Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Decider who Failed

On 26th June the vote of 78 years old Justice Anthony Kennedy was decisive in legalising marriage between persons of the same gender in the US. On 29th June the vote of the same Justice was decisive in rejecting a plea to the Supreme Court to end the death penalty in the US.
The persistence of the US in applying the death penalty, in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, is one of the human rights mysteries of this world, when countries embracing liberal democracy are foremost in its rejection. Democracy and humanism, including an absolute respect for human life, go hand in hand.
The horror of execution is shown by the choice of method. In the past it was considered necessary that execution would take place with the extreme pain of crucifixion, impalement, burning at the stake, or other monstrous tortures invented to inflict the maximum of pain. But the lust for pain lessened and the search began for a painless way to execute criminals, acknoledging that death was the ultimate penalty, and any accompanying torture was meaningless. In its day, the guillotine was welcomed. In one account it was said that the condemned would feel the blade only like the brush of a feather. Or a criminal was killed by firing squad, mimicking the so called honourable death of a soldier. In recent years lethal injection is chosen as an almost medical procedure to induce eternal sleep. But experience of botched executions, of injections administered by executioners with rudimentary medical training, such as that of Clayton Cockett who died in 45 minutes of obvious torment proved otherwise. We realise today that all our supposedly painless killings are little different from the horrific burning at the stake of former days.
In 1996, 76% of US respondents supported capital punishment; today only 56% agree. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court Justice who supported homosexual marriage, persisted in supporting the death penalty.

Comment: "Thailand is a follower, not a leader", a remark made to me by a Buddhist monk. Decisions made in the US on human rights issues are still considered normative by Thai leaders. It is unlikely that Justice Anthony Kennedy is aware of the far reaches of his vote in influencing weak minded leaders elsewhere. It is a mystery that in a Buddhist kingdom, the prime tenet of Buddhism against killing is spurned. But that is how it is. The decision of a wavering US judge has greater influence on moral decision than the dictate of the Buddha!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Death Penalty in Asia, no steps forward, many steps backwards.


The case of Pakistan: 150 executions in 6 months — Pakistan’s race to kill.

Many may have been offered clemency if they could pay the required bribe or blood money.
Pakistan has executed over 150 people since a seven-year moratorium was lifted on state executions just six months ago. If we continue at this pace, we will quickly surpass China, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the number of executions carried out by the state this year. It is not only the pace of executions that is alarming, it is the fact that many of these cases are marred by corruption, torture and a flagrant disregard for international human rights standards.
A recent case was that of Aftab Bahadur, a Christian man who was accused of murder when he was just 15 years old. His confession was extracted after allegedly enduring prolonged torture, which involved being burnt by cigarettes and having his fingernails removed. Aftab Bahadur was hanged on June 10 despite calls by thousands of concerned individuals, human rights organizations, Christian leaders, and even the United Nations to grant him a reprieve. Shafqat Hussain’s story is similar. He was also sentenced when he was a juvenile, and his confession too was allegedly extracted under torture. Shafqat Hussain was arrested along with several others for the same crime. According to reports, while the others were freed after paying a 80,000 rupees (US$786) bribe, Shafqat was not because he did not possess the funds. Doubts about his guilt have led to the postponement of his sentence four times, but he has yet to be exonerated.
While Pakistan is racing to execute people, most of the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all countries have abolished the death penalty due to the growing belief that it is cruel, inhuman, degrading, discriminatory and ineffective in deterring crime. In the US, where the death penalty exists in 32 out of 50 states but is practiced in only a few, stories of innocent people being sentenced to death periodically surface. The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to reforming the US justice system, has successfully exonerated over 300 people, some of whom had been sentenced to death, largely through the use of DNA testing — a facility not readily accessible here. In fact, since 1973, 154 people have been freed from death row in the US after spending years in prison because their guilt could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
If the US justice system, which many would cite as being one of the most robust, can make so many mistakes, one can only imagine how many wrongful convictions there have been in Pakistan where corruption plagues every level of the state’s structure, particularly the police.
Application of death penalty is inherently flawed, with members of marginalized groups far more likely to receive death sentences.  In the US, you are three times more likely to face execution if you are African American than if you are white. In Pakistan, among the marginalized are members of minority communities some of whom have been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. While more Muslims have received the death penalty for allegedly committing blasphemy, minority communities feel themselves at far greater risk because of their religious, caste and class identity. Despite this, many in Pakistan blindly support the death penalty because they believe it deters crime and is sanctioned by religion. Not only does this overlook the countless studies, which prove that states that apply the death penalty do not have lower murder rates, it mistakenly assumes the state acts in a manner that is fair and just. Interestingly, many of those who support the death penalty do not trust the state with their alms or even their tax money due to fears of rampant corruption, but yet they trust it with deciding the gravest of matters — that of life and death.
There are more than 8,000 people who are counting the days till they will be called to the gallows. Many of these people were likely tortured in order to extract their confessions, some when they were children. Many may have been offered clemency if they could pay the required bribe or blood money. Many were probably the victims of some personal enmity on the part of the accusers. Many are mentally challenged or ill. And many more were just the most convenient and vulnerable suspects who could be found at the time.
The state has taken a respite from executions for the holy month of Ramadan. This represents a small window of opportunity for the Pakistani public to reflect on the effectiveness of the death penalty as it is applied today — by a severely broken and corrupt justice system.

