Wednesday, January 18, 2012

US death penalty sentencing again reversed

Today marks the end of a very long ordeal for four Chicago men who were unjustly convicted as teenagers. After 17 years, Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, Vincent Thames and Terrill Swift—have finally been exonerated of the 1994 murder of Nina Glover. The State’s Attorney’s Office announced at a hearing today that they are dismissing the indictments against the four men. The decision follows a judge’s November 2011 order to vacate the four convictions. Saunders, Richardson, Thames and Swift have spent most of their adult lives in prison. They were between the ages of 15 and 18 when they arrested. Based on false confessions and without a shred of physical evidence, they were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 30-40 years in prison. Their cases, and others in Cook County, reveal a dangerous pattern of injustice based on false confessions. The Innocence Project is calling on Cook County to conduct a review of all cases involving juvenile confessions. In the past four months, ten people have been exonerated through DNA testing in Illinois after being unjustly convicted based on confessions they gave as teenagers. Thailand also bases convictions on forced confessions, unsupported by credible evidence. However the possibility of reversing sentences hardly exists. The only way of reforming the death penalty is to abolish it, whether in the US or in Thailand or elsewhere.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hangings in Iran, an Infamous Record

During the first week of 2012, the Iranian authorities achieved a new record by hanging 1 person in every 4 hours. They executed 39 people in different cities, including three in public in the western city of Kermanshah. According to Amnesty International, more than 600 executions were carried out in Iran in the first 11 months of 2011. This is a marked increase over at least 553 executions recorded in the whole of 2010 and is likely to make 2011 the worst year in two decades since 1991, when at least 775 executions were recorded

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Abolition of Death Penalty in Thailand - a beginning

The 2nd Five Year Human Rights Plan of Thailand contained a brief announcement of intention to abolish the death penalty. It is already the fourth year of the plan and there seemed no movement on the issue. It was worrying that in its Universal Peer Review presentation to the Human Rights Council, no mention was made of abolition. But many countries recalled the promise to address abolition. They raised questions at the UPR session and recommended action on the issue.
The Union of Civil Liberty and Amnesty International were happy to learn in a meeting with officials in the Ministry of Justice that action to achieve abolition is indeed taking place. The unit with responsibility on abolition is the Rights and Liberties Department. The following is their detailed plan of action for the year 2010.

Detailed plan of activities to promote abolition by the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice

Activities in Year 2012 Months
1. Study the abolition of death penalty in various countries, both abolitionist and retentionist; the criteria and tendency in each, so as to establish the consequences of abolition 2 months
2. Study to determine the highest sanction which replaces the death penalty in countries which have abolished the death penalty 1 month
3. Study all Thai laws which incur the death penalty, aspects of such laws, and the level of violence for which sentence is imposed 3 months
4. Study the statistics of trials which have imposed the death sentence and trials which have resulted in executions over the last 10 years 2 months
5. Interview experts in human rights, legal matters, and judicial procedure, victims of crime, persons who were condemned to death, and the general public 1 month
6. Organize workshops in the four regions of Thailand and in Bangkok, for participants from every province to survey opinion on the theme, “The attitude of Thai society to abolition of the death penalty” 1 month
7. Make submission to committees and sub-committees on the proposal to abolish laws imposing the death penalty, presenting opinions and proposals resulting from studies 1 month
8. Prepare a summary of studies and suggestions for further action on the theme “Abolition of laws which impose the death penalty” as proposed in the 2nd National Human Rights Plan, for discussion by the Rights and Liberties Protection Department. 1 month

We welcome this concrete initiative which we will support in every way possible.
However, we are troubled that the collection of opinion throughout the country is not preceded or accompanied by a campaign to inform public opinion. The Thai public are unaware of progress made elsewhere and changing world wide choices on the death penalty. There is danger that uninformed opinion may win the day. There is also a glaring lack of reference to political leadership which has been essential to achieve abolition in every country in the world.
We are also worried by interest shown in the "highest sanction" which might replace the death penalty. This is surely "life sentence, without parole". Such a sanction is only another form of the death penalty, and just as unacceptable. We are proposing a maximum sanction equivalent to that available to the International Criminal Court, a maximum sentence of 30 years, or, in exceptional circumstances, a life sentence. Both, however, would allow for parole. Consideration for parole in case of a life sentence would begin after 25 years.