty for drug offences.

Death sentences are often handed down after unfair legal processes, a problem made worse by laws, policies or practices regulating drug offences in some Asian countries. Mandatory death sentences are applied for certain drug offences in Brunei, India, Laos, Singapore and Malaysia, leaving a judge with no discretion over the sentence for defendants found guilty. Mandatory death sentences violate international standards on fair trials. Individualised sentencing is required to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and the arbitrary deprivation of life. Singapore, which has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world, as well as Malaysia, continue to hand down death sentences to individuals alleged to be drug traffickers after trials that presume guilt, and in which death sentences are mandatory.

Confessions that have been coerced sometimes form the basis of guilty verdicts, death sentences and executions. Competent legal assistance is unavailable to many defendants, including defendants facing drugs-related charges, leaving many with little capacity to mount a defence at any stage of the proceedings.

Draconian penalties for drug offences, including the death penalty, hinder public health programmes that reduce the harm drugs may cause to individual drug users, their loved ones, communities and states. China, Malaysia and Viet Nam have recently stepped up their harm reduction programmes to reduce HIV, hepatitis C and other drug-related health and social harms. However, excessive punishments and overly repressive drug law enforcement have been shown time and again to drive target groups away from such services. The death penalty therefore not only violates the right to life of those condemned, but is actually counterproductive to efforts to reduce the harm caused by drugs.

On the occasion of UN Anti-Drugs Day 2009 ADPAN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Harm Reduction Association appeal to Asian governments to:

• Introduce an immediate moratorium on executions with a view to the abolition of the death penalty in line with UN General Assembly resolution 62/149 and 63/168 on “moratorium on the use of the death penalty”;
• Commute all death sentences including for drug offences;
• Remove provisions within their domestic legislation that allow for the death penalty for drugs offences;
• Abolish the use of mandatory sentencing in capital cases;
• Publicize statistics on the death penalty and facts around the administration of justice in death penalty cases;
• Use the occasion of Anti-Drugs Day 2009 to highlight public health policies that have proven effective in reducing drug-related harms.


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Taiwan: Call for death penalty study

From the Taipei Times:

Academics call for review of policy that capital punishment deters crime
By Shelley Huang
Tuesday, Jun 02, 2009, Page 2

Academics yesterday urged the government to review its policy on capital punishment by conducting an in-depth study on whether it discourages crime.

A panel discussion on the death penalty and its effect on crime rates was held yesterday as part of a book launch to promote "New Ideology beyond the Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty," a collection of essays from a seminar organized by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty last November.

"We hope to initiate dialogue on the issue of the death penalty from a rational point of view," said Birgitt Ory, director of the German Institute Taipei, which co-sponsored the publication of the book.

The institute aims to share Germany's experiences following its abolition of the death penalty. It also hopes Taiwanese would find "living in a society without the death penalty is not only a possibility, but also a better choice," Ory said.

The book contains essays by four German academics and detailed discussions among the four and 15 Taiwanese experts who participated in the conference on social security, prison reform, protection of victims and other issues.

"What is written on paper will be preserved," Ory said. "We hope to provide thought-provoking ways of looking at the issue of the death penalty and inspire readers' thinking on the subject."

Panelists said that taking the life of a criminal was not necessarily the best way to compensate for the loss of the victim.

Experts urged President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) administration to set a timeline for gradually abolishing the death penalty, instead of delaying it until the next president takes office.

Attorney Nigel Li (李念祖), who is also a board member of the Judicial Reform Foundation, said that since the legislature on March 31 ratified the Act Governing Execution of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (公民與政治權利國際公約及經濟社會文化權利國際公約施行法), Taiwan should re-examine its law on the death penalty.

Since Taiwan has not executed a death row prisoner in more than four years, panelists urged the government to perform a statistical analysis on the crime rate to determine whether the abolishment of death penalty would have any effect on discouraging crime.

Related stories:
Taiwanese group stirs debate on abolition -- 23 October 2008
Life Watch to save Taiwan's innocent from death -- 12 February 2008
Torment on Taiwan's death row -- 15 May 2007
Taiwan limits mandatory penalties -- 29 January 2007
Abolition debate for Taiwan in 2007 -- 12 January 2007
Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion' -- 14 December 2006
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 21 February 2006