Tuesday, October 10, 2006

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International

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10 October 2006

The fourth World Day Against the Death Penalty: Executions as a failure of justice

Thousands of people in numerous countries will mark the fourth World Day Against the Death Penalty today by calling for a world without executions.

The theme for this year’s day, organised by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, is “The Death Penalty: A Failure of Justice”.

Amnesty International said that the countries that use the death penalty do so in a manifestly unfair manner in violation of international laws and standards.

Amnesty International and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty want to bring attention to the appallingly low standards of justice used in the application of capital punishment in many countries. This is another compelling reason why the world must turn its back on state judicial killings.

The day highlights failures in the judicial systems of China, Iran, Nigerian, Saudi Arabia and the USA; all of which are failing to meet the standards required by the international community – via numerous international treaties – when using the death penalty.

Amnesty International believes the death penalty is never acceptable and every execution constitutes an extreme violation of the right to life. The organization also said the violation is exacerbated when human life is taken by the state via an unfair judicial process.

China has executed persons who later transpired to be innocent after the alleged murder victim reappeared alive and well.
Iran is one of only two countries which currently execute child offenders -- the other being Pakistan.
In Saudi Arabia foreign nationals face discrimination and disadvantage from the judicial system, often being tried in a language they do not understand.
The USA has sentenced individuals to death who clearly suffered from mental health disabilities.
In Nigeria a woman was sentenced to death after a trial at which she had no legal representation.

To take human life after such appallingly low standards of justice makes the case for the abolition of death penalty all the more compelling and urgent.

However, the momentum for a world free of executions gathers pace and 2006 has witnessed further progress towards a death penalty free world, with the Philippines and Moldova having abolished the death penalty. This takes to 129 the number of countries that no longer have capital punishment in law or practice.

Once abolished, very few countries consider reintroducing executions. However, the authorities in Peru and Poland are currently considering attempting the retrograde step of amending their laws to bring back the death penalty.

Amnesty International said that the World Day provides advocates of the death penalty the opportunity to re-examine their support for this outmoded form of punishment. The movement away from the death penalty has been dramatic and the small minority of states that continue to execute should ask themselves what is achieved by such a brutal act as the killing of a defenceless prisoner.

The World Day Against the Death Penalty will be marked by the launch of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) at events and activities across Asia Pacific, including in Seoul, South Korea, where a parliamentary bill to abolish the death penalty is currently being considered. The network of activists, NGOs, civil society groups and lawyers from many countries across the region -- including India, Singapore and Japan -- aims to draw attention to the inequities and unfairness inherent in the administration of the death penalty by appealing on individual cases and campaigning to support national and regional initiatives to end capital punishment.

In relation to the situation in Asia Pacific, Amnesty International said that it is a region that has bucked the worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty. The organization is working with ADPAN to urge Asia Pacific countries to abolish the death penalty and warned that even periods without executions can quickly and apparently easily be ended – as seen in Indonesia where a state firing squad executed three men in September 2006 after fifteen months with no known executions.

Asian countries that have taken a lead on the death penalty include the Philippines, which abolished the death penalty in June. ADPAN will campaign for other countries in Asia to make real their pronouncements to respect human rights, through the protection of the most fundamental right of all: the right to life.

Background Information

The World Day is organised by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) a coalition of over 53 organisations, including Amnesty International, bar associations, trade unions and local and regional authorities which have joined together in an effort to rid the world of the death penalty.

The World Day will be followed by the Cities for Life event which takes place on 30 November. Cities for Life is an annual event involving the illumination of public buildings or other localities that symbolically represent the community in cities and towns around the world, as an affirmation of the value of life and a sign of opposition to the death penalty. Cities for Life is organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant Egidio, with the endorsement of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Take action: Sign the World Coalition petition asking these governments to halt executions as a first step towards the abolition of the death penalty.

10 October 2006

Human Rights Defenders from Iran and Zimbabwe receive 2006 Martin Ennals Award.

Akbar Ganji, an Iranian investigative journalist turned activist, and Arnold Tsunga, a lawyer and a radio commentator from Zimbabwe, will receive the 2006 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) tomorrow.

Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will present the award at a ceremony at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva (Switzerland) on Wednesday 11 October 2006, 17h30, within the framework of the International North South Media Festival.

The Chairman of the Jury of the MEA, Hans Thoolen, described the laureates as “symbols of the human rights movement in their respective countries, where standing up for human rights and democracy is a dangerous activity; they continue to be involved in this struggle despite repressive measures and harassment”.

Akbar Ganji was detained in 2000 after he wrote articles implicating several officials in a string of murders of opposition intellectuals and writers in 1998. Later he was sentenced to imprisonment for “collecting confidential information harmful to national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic system”. He was held for 6 years in punitive prison conditions in violation of international human rights standards. He was beaten by his guards and placed in solitary confinement. After a hunger strike last year and a spell in hospital, he was conditionally released in March. After a short recovery, he started a tour in order to introduce Iranian intellectual movements and democratic circles to leading philosophers, theorists, and human right activists. He has written extensively in reformist newspapers, many of which were shut down. While in prison, his writings were smuggled out and widely distributed, especially on the web. Most notably he wrote a Republican Manifesto in six chapters in March 2002, laying out his proposal for a fully-fledged democratic republic for Iran.

Arnold Tsunga is the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and trustee of the radio station Voice of the People (VOP), and one of the leading human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe. In recognition of his legal work on human rights and strong reputation in his field he became the new director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in early 2003. Despite great personal risk, Arnold Tsunga has been representing individuals arrested under new, repressive legislation, including individuals who have been physically abused in custody. For representing these victims of human rights violations and denouncing the legal system and the human rights situation, he is constantly harassed and threatened. He was arrested several times and recently released on bail. His courage and work are internationally recognized: last June he was requested to speak out on behalf of human rights organizations at the first session of the new United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.


The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among eleven of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organization Against Torture, International Service for Human Rights, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists, Diakonie Germany, International Alert, Huridocs.

The previous laureates are: Aktham Naisse, Syria (2005); Lida Yusupova, Russia; Alirio Uribe Muñoz, Colombia; Jacqueline Moudeina, Chad; Peace Brigades International; Immaculee Birhaheka, DR Congo; Natasha Kandic, Yugoslavia; Eyad El Sarraj, Palestine; Samuel Ruiz, Mexico; Clement Nwankwo, Nigeria; Asma Jahangir, Pakistan; Harry Wu, China (1994).MEA Patrons: Asma Jahangir, Barbara Hendricks, Jose Ramos-Horta, Adama Dieng, Leandro Despouy, Robert Fulghum and Theo van Boven.


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