Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Legislative battle on Death Penalty begins

Source: CNN Philippines (17 January 2017)


Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The debate on the controversial death penalty bill takes center stage in the House of Representatives as Congress resumes session.

The House leadership said they intend to vote on the bill after 30 session days of debate.

But for such a controversial measure, its fate lies on public support and, eventually, on the number of votes it can gain from lawmakers.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez could only bank on the majority coalition to get the green light for the death penalty bill. He says he's confident it would pass the debates.

"Meron tayong coalition, meron tayong supermajority. Kung meron mang lilihis doon siguro mga 5 or 10," Alvarez said. [We have a coalition, we have a supermajority. If there will be some who will take a different direction, there's only about 5 or 10.]

Equally confident is the House Minority bloc - which believes the bill won't make it in Congress.

They claim they have the numbers to block it's approval.

"Conscience vote, tiyak panalo kami and it will be a wide margin pero kung party vote, panalo parin kami but by a slim margin," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said.

Lagman claims a number of members from the super majority, including allies of President Duterte are now rethinking their support for death penalty.

Among them, PBA Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles. In a text message to CNN Philippines, Nograles explained, while he is pro-administration, he is also pro-life.

"I cannot support the death [p]enalty bill. I believe that Congress must prioritize legislation increasing the number of courts, prosecutors, and public attorneys so we can speed up the judicial process from the average of 7 years for the first decision down to hopefully less than a year trial," Nograles said.

"It is my duty to play an active role in the debates and I hope that the debates will be factual," he added.

Alvarez said he expects the bill would be voted on after a month of debates, but Lagman thinks it will take longer than that.

Lagman said at least 50 congressmen have signified their intent to ask questions about the bill.

He recalled it took him and then Cebu Representative Pablo Gacia about three weeks during the 13th Congress to finish their questions during debates on the abolition of the death penalty.

For his part, Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said the leadership should make sure there is quorum during the debates.

"When we start the debates, kung matagal yung interpellation, pag wala ng quorum, titigil din 'yung debate," Baguilat pointed out. [When we start the debates, if the interpellation will take long and there would be no quorum, the debates will cease.]

Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin also said the church, civil society groups, and even international parliamentarians are ready to go all out against the reimposition of death penalty.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Jia Jinglong: Chinese villager executed despite campaign

Source: BBC News (15 November 2016)


The execution of a Chinese villager - despite widespread calls to commute his sentence - has drawn criticism from those who say this country's courts have one way of handling the powerful and a different way of handling the poor.

In early May 2013, Jia Jinglong was preparing for his wedding day.

He wanted to have the ceremony at his family home in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing in northern China.

However, just prior to the big day, his house was knocked down to make way for a new development.

Adding to his woes, his fiancee then called off the wedding and he reportedly lost his job.

Jia Jinglong felt it was all too much. He sought revenge for the upheaval in his life following the destruction of his house without proper compensation.

In February 2015, he took a nail gun and went looking for the village chief, the man he decided was to blame. Then the groom-to-be-no-longer shot and killed the chief, 55-year-old He Jianhua.

For this he was sentenced to death.

Class and injustice

In accordance with the rules governing all death penalty cases, his went to the Supreme Court for ratification. It was cleared to proceed.

There has been a major public campaign to have his death sentence commuted because of extenuating circumstances. Even some newspapers controlled by the Communist Party have been arguing that he should be spared.

But now word has come through from an official social media account run by the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court: Jia Jinglong has been executed.

Some outside China will be wondering why the general public and Chinese media might have felt the need to campaign for somebody who admitted to murdering his local Communist Party secretary.

Well it all comes down to class and injustice in modern China.

These types of forced demolitions are routine here. It would be hard to argue against the premise that for years this country's central government has turned a blind eye while property developers, in league with corrupt local officials, have bulldozed people's houses, using paid thugs to beat up villagers if they try to resist.

It is a way of clearing out pesky residents which continues to this day.

The "compensation" paid is usually nowhere near enough to buy an apartment in the same area, forcing evicted families to move to distant, low-grade housing estates.

