was a good day at the United Nations. On July 3, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
called on member states to abolish the death penalty.
And he called for a universal moratorium on the death
penalty by 2015.
taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible,
for one human being to inflict on another, even when
backed by legal process,” he said. “Where the death
penalty persists, conditions for those awaiting execution
are often horrifying, leading to aggravated suffering.”
Capital punishment represents pure vengeance and retribution operating
as public policy.
Ban gave the introductory remarks at a panel called
“Moving away from the death penalty - Lessons from
national experiences” at UN Headquarters in New
York. The event, a gathering of diplomats, legal
practitioners and civil society, focused on those
UN member states that have made positive steps towards
abolition, and the human rights implications of the
death penalty in those states that execute. Also
present were Assistant Secretary-General Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
at the forum was Federico Mayor, president of the
International Commission Against
the Death Penalty, an initiative of the Spanish government
that is supported by 15 countries. Mayor noted that
one of the first steps taken by Spain after the Franco regime was the abolition
of the death penalty.
highlight of the forum was Witness to Innocence member,
Kirk Bloodsworth, who spent eight years in prison, including two on Maryland’s death row, for a murder someone else
committed. He was convicted of the murder and rape
of a little girl. In 1 993, Bloodsworth
was the first death row prisoner to be exonerated
through DNA testing. And he was released just months
after his mother died. Bloodsworth
shared with an international audience the inherent
problem of executing innocent people, of his experiences
living in the hell that is death row, and the pain
of being released from prison just a few months after
his mother died.
Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project noted that only 5 percent
of serious felonies have biological evidence for the
purposes of DNA testing and proving one’s innocence.
Innocent people are sentenced to death for a number
of reasons, including police and prosecutorial misconduct,
incompetent lawyering, racism
in the jury selection process, eyewitness misidentification,
Over 150 nations have done away with the death penalty or do not practice
people can differ about the death penalty, Scheck
said, but no one can differ about the risk of executing
innocent people. He also suggested that the U.S. Supreme
Court would abolish the death penalty if the states
demonstrate a trend towards abolition. The high court
would conclude that the death penalty could not stand
when limited to a small number of states in one region
of the country.
the past five years, five states - New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut - have abolished the death penalty, for a total of 17 states
that do not execute. And in November, California voters will have the opportunity to repeal the death penalty in
the nation’s largest state, thereby eliminating a
quarter of America’s
in 2007, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of
a resolution for a worldwide moratorium. The U.S. voted against
it. Over 150 nations have done away with the death
penalty or do not practice it. Moreover, in 2011 only
20 nations executed prisoners.
the day of the UN event I had an interesting conversation
with two men, diplomats from a Muslim nation. I expressed
my unequivocal opposition to the death penalty, and
they explained to me why they believed the death penalty
was fairly applied in their country - the concept
of blood money.
blood money, the family of the murder victim can demand
a payment from the accused criminal. If the accused
is able to pay the amount demanded by the family,
that person is spared. Otherwise, he or she is executed.
And the family may decide not to accept blood money
altogether, and the execution will proceed.
they realized it or not, the two men articulated good
reasons for ending the death penalty. If a person
may be spared, and another executed for the same crime,
then one can argue that no one should have to die.
maintains its own arbitrary form of justice, where
many murders are potentially death-penalty eligible,
but the ultimate decision is made by petty local officials
- district attorneys on the county level, and U.S. attorneys in the federal system. Those who
are prosecuted and condemned are typically poor, disproportionately
of color, and almost exclusively in cases involving
executions provide no deterrent effect. Capital punishment
represents pure vengeance and retribution operating
as public policy. It leaves no room for rehabilitation.
Moreover, we cannot bring an innocent man or woman
back from the grave.
the day will come when the international community
declares a moratorium on executions. The death penalty
is the ultimate human rights violation. As long as
humankind upholds the sentence of death, it tears
down its own humanity.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor and
Columnist, David A. Love, JD, is a journalist and
human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. and a contributor to The Huffington
Post, the Grio, The Progressive
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These
Times and Philadelphia
Independent Media Center. He also blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne, Daily Kos, and Open Salon. Click here to contact Mr. Love.