Death Penalty Worldwide

Blog

06/26/2019

Nigeria’s Debate on Capital Punishment: Sign Execution Warrants or Impose a Moratorium?

 

June 21, 2019—The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide recently updated Nigeria’s country report. Led by Research Associate Paulina Lucio Maymon, this update comprehensively captures the most recent developments in Nigeria’s use of capital punishment and marks a significant contribution to achieving transparency in death penalty laws and practices. As the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is an influencer in the whole region. It is estimated that by 2047, Nigeria will become the world’s third largest nation, surpassing the population of the United States.

 

The Death Penalty in Nigerian Law: The World’s Longest List of Capital Offenses

Nigeria is one of only ten countries in Africa to have carried out executions in the last ten years, leading to its classification by the UN as a retentionist death penalty state. No other country in the world punishes a longer list of offenses with death. Unlike other countries whose laws provide for numerous capital offenses, such as China or Iran, there has been no recent trend to restrict the scope of the death penalty in Nigeria. On the contrary, state legislatures regularly propose new death penalty laws for kidnapping, cultism, and other offenses. Most recently, Katsina State approved capital punishment for cattle rustling. By the end of 2018, Nigeria’s death row of at least 2,000 inmates was the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Amnesty International, at least 46 new death sentences were imposed in 2018 and 621 in 2017.

Our new death penalty report sheds light on Nigeria’s exceptionally complex legal system. Nigeria operates under a federal system comprised of three legal traditions: customary law, Shariah law, and English common law. It contains 37 jurisdictions (36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja), each of which passes its own penal laws defining crimes and penalties, in addition to federal criminal law. Twelve northern states have incorporated Shariah law into their criminal laws, introducing new capital offenses based on religious principles, particularly on issues of sexual morality such as same-sex relations, incest, and adultery.

Numerous crimes, including non-lethal crimes, are death-eligible in Nigeria. These include murder, armed robbery, rape, “cultism,” kidnapping, terrorism-related offenses, and treason. In the Northern Region, where Shariah law is applied, adultery, apostasy, incest, same-sex sexual relations, and witchcraft also carry the death penalty. Nigeria continues to impose mandatory death sentences, which leave judges with no discretion to impose a lesser sentence if the defendant is convicted. Mandatory death sentences violate international human rights law and are on the decline around the world.   

Unlike most jurisdictions, Nigerian law provides for more than one method of execution. Lethal injection, hanging, and shooting are the prescribed methods of execution, but lethal injection has not been used since its introduction in 2015 by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. In the Northern Region, Shariah law prescribes beheading, stoning, and crucifixion as methods of executions for certain offenses. Nigeria last executed three individuals by hanging for armed robbery in 2016. The executed men reportedly had appeals outstanding, and may therefore have been executed in violation of Nigerian and international law.

Some recent legislative reforms, however, offer signs of improved compliance with international human rights standards. Since the enactment of the 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act—a unified procedural law applicable in all federal courts with respect to federal criminal offenses—no person under the age of 18 may be sentenced to death. Previously, only children under age 17 were excluded from capital punishment, in defiance of international norms. The law also ensures that pregnant and nursing women cannot be executed in Nigeria. The Act also makes it mandatory for courts to assign a state-funded defense lawyer to indigent capital defendants at trial.

 

The Death Penalty in Practice

The gap between black letter laws and their practical implementation is conspicuous in Nigeria, as in many other death penalty states. Our research indicates that capital defendants rarely receive adequate legal representation due to lack of resources and systemic failures. Poor and indigent defendants struggle to access legal representation, particularly at the appellate level. In-country experts note that few attorneys specialize in criminal defense and that the government sometimes appoints inexperienced attorneys to represent those facing capital charges. Prisons and death rows are overcrowded in the entire country. Prison overcrowding is partly due to a dearth of lawyers for accused and convicted persons. As of May 2019, a total of 49,875 inmates, or 68% of the total inmate population, was awaiting trial.

Furthermore, human rights organizations have documented numerous allegations of torture or other ill-treatment in police custody. It is common for police officers to extract confessions during pre-trial detention when prisoners have no access to a lawyer. Suspects are often arrested arbitrarily and detained incommunicado. They are not informed of their rights, have no access to lawyers, and may be detained for years without trial. The majority of those awaiting trial come from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

At the same time, Nigeria has signaled potential for change through the implementation of positive legal reforms to improve fair trial procedures. For instance, in December 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2017 Anti-Torture Act, which criminalizes acts of torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. A torture conviction can carry up to 25 years in prison. The 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act introduced provisions on humane treatment during arrest and gave courts enhanced authority to suspend sentences, prescribe community service, and grant parole.