How can I say this so confidently? Because I've seen it first hand time and again. I've seen the houses being destroyed, I've seen the crying families and I've seen the men sent in to silence them.

Ask pretty much any China correspondent and they will tell you the same thing.
'Pushed into a corner'

We are constantly approached by desperate people claiming their homes have been effectively stolen and destroyed. The BBC could do a story on one of these cases in a different location every week if we wanted to.

Because this is seen here as such a widespread abuse of power against the lao bai xing (the ordinary punters) there has been a view that - while murder is not to be condoned - Jia Jinglong was pushed into a corner; that the crimes against him should have meant commuting his death sentence to some lesser penalty.

After all, people will tell you, government officials and those in the upper echelons of society are saved from a lethal injection for much less.

These cases are posing a real problem for the Communist Party in terms of perceived legitimacy, especially when its reason for monopoly power is supposed to be delivering a more just world for the downtrodden.

In 2009, a 21-year-old woman working as a pedicurist in a hotel building was on a break, washing some clothes.

Attached to the hotel was a massage and entertainment complex called Dream Fantasy City. Offering food, drink, massages, karaoke and often prostitution, these types of establishments are popular with government officials.

When a local Communist Party figure approached Deng Yujiao asking her to stop washing her clothes and instead provide him with "special services" he fully expected to get his way.

She told him she didn't do that kind of work there. It's said he then took a wad of cash from his pocket and started slapping her on the face with it. He then pushed her onto a lounge and got on top of her. To defend herself she stabbed him four times with a small knife. One of the blows struck him in the neck, causing the director of the local township's business promotions office to bleed to death on the spot.

Deng Yujiao was charged with murder.

Her case drew huge waves of support from Chinese people using the Internet to campaign in her favour. To many, she was seen as a hero. Finally somebody was standing up to these small-town, corrupt and arrogant officials.

The social media posts were censored but the momentum could not be stopped.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charge and granted bail. She faced a lesser charge of "intentional assault" but was never sentenced. This was apparently due to her mental state.

There are considerable parallels in these two cases but certainly not in one respect.

Despite the public outcry there was to be no sparing Jia Jinglong.

His crime was committed in the new era of President Xi Jinping. Justice now appears to be more hardline and the Communist Party remains well and truly in charge of the courts and all that takes place inside them.

UNGA 2016 Resolution – How Countries Voted

Source: Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (19 December 2016)



[117 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favour of the proposal. Only 40 states voted against it and 31 abstained at the vote]

Below the Draft Test of the Resolution (for the final text, visit UN Website)

The General Assembly,

Guided by the purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations,

Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,

Recalling the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, and in this regard welcoming the increasing number of accessions to and ratifications of the Second Optional Protocol,

Reaffirming its resolutions 62/149 of 18 December 2007, 63/168 of 18 December 2008, 65/206 of 21 December 2010, 67/176 of 20 December 2012 and 69/186 of 18 December 2014 on the question of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, in which the General Assembly called upon States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing it,

Welcoming all relevant decisions and resolutions of the Human Rights Council,

Mindful that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable,

Convinced that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty contributes to respect for human dignity and to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights, and considering that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty,

Noting ongoing local and national debates and regional initiatives on the death penalty, as well as the readiness of an increasing number of Member States to make available to the public information on the use of the death penalty, and also, in this regard, the decision by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 26/2 of 26 June 20145 to convene biennial high-level panel discussions in order to further exchange views on the question of the death penalty,

Recognizing the role of national human rights institutions in contributing to ongoing local and national debates and regional initiatives on the death penalty,

Welcoming the considerable movement towards the abolition of the death penalty globally and the fact that many States are applying a moratorium, including long-standing moratoriums, either in law or in practice, on the use of the death penalty,

Emphasizing the need to ensure that persons facing the death penalty are treated with humanity and with respect for their inherent dignity and in compliance with their rights under international human rights law,

Noting the technical cooperation among Member States, as well as the role of relevant United Nations entities and human rights mechanisms, in supporting State efforts to establish moratoriums on the death penalty,

Bearing in mind the work of special procedures mandate holders who have addressed human rights issues related to the death penalty within the framework of their respective mandates,