Comment: Asian countries tend to be followers, not leaders. We watch each other carefully; when one moves we all move. Above all, this is true of the death penalty. Countries in the region shuffle along, always hesitant to take the ultimate step of abolition. When the Philippines took the unusual step of abolition, the others reflected that the move was influenced by Philippines non-asian adherence to Catholicism. A Thai senator remarked to me, referring to Philappine addiction to asassination killings, that Philippines doesn't need the death penalty as they shoot each other. However, backward steps are more easily taken. Like India, its rejected twin Pakistan had begun a moratorium on the death penalty. And like India, it took the step backwards. Where does that leave Thailand, now approaching a de facto moratorium, the ultimate alternative to choice?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Last Monday Saudi Arabia beheaded a 100th condemned criminal this year

Saudi Arabia carries out the death penalty by the primitive and barbaric method of beheading with a sword. But no news media in Saudi Arabia reports the public execautions. A wave of the hand discourages local media. Expensive subscriptions to foreign media limit comment abroad.
Thus they maintain the friendship of countries which are often loud in condemnation of such inhumane actions.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Appeal of Serge Atlaoui rejected

On 22nd June, the Administrative Court of Jakarta rejected the appeal of Serge Atlaoui, a French national, against the death penalty dating from 2007.
A welder by trade he was accused of installing industrial machines in an ectasy laboratory, which he claimed to believe was an acrylic factory. When eight others were executed in April, he was granted right of appeal on the basis that President Widodo had not examined his dossier before ordering his execution.
During the first Asian Congress on Abolition of the Death Penalty in Kuala Lumpur, 11 - 12th June, Indonesian commentators claimed that the recent spate of executions of foreign nationals was motivated by a political agenda of the President, and could not be justified as a deterrent in solving Indonesia's drug problems.
It may be expected that execution will not take place during the month of Ramadan, allowing further representations on a case which has incurred world wide protest.

The UN Human Rights Council rejects the death penalty for drug related cases. One may also argue that the repeated delays amount to unacceptable mental torture of the accused.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

In what sense was justice satisfied?

On 3rd June, in Huntsville, Texas, Lester Bower, was executed by lethal injection. He was 67 years of age, and had spent 30 years on death row.
The title "Death Row" is a creation of the US. It is unfortunate that this name, killing hope for those who are there located, is coming into use elsewhere in the world. Indeed, it would more appropriately be named "Life Row", to encourage the condemned who spend years fighting and pleading for life. Lester Bower is the oldest and longest death row Texan detainee in modern times.
He always denied the murder of 4 of which he was accused and made many appeals for a new judgement. His last appeal was rejected 2 hours before his execution. His last words were:
"Much has been written about this case; not all of it has been the truth"

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Nebraska, not a victory for Abolition

State of Nebraska, commutes death by poisoning to death by accelerated old age

In a mock victory for abolition, Nebraska, on 26th May, substituted the horror of the death penalty, by the comparable horror of LWOP, death in isolation and without hope, in a prison environment that takes away hope, the final value of a human life. Abolitionists have been rightly blamed for accepting life imprisonment until death as an alternative to the death penalty, and to abolition itself.
But now the practice is known and understood. Hope was the final item in Pandora's Box of Evils,  and its denial is now seen for what it is, a final evil. LWOP is meaningless, the ultimate cruelty.