 

Signals for the Future

Since 2017, an internal debate has been taking place in Nigeria on how to reduce the death row population and address prison congestion: Should governors sign execution warrants or commute death sentences? While some governors have argued in favor of carrying out executions, Attorney General Abubakar Malami has asked state governors to act in line with section 212 of the Nigerian Constitution, which gives governors the power to review cases and grant mercy. In 2018, according to Amnesty International, 32 death row inmates had their sentences commuted and 16 were granted pardons.

On the international stage, Nigeria has been signaling a change in its attachment to capital punishment.  In 2007 and 2008, Nigeria voted against UNGA Moratorium resolutions, which call for the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Since then, however, including in last year’s moratorium vote, Nigeria has registered an Abstention vote on UNGA Moratorium resolutions. In its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council that the federal and state governments were negotiating the adoption of an official moratorium on capital punishment. The result of these negotiations remains to be seen.  

 

View the complete country update here.

 

-- Paulina Lucio Maymon, Research Associate

04/25/2019

Cornell Center and Tanzanian Partners Host Workshop on Advocacy and Training on Mental Health

On 30-31 March, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and partners in Tanzania hosted a series of workshops and trainings to build capacity around the representation and treatment of people on death row in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar.

There are currently about 500 people on death row in Tanzania, including one confirmed death sentence in Zanzibar, and many more awaiting trial. Though no executions have been carried out in mainland Tanzania or Zanzibar since 1994, the death penalty is mandatory for homicide under the respective criminal codes and is handed down regularly.

On 30 March, lawyers from the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), East African Law Society (EALS), Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and others working pro bono convened in Stone Town, Zanzibar to workshop their oral arguments for the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Center is working together with these local partners to provide representation for death-sentenced Tanzanian prisoners who have brought their cases to the African Court.  The Court, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, has jurisdiction to hear claims regarding states’ violations of human rights treaties such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nearly all of the death row prisoners in Tanzania that have filed applications to the Court have done so without legal representation.  In response, the Center and its partners in Tanzania have formed a coalition to represent the most vulnerable prisoners.  The team is reviewing the prisoners’ case files, investigating their backgrounds, and supplementing their legal claims before the Court.

Each case has been taken by a pro bono by a lawyer based in Tanzania. These lawyers are responsible, in most cases, for making oral submissions to the Court in addition to the written applications. The workshop offered counsel an opportunity to discuss strategy for presenting oral arguments and allowed them to practice their arguments and receive feedback from colleagues. Nelson Ndeki of PALU and Hanningtone Amol of EALS gave presentations on the procedure for presenting oral arguments to the Court, and on best practices for strong oral advocacy. Oral arguments before the Court are expected to begin as soon as mid-2019.

On 31 March, 25 officers of the Zanzibar Prison Service, led by Prison Commissioner Ali Abdalla Ali, participated in a training on mental health that addressed best practices in identification, communication, and treatment of mentally ill and intellectually disabled prisoners. Commissioner Ali requested this training, as he is keen to ensure that those in his prison with mental illness are provided with the necessary treatment that they require. 

The training was opened with remarks from Commissioner Ali and Professor Sandra Babcock. Isaac Lema, a mental health clinician from Muhimbili University, presented on identification and treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Dr. Isaac Lema speaks at the Center's mental health training for prison officers.

Prison officers were extremely engaged, asking questions and providing examples of specific situations that they have faced with prisoners who are mentally ill. Multiple members of the mental health community in Zanzibar also participated in the training and were able to offer insights into culturally specific signals and treatments of illness, and to share their experiences of working with prisoners’ mental health.

Professor Babcock followed Mr. Lema’s presentation by providing a lawyer’s perspective on the issue. She highlighted the relevant United Nations Mandela Rules—the international standards for treatment of prisoners, including prisoners with mental illness or intellectual disability—noting in particular the detrimental impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ mental health. Lawyers from mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar were also present to share their experiences working with mentally ill prisoners.