Reaffirms the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, including determining appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with their international law obligations;

Expresses its deep concern about the continued application of the death penalty;

Welcomes the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 69/186 and the recommendations contained therein;

Also welcomes the steps taken by some States to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed, as well as steps taken to limit its application;

Further welcomes initiatives and political leadership encouraging national discussions and debates on the possibility of moving away from capital punishment through domestic decision-making;

Welcomes the decisions made by an increasing number of States from all regions, at all levels of government, to apply a moratorium on executions, followed in many cases by the abolition of the death penalty;

Calls upon all States:

(a) To respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, in particular the minimum standards, as set out in the annex to Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984, as well as to provide the Secretary-General with information in this regard;

(b) To comply with their obligations under article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, particularly the right to receive information on consular assistance;

(c) To make available relevant information, disaggregated by sex, age, and race, as applicable, and other applicable criteria, with regard to their use of the death penalty, inter alia, the number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row and the number of executions carried out, the number of death sentences reversed or commuted on appeal and information on any scheduled execution, which can contribute to possible informed and transparent national and international debates, including on the obligations of States pertaining to the use of the death penalty;

(d) To progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and not to impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age, on pregnant women or on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities;

(e) To reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed;

(f) To ensure that those facing the death penalty can exercise their right to apply for pardon or commutation of their death sentence by ensuring that clemency procedures are fair and transparent and that prompt information is provided at all stages of the process;

(g) To establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty;

Calls upon States which have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it, and encourages them to share their experience in this regard;

Encourages States which have a moratorium to maintain it and to share their experience in this regard;

Calls upon States that have not yet done so to consider acceding to or ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;

Requests the Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly at its seventy-third session on the implementation of the present resolution;

Decides to continue consideration of the matter at its seventy-third session under the item entitled “Promotion and protection of human rights”.

Some observations of a friend as follows:-

The plenary session of the UN General Assembly adopted yesterday its sixth resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with 117 votes in favour, 40 against and 31 abstentions.

The text of the resolution includes some positive new additions compared to 2014, including:

-a reference to the role of national human rights institutions in contributing to ongoing local and national debates and regional initiatives on the death penalty;

-a request to make available relevant information on any scheduled execution, in addition to other information already listed in previous resolutions;

-a call on states that still retain the death penalty “To ensure that those facing the death penalty can exercise their right to apply for pardon or commutation of their death sentence by ensuring that clemency procedures are fair and transparent and that prompt information is provided at all stages of the process;”

Unfortunately the opponents of the resolution managed this year to include in the resolution a new paragraph that recalls their sovereign right to determine their legal systems, as follows:

“1. Reaffirms the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, including determining appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with their international law obligations;”

While the number of the votes in favour remained the same as in 2014, there have been some interesting changes in the voting, both positively and negatively:

Positive changes:

-Guinea, Malawi, Namibia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka moved from abstention to vote in favour;

-Zimbabwe moved from vote against to abstention;

– Swaziland also moved from not present to vote in favour (but voted against the resolution in previous years).

-Lesotho moved from not present to abstention (but abstained in previous resolutions, so did not mention this in our AI statement); Nauru moved from not present to vote in favour (but supported the resolutions in previous years, so we did not mention this in our statement).

Negative changes:

-Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Philippines, Seychelles moved from vote in favour to abstention;

-Maldives moved from abstention to vote against;

-Burundi and South Sudan moved from vote in favour to vote against.

Several states also did not vote yesterday, for whatever reason, contributing to the final results:

-DRC, Gambia, Senegal went from abstention to not present;

-Rwanda went from vote in favour to not present.

This leaves us with a somewhat bittersweet result: on one hand, the number of votes in favour has not become higher compared to 2014; on the other hand, some of the positive changes might signal the beginning of new journeys towards abolition.

2016 has been a very challenging year all around, including for the death penalty-some of the negative vote changes were somewhat expected, some perhaps speak to greater human rights challenges.

Thank you nonetheless for your continued work to get us all here-look forward to more work together in the new year.

Amnesty International’s public statement on yesterday’s vote can be found below and at this link: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/act50/5389/2016/en/