29 March, 2011

Arizona and then Alabama - continue with executions

The U.S. State of Arizona has executed Eric John King by lethal injection for the murders, committed in 1987, of two men in a store.  The case has a number of features which are not uncommon among prisoners executed in the USA.  He came from a poor background; had an alcoholic and abusive father; got into drugs and alcohol by the age of 9; his mother held a gun to his head when he was 10; he left home at age 15 and got into a life of crime.  He was convicted in 1991 - on evidence which ought to have given the appellate systems cause for serious concern - and sentenced to death.  He was therefore held under sentence of death for 20 years.  On 29th March 2011, Arizona's Department of Corrections website indicated that (including King) there were 131 prisoners on "death row."  Since 1993, Arizona has executed 22 people by lethal injection.  Prior to that the gas chamber was used and, in the early part of the 20th century, hanging.  Surely it ought to be plain from such statistics that capital punishment does not actually act as a deterrent to crime.

See Washington Post 29th March
Arizona Department of Corrections

Addendum 30th March:  "A final appeal against capital punishment" - Amy Goodman in The Guardian 30/3/11

Addendum 1st April:  In the State of Alabama, William Glenn Boyd was executed by lethal injection on 31st March 2011.  He, along with Robert Milstead, was convicted of two murders committed in 1986.  The jury recommended life imprisonment without parole.  That sentence was imposed on Milstead because he testified against Boyd in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

28 March, 2011

Amnesty International report on the Death Penalty

Amnesty International has issued a report on the use of the Death Penalty in 2010 - see Amnesty News Item and the report itself.  The report indicates some reduction in the use of the Death Penalty though a considerable number of countries remain committed to its use - see The Guardian 28th March 2011 for a useful summary.

Some extracts from the main report:

In July 2010 the London-based Privy Council commuted the sentence of Earlin White, who had been sentenced to death for murder in Belize in 2003. In its judgement, the Privy Council indicated one reason for the commutation was the lack of assessment of the social welfare and psychiatric condition of the defendant at the time of sentencing. In June 2010 however, the Caribbean Court of Justice Act came into effect in Belize, renouncing the Privy Council and establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final Court of Appeal for all civil and criminal cases in the country. Transitional provisions allow for pending appeals to be considered by the Privy Council.

See Earlin White v The Queen [2010] UKPC 22.


Executions were recorded in the USA in 2010 as follows: Texas (17), Ohio (8), Alabama (5), Mississippi (3), Oklahoma (3), Virginia (3), Georgia (2), Arizona (1), Florida (1), Louisiana (1), Utah (1) and Washington (1). Once again, the majority of executions in the USA were carried out in a handful of states. Utah and Washington carried out their first executions since 1999 and 2001 respectively.

In March 2011, Illinois abolished the death penalty - Illinois Governor signs bill ending death penalty..


Persons with mental impairment executed in USA

In 2010, Amnesty International was also concerned by the execution in the USA of people with significant mental impairments or after trials during which the juries did not hear available mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase. Holly Wood, a 50-year-old African American man with significant mental impairments, was executed by lethal injection in Alabama on the evening of 9 September. He had spent 16 years on death row. The presentation of mitigating evidence at the sentencing was minimal. In particular, there was no evidence at all presented about Holly Wood's mental ability despite the lawyers being in possession of an expert report indicating that Wood operated, “at most, in the borderline range of intellectual functioning”. Four federal judges on three courts concluded that he was denied adequate legal representation at the sentencing stage of his 1994 trial.

Jeffrey Landrigan, a 50-year-old Native American man, was executed in Arizona, on 26 October. He had been sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Chester Dyer. At his trial in 1990, his lawyer did not present any mitigating evidence on his background of abuse and deprivation or its effects on him. In 2007, the retired trial judge said that she would not have passed a death sentence if she had heard such mitigating evidence, especially the sort of expert mental health evidence that had been presented during the appeals process. The former judge was among witnesses who appeared at a clemency hearing in front of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency on 22 October 2010. She told the board that in her view Jeffrey Landrigan should have received a life sentence.


Sodium Thiopental exports from the U.K.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used to execute prisoners by lethal injection led to the suspension of some executions at the end of the year. By the end of 2010, the pharmaceutical company Hospira, the sole manufacturer or supplier of this drug in the USA, had begun discussions with the Italian authorities about Hospira’s intention to resume production of the drug at its plant in Italy.29 On 25 October, a day before Jeffrey Landrigan’s execution, the Arizona Attorney General revealed that the state had obtained sodium thiopental from an unidentified source in the United Kingdom (UK). Following campaigning by abolitionist groups, on 6 January 2011, the UK Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills made a statement to the High Court of Justice indicating that the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills would issue an order under s. 6 of the Export Control Act 2002 (ECA) controlling the export of sodium thiopental to the USA.