The participants received copies of the relevant provisions of the Mandela Rules translated into Kiswahili, as well as summary documents that describe best practices in death penalty representation.

At the conclusion of the session, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner expressed their appreciation for the training and their hope that further trainings on these issues could take place in future.

Following the mental health training, a small group of lawyers from Zanzibar met with Center staff to discuss strategic litigation in Zanzibar. Zanzibar has its own independent constitution and criminal code that are distinct from those applied in mainland Tanzania. The meeting offered an opportunity for Center staff to learn more about the system and practice of law in Zanzibar and to discuss avenues for potential future collaboration with members of the Zanzibar bar.

The Tanzania page of the Death Penalty Database was fully updated on March 21, 2019, thanks in large part to the contributions of our partners in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar who provided invaluable information about their experiences working with prisoners on death row in Tanzania.

 

-- Katie Campbell, Expert Consultant on the death penalty in Africa 

 

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Professor Sandra Babcock addresses the prison officers. 


Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Mental health training for prison officers in Zanzibar. 

 

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

Group photo of training attendees. 

 

Sandra Babcock and Maida (translator) at MH training for Zzb Prison Officers

L-R: Hanningtone Amol, Nora Mbagathi, Isaac Lema, Sandra Babcock, Katie Campbell, Zohra Ahmed.



03/08/2019

Cornell Center Launches Alice Project: Research and Advocacy for Women Facing the Death Penalty

Alice Project Launch 1

John Carlson, Elizabeth Brundige, Delphine Lourtau, and Sandra Babcock at the launch of the Alice Project.

 

March 8, 2019—On International Women’s Day, it is only fitting that we report on the launch of the “Alice Project,” the first project dedicated to research, advocacy, and litigation on behalf of women facing the death penalty worldwide.  On February 13th, the Center hosted a panel of professors and advocates to commemorate the launch of the Alice Project and the release of the Center’s groundbreaking report, Judged for More than Her Crime, the first global survey of on women facing the death penalty worldwide. The panel featured Professor Sandra Babcock, Center Executive Director Delphine Lourtau, Professor Elizabeth Brundige, and attorney John Carlson. View the recorded panel at this link

Judged for More than Her Crime analyzes available data regarding women on death row and concludes that women are often sentenced to death in proceedings infected by gender bias. Specifically, the report catalogs a number of cases where decision-makers have condemned women to die after considering evidence of gender “transgressions:”  for example, that they neglected or harmed their children, had affairs outside of marriage, or failed to properly care for their parents.

 

“It’s impossible to overstate how important this new project is,” noted Professor Brundige.

“For the first time ever, it’s exploring the use of capital punishment against women, it’s telling the stories of women on death row.”

 

Alice Project Launch 2.png

 Alice Nungu, whose case inspired the Alice Project.

 

The Center’s research also demonstrates that capital prosecutions of women perpetuate multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination based on factors such as poverty, migrant worker status, marginalized racial or ethnic identities, and mental illness or intellectual disability. Many of the women in the countries surveyed have not only experienced discrimination based on one or more of these factors, but are also victims of gender-based violence. Many were convicted of killing men who wielded and abused their power over them. Yet it is all too rare for courts to consider gender-based violence as a mitigating factor at trial or at sentencing. 

In many countries, women are the fastest growing category of prisoners. The launch of the Alice Project is an effort to join academics, activists, and lawyers in fighting the uniquely gendered challenges facing women charged with capital offenses.

 

Alice Project Launch 3

Center Executive Director Delphine Lourtau presents the findings of the Center's report.

 

Professor Babcock explained in her remarks that The Alice Project was launched with four broad goals in mind: research, advocacy, training, and alliance-building. Each speaker on the panel at the launch shed light on the compelling reasons behind selecting these objectives and the ways in which the Project’s work has already begun to make a difference.

As Delphine Lourtau discussed at the launch event, it is currently impossible to get an accurate count of women on death row — our best estimate is 800 worldwide. Scholars and advocates continue to turn a blind eye to this population of prisoners, partially because women are sentenced to capital punishment at lower rates than men. The Alice Project aims to build upon the research in its first report by delving into country-specific and thematic data on women facing the death penalty.

The Project also aims to engage in direct advocacy for women on death row in national courts and international tribunals, said Professor Babcock, as well as conduct trainings for lawyers and judges around the world “to sensitize them to the specific kinds of issues that face women prosecuted for capital crimes.”

