Crime & Justice, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

DEATH PENALTY: Falsely Accused Push for Moratorium at U.N.

Mithre J. Sandrasagra

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2007 (IPS) - Three men sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit urged member states of the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday to support an upcoming resolution for a global moratorium on executions.

“I have faced death at the hands of my government and I’m here to tell the international community of the human suffering caused by the death penalty, and to urge them to end this terrible punishment,” said Edward Edmary Mpagi from Uganda, who spent 18 years on death row.

Mpagi, sentenced to death in 1981, was accused of killing a man who was later found to be alive.

“I have no words to express what I experienced,” Mpagi told those gathered at the well attended meeting here. “Every day I expected death,” he explained, “now I have high blood pressure, ulcers and poor sight.”

Speaking at the Amnesty International (AI) event in advance of a resolution for a global moratorium on executions, the three men highlighted how unfair trials, erroneous decisions or flaws in the judicial system can result in innocent people being executed, and urged governments from around the world to stop the use of the death penalty.

“It’s difficult to describe what it is like to serve time on death row knowing you are innocent,” said Ray Krone, the 100th prisoner on death row in the U.S. to be freed after DNA tests proved his innocence in 2002.


“All you know is that what seems like an awful nightmare is now reality, a reality beyond comprehension. The U.S. death penalty system is broken. What happened to me can happen to anyone. And it doesn’t have to be that way,” Krone said.

Krone stressed that race and income level play a large part in capital convictions, highlighting that his family and friends had to mortgage their homes and take up collections and still could not afford to finance his defence.

Since the death penalty was re-established in U.S. in 1973, 124 people on death row have been released after being found innocent.

In 1949, the Japanese authorities arrested Sakae Menda for the murder of two people. Police extracted a false “confession” from Menda through torture, and, after a trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Menda applied for retrials six times before being granted one.

In 1983, 34 years after being sentenced to death, the courts acquitted Menda of the charges, making him the first Japanese prisoner on death row to be released. Since then, three other falsely accused prisoners have been released.

“Living each day knowing that you may be sent to your death at any given month, day or moment is torture,” said Menda. “Being on death row dehumanises and has a massive psychological effect on a person. It’s an awful penalty to inflict on anyone, and is even more devastating for someone who is innocent.”

Executions in Japan are typically held in secret and prisoners are either not warned of their impending execution, or are notified only in the morning of the day of the execution.

“Living under a sentence of death is a unique psychological strain,” Piers Bannister, AI’s expert on the death penalty, told IPS.

“The fact that prisoners are asked to do this for decades and decades in Japan, the fact that they are not told of their execution until approximately two hours before it’s going to take place means that they have to wake up every morning asking whether this day will be their last. That is an unacceptable violation of someone’s human rights, it clearly amounts to psychological torture,” Bannister stressed.

“These three men provide graphic evidence that the death penalty is administered by flawed systems, whatever the culture and resources of the country concerned. No one knows how many innocent men and women have been executed through history,” Bannister said, emphasising that “the ever-present risk of executing the innocent provides yet another compelling reason why the time has come for the global moratorium of executions.”

During the second week of November, the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly will vote on a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions, paving the way for the 192 members in the General Assembly to vote on it shortly afterwards.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has talked about how abolition of the death penalty will enhance human rights. But up till now, the U.N. General Assembly has not voted on a moratorium resolution.

“The worldwide abolition of the death penalty is an idea whose time has come, and that is borne out by the number of countries that are abolishing the punishment,” according to Bannister.

To date, 133 countries have abolished the use of the death penalty in law or practice.

Ninety-six countries’ votes are required in the General Assembly for the moratorium to pass.

“Passage is far from definite though, countries may decide to abstain, or amendments may be introduced to derail the resolution,” Bannister said.

In 2006, 91 percent of all known executions took place in only six countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States. These countries are expected to vote against the resolution, and even its passage would be unlikely to lead them to immediately cease executions.

The resolution would, however, be a significant incentive for many other countries to complete the final steps toward abolition, Bannister told IPS.

South Korea, Taiwan, Mali, Kenya were expected to be among these countries, he added.

“Slavery and torture were once deemed morally acceptable,” Bannister said, explaining that when these practices became unacceptable, international law banning them followed. “This process is happening very quickly with the death penalty,” he stressed.

Speaking to those gathered at the AI programme, Rosemary Banks, New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.N., stressed the importance of making the testimony of three falsely convicted men available to the Third Committee of the General Assembly prior to a final vote on the moratorium in the full General Assembly.

 
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