The Order made by the U.K. is the Export Control (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2010 which will remain in force until 28th November 2011.  It is not clear whether the British government will then issue a new Order.  The making of this Order does not necessarily prevent export of this drug but its export has to be licensed by the British government.

Given difficulties with obtaining sodium thiopental it seems that some US States have turned to pentobarbital - see REPRIEVE 24th March which calls on the Danish company LUNDBECK not to supply this drug.

25 March, 2011

Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Guidance on reporting torture etc.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)  has issued guidance to its staff working overseas about the reporting of torture or mistreatment which they may encounter in the course of their duties.   The guidance makes it clear that - "Every member of staff has an individual responsibility to report immediately allegations and/or concerns about suspected torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT) that occurs overseas, so that such allegations and/or concerns can be acted upon appropriately."

The full guidance document may be read via the FCO website.

A relevant and interesting article appeared on the Open Democracy website - "Torture evidence: a secret between Britain and her allies" by human rights activist Aisha Maniar - 28th February 2011.   The article draws together a number of threads including the Binyam Mohamed case, the planned Green paper on the use of intelligence material in legal proceedings and the Gibson Inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture.  In 2010 the British government reached a negotiated "without prejudice" settlement with a number of men who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay.  Details of the agreement have not been published and the men are subject to a confidentiality clause.

16 March, 2011

In Memoriam - Halabja - 16th March 1988

Halabja Memorial

Never Forget Halabja
As Sulaymānīyah - Iraq

In March 1988 Halabja was subjected to an horrific gas attack which killed some 5000 people and caused severe injury to many more.  On 25th January 2010 the man who ordered this attack - Ali Hassan Al Majid (a cousin of Saddam Hussein) - was executed in Baghdad.  The full horror is well recorded by the Gallery of Muslim Massacres website.  The City of Manchester, in Northern England, has a modest memorial to Halabja 16th March 1988.  It is a tree - (pictured) - and a small memorial stone.  They are located in a busy part of the city centre.  Today, 16th March 2011, a small group of people met there and placed flowers in remembrance of those who had died.

The Halabja massacre took place toward the end of the Iraq-Iran War (September 1980-August 1988).  Of course, much was to unfold before the Saddam Hussein regime was finally brought to an end as a result of military action against Iraq.   There was the action (under United Nations mandate) to remove Iraqi Forces from Kuwait - (August 1990 to February 1991).  Later there was the 2003 military invasion of Iraq by Coalition Forces.  This action remains highly controversial and, in the U.K., has been the subject of a number of inquiries the latest of which is the Chilcot Inquiry which has been referred to in several posts on this blog.  The coalition action against Iraq raised numerous issues in international law and the justification for military action by the U.K. remains the subject of intense debate.  Nevertheless, Halabja is a constant reminder of the abysmal regime headed by Saddam Hussein.

The Responsibility to Protect (UN Security Council Resolution 1674/2006) emerged as one outcome of these and other atrocious events.

An "Inconvenient Atrocity": The Chemical Weapons Attack on the Kurds of Halabja, Iraq                                                                                                   

03 March, 2011

The International Criminal Court and Libya

On Thursday 3 March 2011 announced the opening of an investigation in Libya. 

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011) provides jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court over the situation in Libya since 15 February 2011. As per the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor shall proceed with an investigation unless there is no reasonable basis to believe that crimes falling under the ICC jurisdiction have been committed.

Following a preliminary examination of available information, the Prosecutor reached the conclusion that an investigation is warranted. 

The Office of the Prosecutor is liaising with the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League, as well as States. Additionally, the Prosecutor will also request information from other sources including from Interpol who will provide assistance. The Prosecutor will act independently and impartially. 

The next step is for the Prosecutor to present his case to ICC judges who will then decide whether or not to issue arrest warrants based on the evidence.

The EJIL website carries two interesting items:   "Has the U.K. de-recognised Colonel Gadhafi as Head of State of Libya" and "The difference between rhetoric and reality: Why an illegitimate regime may still be a government in the eyes of international law."  The question of the recognition of States has to be distinguished from recognition of governments.  This matter is considered by Stefan Talmon here.  See details of Professor Talmon here - University of Oxford.

Addendum - 18th March:  On 26th February 2011 the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1970 (2011) addressing recent events in Africa.  On 17th March, the Security Council - by a vote of 10 to 0 (with 5 abstentions)  - passed Resolution 1973 (2011).  See U.N. News and also resolution 1973 may be read at The Guardian 18th March.