Alliance-building with gender rights groups is also a key focus for The Alice Project. Delphine Lourtau highlighted one heart-wrenching story of a female death row inmate in India who gave birth in prison.

 

On the story of a pregnant woman sentenced to capital punishment:

 “Her son stayed with her until he was six years old. At that point, prison regulations mandated that he leave the prison, and because the prisoner had no family willing to raise him he was placed in foster care. He has had severe problems adapting to life outside prison, and his mother has sunk into a deep depression.”

 

Panelist John Carlson, who represents Brenda Andrew, the only woman on Oklahoma’s death row, shared the story of his client and the gender bias she faced in sentencing. Painted by prosecutor as promiscuous, the jury was urged to sentence her to die for having “plotted with her lover” to kill her husband. The prosecutorial narrative was overtly gendered — calling on all of Brenda’s former partners to testify, displaying her underwear to the jury, and describing her sexual history in lurid detail.

These stories unveil the specifically gendered challenges women face when they are charged with capital offenses. They also illustrate how the goals of women’s rights advocates can and should align with the goals of those involved in death penalty work — and why The Alice Project is equipped to form those connections.

The launch of The Alice Project at Cornell University is just the beginning for the Center and its partners. Moving forward, The Alice Project will work towards expanding its efforts in each of its four focus areas — research, advocacy, training, and alliance-building — and continuing to tell the stories of the invisible population of women on death row.

View the recorded panel at this link

 

02/05/2019

2019 Makwanyane Institute Call for Applications

The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide is pleased to accept applications for its third Makwanyane Institute, an intensive training workshop for capital defenders. The Makwanyane Institute will take place in Franschhoek, South Africa from July 28 to August 8, 2019. Named in honor of the South African Constitutional Court’s seminal decision abolishing the death penalty, the Makwanyane Institute will offer selected Fellows the opportunity to participate in specialized training, litigation support, and community-building. 

The Institute invites applications from criminal defense lawyers practicing in common law jurisdictions in Africa, including Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Applications are due March 18, 2019.

 The 2019 Makwanyane Fellows will travel from July 28 to August 8, 2019 to South Africa to be trained and mentored by a team of leading experts in death penalty representation. After training, the participants will join a growing network of Makwanyane Fellows throughout Africa who are devoted to innovative practices and challenges to the application of the death penalty. Fellows are expected to organize follow-up trainings in their country of practice to spread the lessons they learn at the Institute to their colleagues and beyond.

 Airfare, accommodation, and meals are provided for Makwanyane Fellows.

The application form and more information is here: www.bit.ly/makwanyaneinstitute


UP_2018_0565_105

UP_2018_0565_105
UP_2018_0565_105
UP_2018_0565_105
UP_2018_0565_105
UP_2018_0565_105

UP_2018_0565_123
UP_2018_0565_123
UP_2018_0565_123
UP_2018_0565_123
UP_2018_0565_123




UP_2018_0563_048 (1)

 

11/16/2018

Les sentiers de l’abolition et les erreurs judiciaires : publication de la version française de deux études sur les pratiques des États face à la peine de mort

Le Centre Cornell sur la peine de mort (Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide) est heureux d’annoncer la publication des versions françaises de deux rapports qui analysent de manière comparative les différentes approches des États face à la peine de mort et contribuent ainsi à étayer le débat sur son abolition.

Le premier rapport, « Peine de mort : les sentiers de l’abolition », examine les processus historiques et politiques ayant mené dans 14 juridictions à l’abolition en droit de la peine de mort. Ce rapport fait suite à l’étude « Comment les États abolissent la peine de mort » menée en 2013 dans 13 pays par la Commission internationale contre la peine de mort.

Les pays sélectionnés dans le présent rapport couvrent chaque continent ainsi que différentes époques et représentent diverses traditions juridiques et culturelles, systèmes politiques et conditions socio-économiques. Cette étude expose les différentes méthodes employées pour parvenir à l’abolition et le rôle des acteurs étatiques et non-étatiques, de la société civile, des organisations internationales et de l’opinion publique, afin d’en dégager des leçons utiles pour les acteurs d’aujourd’hui engagés sur la thématique de la peine de mort.

