How the Death Penalty Weakens U.S. International Interests

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  • How the DeathPenalty WeakensU.S. InternationalInterests

    December 2004

  • How the DeathPenalty WeakensU.S. InternationalInterests

    Published December 2004

    THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION isthe nations premier guardian of liberty, workingdaily in courts, legislatures and communities todefend and preserve the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and thelaws of the United States.

    OFFICERS AND DIRECTORSNadine Strossen, PresidentAnthony Romero, Executive DirectorKenneth B. Clark, Chair,

    Executive Advisory CouncilRichard Zacks, Treasurer

    ACLU Capital Punishment Project915 15th Street, NW, 6th Fl.Washington, DC 20005

    ACLU National Office125 Broad Street, 18th Fl.New York, NY 10004-2400(212) 549-2500www.aclu.org

  • Table of Contents

    I. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    II. The Death Penalty in the International Arena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    A. International Efforts to Abolish the Death Penalty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    B. International Efforts to Limit the Death Penalty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

    C. Foreign Officials Raise the Issue with the U.S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

    D. Interventions by Foreign Governments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    E. Extradition Cases Involving the Death Penalty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

    F. Challenges by International Tribunal Hearing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

    G. Human Rights Inquiries and Other Reports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

    III. Effects on the International Image of the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

    A. International Press Coverage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

    B. International Cooperation in the War on Terror . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

    IV. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

    Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

  • HOW THE DEATH PENALTY WEAKENS U.S. INTERNATIONAL INTERESTS

    It is in all candor that we say to you that maintaining the deathpenalty in your country profoundly affects the friendship which wefeel for you. If Americans must understand that the death penaltyis intolerable, it is up to you, as responsible politicians, to helpthem understand that. You are the representatives of a countrythat certain people consider the greatest democracy in the world.But you will never be elected in a model democracy as long as thedeath penalty exists there.

    Letter to Members of the United States Congressfrom Members of the French National Assembly, July 2000.

  • I. Introduction

    In the face of a clear world trend towardabolition of capital punishment, execu-tions in the United States continueunabated. Europeans and other allies findsuch U.S. practices as the execution of juve-nile offenders, the mentally ill, and thementally retarded to be particularly repug-nant. International human rights inquiriesand other studies regularly describe prob-lems with the United States death penaltysystem, including wrongful convictions ofinnocent people, inadequate legal represen-tation for defendants, and racial and eco-nomic disparities in its application. Manyallies consider such practices to be unfit fora great democracy seeking to assert leader-ship on human rights and other internation-al policy matters.

    The United States refusal to take any signif-icant steps in response to international con-cerns regarding the death penalty is harmingits relations with important allies and costingthe United States prestige and leadership onhuman rights and other issues. This is hap-pening at a time when, as President Bushrecognizes, the United States must rely oninternational cooperation. The costs to theUnited States in terms of its internationalinterests simply are not worth whatever ben-efits might be had from executing 100 crim-inals per year rather than imprisoning themfor life. It is time for the United States toreevaluate its commitment to this outdatedand controversial practice.

    II. The Death Penalty in theInternational Arena

    The forfeiture of life is tooabsolute, too irreversible forone human being to inflict it onanother, even when backed bylegal process. And I believe thatfuture generations, throughoutthe world, will come to agree.

    Kofi Annan, United NationsSecretary General, accepting apetition calling for a worldwidemoratorium on the death penal-ty, Dec. 18, 2000.

    The international communitys efforts to abol-ish, or at least limit, the practice of legal exe-cutions are reflected in numerous multilateraltreaties and protocols. The United States, how-ever, generally either refuses to sign, signs withreservations, or simply ignores such treaties,and continues to apply the death penalty with-out regard for the concerns of other nations. Asa result, foreign officials increasingly havechallenged the United States on this issue.

    A. International Efforts to Abolish theDeath Penalty

    The primary goal of most of the internationalcommunity regarding the death penalty is abo-lition. Efforts to abolish the death penalty havebeen conducted through multilateral organiza-tions, such as the United Nations, and regional

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    A n ACLU R e p o r t

    How the Death Penalty WeakensU.S. International Interests

  • organizations, such as the European Union.These efforts have realized a great degree ofsuccess. The number of countries that havestopped imposing the death penalty has grownto an all-time high of 118 as of 2003. Eightycountries have abolished the death penalty forall crimes. Fifteen countries have abolished thedeath penalty for all but exceptional crimes,such as those committed during wartime.Twenty-three countries can be considered abo-litionist in practice: They retain the deathpenalty in law but have not carried out any exe-cutions for 10 or more years, and are believedto have a policy or practice of not carrying outexecutions. Countries renouncing the deathpenalty for all crimes in recent years includeChile, Ukraine, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Canada,the United Kingdom, Poland, Lithuania, SouthAfrica, Turkmenistan, and Bulgaria. Still oth-ers have abolished the death penalty for ordi-nary crimes and retained it for serious crimesagainst the state like treason or war crimes. Byignoring international efforts to abolish thedeath penalty while increasing its use, theUnited States places itself outside a growinginternational consensus on capital punishment.

    The International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights

    The International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights (ICCPR)1 is the primary inter-national treaty on human rights. The U.S. StateDepartment has called it the most completeand authoritative articulation of internationalhuman rights law that has emerged in the yearsfollowing World War II. While the treaty hasreceived almost universal endorsement, theUnited States ratified it only with reservationsrelating to the death penalty.

    The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR2

    seeks the abolition of the death penalty world-wide. This Protocol was adopted by the UnitedNations General Assembly in 1989. It has now

    been ratified by 53 states, and another ninestates have signed, indicating their intention tobecome parties. The Second Optional Protocolnotes that the ICCPR has referred to the deathpenalty in terms that strongly suggest thatabolition is desirable. The Protocol furtherstates the commitment of the parties to abolishit. This Protocol provides for its total abolition,but also allows states wishing to do so to retainthe death penalty in wartime as an exception.Parties to the Protocol include such U.S. alliesas the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium,Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Netherlands,Spain, Sweden, Colombia, Costa Rica,Ecuador, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela,Monaco, Mozambique, and Namibia. TheUnited States has not signed the Protocol.

    A resolution of the U.N. Commission onHuman Rights called on all parties to theICCPR that have not signed the SecondOptional Protocol to do so.3 The Commissionfurther called upon States that still impose thedeath penalty to restrict the number of offensesfor which it can be imposed, and to establish amoratorium on executions with a view to com-pletely abolishing them. The resolution waspassed with a roll call vote of 27 for, 18against, and seven abstentions. Among thosejoining the United States in voting against theresolution were Algeria, Burundi, China,Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar,Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Vietnam unusualallies for one of the worlds leading democra-cies on an important human rights issue.

    The Americas

    In our region, the primary human rights treatyis the American Convention on Human Rights.4

    The Organization of American States ofwhich the United States is a member hasadopted a Protocol to the AmericanConvention on Human Rights to Abolish theDeath Penalty.5 The Preamble to this Protocol

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    HOW THE DEATH PENALTY WEAKENS U.S. INTERNATIONAL INTERESTS

  • notes that the tendency among Americannations is in favor of abolishing the deathpenalty, and seeks an international agreementto eliminate the death penalty in the Americas.The Protocol has subsequently been ratified byeight states and signed by one other. TheProtocol has been ratified by Venezuela,Uruguay, Paraguay, Panama, Nicaragua, CostaRica, Ecuador, and Brazil. The United States isnot a signatory.

    Europe

    The Council of Europe in 1983 adoptedProtocol No. 6 to the European Convention forthe Protection of Human Rights