Nebraska abolished death by lethal injection by 30 votes to 19. There were 10 prisoners on death row, but they still had hope; the last execution in Nebraska was in 1997. Now there are 10 prisoners on LWOP without any hope. The pattern is that over the years their visitors cease to come, they have nothing to say, no message to convey. Even their attornies will forget their names. Why care for them? they will age quickly in an inhuman condition. They will die unknown as if they never existed.
Truly, they no longer exist.
29 other states are at a loss of what to do, as the US struggles to find chemicals to kill the condemned; Oklahoma is toying with the idea of asphyxiating the condemned with nitrogen.
"The Horror! The Horror!", Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I could have been Mary Jane Veloso

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso was spared from execution at the last minute. She got a temporary reprieve but still faces execution.
Veloso is a migrant Filipino domestic worker just like me. Like me, Veloso was forced to become a migrant domestic worker because of poverty, because of a commitment to support her family, because she had no other choice.
Like me, she suffered abuse. Like me, she almost died.
While working as a domestic worker in Dubai, Veloso was attacked by her employer and hospitalized. After a month in the hospital and the trial of the perpetrator on rape charges, she went back to Philippines — her home country. But she could not earn money at home to support her children and had no choice but to sell her few possessions and become indebted to an informal agent who professed to be her friend and helped her migrate again. She was told she would be given work in Malaysia, like so many Indonesian domestic workers, but instead she was given new clothes and a suitcase and told to go to Indonesia until other work could be found for her.
Like me, Veloso was in no position to question the agent who made her migration possible. Like me, she was in debt. Like me, she trusted people who promised to help. Like me, she could not speak the local language. Like me, she needed to navigate a foreign legal system that she did not understand.
But unlike me, Veloso was a defendant in a legal case. And unlike me, Veloso had no support.
Veloso was charged with drug trafficking. But, in fact, it was Veloso who was trafficked. Like hundreds of thousands of women around the world, Veloso was controlled and made to travel as human cargo for the profit of others.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has said that Veloso should have been dealt with as a victim of trafficking and not as a criminal. Wrongly charged, she then had to sit through a trial that she did not understand.
She was given a lawyer whom she saw only during the trial. She was given an interpreter, a student who was studying English. But Veloso did not speak English, she spoke Tagalog. When asked whether she regretted what had happened, she said “No”, thinking they were asking if she had committed a crime.
Veloso is just like the 3 million Filipino women who have migrated for work. We migrate because we have to. We do not have power and money and we are put into the most vulnerable positions — physically, legally and economically.
Currently, there are 278 Indonesians on death row around the world. Many of them are just like Veloso and I — desperate people in desperate circumstances.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he was here to govern for us, for the least powerful. He said he no longer wanted to force Indonesian women to migrate into vulnerability. But if he really wants to support us women, he should give Veloso a fair trial because she is just like us. If he eventually executes her, he will be harming us all.
We will no longer be able to call for justice for Indonesian migrant workers. Today I want to ask the President — will you kill a woman just like me? Or will you prove to us that you are listening to the people and give her a fair trial.
Saving Veloso could help save the 278 Indonesians on death row. But it can do even more. Her case should force our government to rethink the justice systems that fail migrant workers. The Philippine government intervened so late it was almost fatal. Our government must provide full legal assistance to migrant workers and prosecute the real traffickers, some of whom work as migration agents. We know that could save lives and reunite families.
But our government needs to do more. Our government should commit to real action to stop people like me and Veloso from having to migrate in the first place. If our government ensured decent work at home and stopped land-grabbing we would not need to migrate, we would not face exploitation, become victims of trafficking and we would not risk death sentences — from legal systems or at the hands of employers.
With the support of people’s movements I have obtained justice. My employer, who attacked and tortured me is behind bars, not me.
Veloso is just like me, except that I live. I am free. And I will not rest until Veloso and all women are free. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, former Indonesian migrant worker

