Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amnesty International: Five Countries Carried Out 93% Of Executions In 2008

Amnesty International reported that the number of executions worldwide doubled in 2008 compared to 2007. The organization also found that China put many more people to death than the rest of the world combined. In addition, the United States is one of the leading countries in the use of the death penalty–a distinction it shares with nations whose human rights records it has criticized:

In its annual report on the death penalty, Amnesty International on Tuesday chronicled beheadings in Saudi Arabia; hangings in Japan, Iraq, Singapore and Sudan; lethal injections in China; an electrocution in the United States; firing squads in Afghanistan, Belarus and Vietnam; and stonings in Iran.

In all, 59 countries still have the death penalty on their books, but only 25 carried out executions last year. Two nations, Uzbekistan and Argentina, banned the death penalty last year.

Amnesty International said at least 2,390 people were executed worldwide in 2008, compared with its 2007 figure of at least 1,252.

With at least 1,718, China was responsible for 72 percent of all executions in 2008, the report stated. After China were Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37) and Pakistan (36), according to the group.

“Together they carried out 93 percent of all executions worldwide,” the report said.

In the video above, Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, states, "Beheading, shooting, hanging, lethal injections, electrocutions and stoning have no place in the 21st century." Despite the statistics cited above, she finds a positive implication in the fact that only 25 of the 59 countries with the death penalty used it: "That shows that the trend is toward abolition."

There are a number of objections to the death penalty: it discriminates on the basis of wealth, status, race and geography; it's costly; it isn't a deterrent; it often involves poor legal representation; it puts the U.S. in the company of countries with poor human rights records; it puts the state in the position of killing people; it may make juries reluctant to convict defendants. Of all of the objections, however, the strongest one is the possibility of killing an innocent individual. Our legal system, like all other human enterprises, includes the possibility of error. There is no way to ensure that an individual will never lose his or her life for the crime of another–the ultimate mistake that cannot be corrected. From the ACLU:

Since 1973, 129 death-row prisoners have been released because they were innocent. In addition, at least seven people have been executed since 1976 even though they were probably innocent. Wrongful convictions often result from false confessions, which are frequent among people with mental retardation, mistaken eyewitnesses, jail house snitches, junk science and prosecutorial abuse.

The Innocence Project uses DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, including those on death row:

The prospect of innocents languishing in prison or, worse, being put to death for crimes that they did not commit, should be intolerable to every American, regardless of race, politics, sex, origin, or creed.

According to Amnesty International, Europe and Central Asia (with the exception of Belarus) have become a "death-penalty free zone." May the United States and the rest of the world outlaw this barbaric penalty and ultimate denial of human rights.


Joe Markowitz said...

Yes, the idea of putting an innocent person to death should be intolerable, but in some ways it is even worse to put a guilty person to death. The innocent person at least has the consolation of knowing that he is innocent as he is led to his death. The guilty person has no such consolation, and is supposed to think that he somehow deserves to die.

Jeff Tone said...

Joe, On the other hand, the knowledge that one is innocent could lead to rage and despair. I can't imagine the horror of being led to death for a crime one did not commit.