Death Penalty: The Ultimate Denial of Human Rights

Today is the world day against the death penalty, and Amnesty International is focusing its attention on the United States in the human rights organization’s global push to end capital punishment. The United States is the only country in the Americas that carried out executions in 2009. The paragraph below, from Amnesty International, best sums up the organization’s position.

“The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by a state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, without exceptions, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristic of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.”

The United States is increasingly isolated on the death penalty

Despite the fact that the global push to abolish the death penalty is gaining momentum, more than 1,200 men and women have been put to death in the United States since executions resumed in 1977 after a decade without them. Recently, in an interview with NPR, retired Justice Stevens said that the vote he regretted the most, in his long tenure at the Supreme Court, was the one he made in favor of bringing back capital punishment in 1976. Justice Stevens called the 1976 Supreme Court ruling to uphold the death penalty “incorrect”, and told NPR‘s Nina Totenberg that it is the “one vote I would change.”

The three states that have the most blood on their hands are Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma. Together, they account for more than half of the country’s executions. But California alone has more than 700 inmates on death row, and there is a push in some political circles to resume the executions.

Since 1977, more than 130 prisoners have been released from death row in the United States after being found innocent. Nine were freed in 2009 alone. There is absolutely no proof that capital punishment prevents violent crimes more effectively than life sentences. Also, as pointed out by Amnesty International, several studies have shown that race plays a big factor in who receives the death penalty in the United States, with murders involving white victims more likely to result in death sentences than those involving black victims.

“A clear majority of countries have rejected the death penalty. How can the USA claim leadership on human rights yet still commit judicial killings?” said Widney Brown from Amnesty International.

The US belongs to the dubious and shrinking “club” of countries where killing citizens is legal. The other big players in the nations that commit killings are Iran, China and Saudi-Arabia.

“The death penalty is cruel, degrading, ineffective and entirely incompatible with any concept of human dignity. Its use in the United States is marked by arbitrariness, discrimination and error. Race, geography, electoral politics, local finances, jury composition and the quality of legal representation are all problematic factors in capital cases in the USA. Being tried for a capital crime is like taking part in a lethal lottery, and it should have no place in any justice system. It is indefensible to continue executing people, particularly knowing that innocent people have been sentenced to death. The United States needs to join the abolitionist majority in the world,” said Widney Brown from Amnesty International.



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