President Widodo, we join you in pleading for clemency for Indonesian nationals

Time is running out for Wanipah, a 28-year-old migrant worker from Indramayu, West Java, on death row at Hangzhou Penitentiary in China. According to her family’s lawyer, Iskandar Zulkarnaen, Wanipah was convicted in April 2011 of smuggling 992.72 grams of heroin into China through Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou in December 2010. Wanipah was sentenced to death, with a grace period of at least two years before execution. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry informed her family of her situation in August 2011. Iskandar, speaking for her family, said that his legal team planned to take this urgent matter to House of Representatives Commission IX, which oversees manpower. He also plans to seek help from the Foreign Ministry and Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister to get a stay of execution from the Chinese authorities.
Wanipah’s family said they hoped the government could provide adequate assistance and save their daughter’s life.
“I hope Pak Jokowi can help resolve her case,” Rusmini, Wanipah’s cousin, said recently, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
“At the very least, her sentence could be reduced,” said Wanipah’s mother, Nusriah. Iskandar said that Wanipah was likely a victim of human trafficking as there was evidence that her travel documents had been forged.
Based on data from the Foreign Ministry, 299 Indonesians are now facing execution overseas, 57 of whom were sentenced to death for drug offenses. At least 467 Indonesians have been executed abroad, including 168 in Malaysia, 28 in Saudi Arabia, 15 in China, four in Singapore, two in Laos and one in Vietnam. Most recently, migrant worker Siti Zaenab was executed last month in Medina, Saudi Arabia, after being sentenced to death in January 2001. She was arrested in October 1999 for stabbing her Saudi Arabian employer to death. Siti, from Madura in East Java, had worked in that country since 1997. Just days after Siti’s execution, another migrant worker, Karni, was executed in Saudi Arabia. She received the death penalty in 2013 after killing her employer’s child in 2012.
The executions were carried out without prior notice from the Saudi Arabian government and despite requests for pardons filed by the Indonesian government earlier this year.

President Widodo, we join you in appealing for clemency for Indonesians to be executed abroad
Hear our plea for those being executed in Indonesia.

First Regional Congress on the Death Penalty in Asia

     Dear Madam/Sir,
For  fifteen  years,  the  French  association  Together  against  the death  penalty  (ECPM)
has been dedicated to the fight against the death penalty all over the world. Every three years, we organize the World Congress against the Death Penalty. The 6thWorld Congress will be held in Olso June 2016.
Prior to the World Congress, and for the first time in Asia, a Regional Congress on the Death Penalty will take place on the  11th and 12thof June 2015 at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Organized in partnership with ADPAN (Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network), SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) and Bar Council Malaysia, it will focus on the specific stakes of the death penalty in East and South-East Asia.
ECPM and its partners gladly invite you to the official ceremonies and debates of the Regional Congress. Travel and living details are at your expenses.
We are at your disposal should you require any further information please contact our Regional Congress Coordinator Yi Pan at ypan@abolition.fr
Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

 Public Registration for Regional Congress please visit:
<http://goo.gl/LGrCAG> http://goo.gl/LGrCAG

Follow Asian Regional Congress on Death Penalty on Facebook at:

For more information on the Regional Congress please visit the website:
<http://congres.abolition.fr/> http://congres.abolition.fr

 Respectfully yours,
Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan                             Chow Ying Ngeow
Executive Director                                       Coordinator
ECPM                                                                ADPAN

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sister Prejean Asks for Mercy

                                        Spare Boston Bomber's Life 
In the defense’s final move to save the life of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sister Helen Prejean asked the jury not to execute the young man.The man responsible for the Boston bombings is “genuinely sorry for what he did,” testified Sr. Prejean on May 11 before a federal jury. “He said it emphatically. He said no one deserves to suffer like they did,” she recounted of Tsarnaev.
“I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did.”                                                                        


Postscript: On Wednesday 24th June, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rose in the Boston Court to say,
“I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done — irreparable damage.
I’m guilty of it. If there is any lingering doubt of that, let it be no more.”