Les débats nationaux sur les mérites et défauts de la peine de mort gravitent souvent autour de problématiques similaires : la question de la dissuasion, le risque d’exécuter une personne innocente et la nécessité de se conformer aux normes internationales relatives aux droits de l’Homme. L’abolition devient souvent possible lorsque les termes du débat sont altérés par de nouvelles évolutions (par exemple un cas de personne innocentée très médiatisé) et lorsque les dirigeants politiques saisissent ces opportunités pour avancer sur le front de l’abolition. Dans certains pays, l’abolition a été le résultat d’amendements législatifs, de réformes constitutionnelles, de décrets exécutifs et de la ratification de traités internationaux. Dans certains cas, la peine de mort a été abolie seulement quelques mois après la dernière exécution ; dans d’autres, il a fallu attendre des décennies.

Il ressort de ce rapport que les processus d’abolition sont complexes et comprennent une multitude d’aspects politiques, historiques et sociaux. La relation de chaque État à la peine de mort reflète certes son histoire et les circonstances qui lui sont propres, cependant, des exemples de pays qui ont aboli peuvent être trouvés dans tous les continents, systèmes juridiques, traditions et religions du monde.

Le deuxième rapport, « Déni de justice : une étude mondiale sur les erreurs judiciaires dans les couloirs de la mort », constitue une première tentative d’identification des facteurs systémiques qui accroissent la probabilité qu’un innocent soit condamné à mort. Ce rapport met en lumière des affaires dans lesquels des innocents ont été condamnés à mort dans six pays de régions, cultures et systèmes politiques différents : le Cameroun, l’Indonésie, la Jordanie, le Malawi, le Nigéria, et le Pakistan. Pour chaque pays étudié, une analyse des défaillances du système de justice pénale ainsi qu’une étude de cas d’erreur judiciaire (un cas où les preuves disponibles indiquent que le prévenu est innocent du crime pour lequel il a été condamné) ont été réalisées. Les cas présentés illustrent le fossé problématique entre les garanties constitutionnelles et législatives en faveur des prévenus encourant la peine capitale et l’incapacité des États à mettre en œuvre ces garde-fous dans la pratique.

Ainsi en 2016, au moins 60 détenus ont été innocentés après avoir été condamnés à mort. Ce nombre représente toutefois une infime fraction des personnes actuellement dans les couloirs de la mort pour un crime qu’elles n’ont pas commis. Peu de détenus innocents sont à même de s’adresser aux tribunaux, faute d’avocats ou à cause de l’absence de mécanismes procéduraux leur permettant de présenter de nouvelles preuves attestant de leur innocence. Par conséquent, les erreurs judiciaires sont rarement signalées.

Les expériences de ces hommes et femmes privés de leur liberté et de leur droit à la vie témoignent que chaque pays qui continue d’appliquer la peine de mort court le risque d’exécuter une personne innocente et aucun système de justice pénale n’est exempt d’erreur, quel que soit le système, la région ou le régime politique. Face à ce constat, le rapport émet des recommandations de réformes afin de réduire le risque d’erreurs judiciaires et de condamnations à mort injustifiées. Cependant aucun système, aussi performant soit-il, ne peut éliminer le risque d’erreur judiciaire. Aussi longtemps que les États maintiendront la peine de mort, des innocents continueront à en payer le prix, au prix de leur vie.

-- Anna Kiefer

10/10/2018

Undaunted by Rising Anti-Internationalist Phobia, Death Penalty Abolitionists Persevere

October 10, 2018

It is a trying time to be an internationally-minded human rights advocate. Just this week, the United States announced its withdrawal from two international treaties—including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations—in response to litigation before the International Court of Justice. Denouncing the ICJ as “politicized and ineffective,” the United States stated it would be reviewing all treaties granting the ICJ binding jurisdiction to resolve treaty disputes. The United States seems to have forgotten that it invoked the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations when it sued Iran over the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. In that case, the ICJ handed the United States a victory—but our current government officials have short memories. They petulantly object to every legal holding that criticizes, even in the most measured terms, actions taken by the United States. The Trump Administration’s actions shame the memory of those—including U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who sought a post-war international order that would use law, rather than brute force, to resolve disputes.

But amidst this distressing news, we take heart from the implacable march toward abolition of the death penalty around the world. The most extraordinary news today came from the government of Malaysia, which announced that it would abolish the death penalty, “full stop.” Malaysia has suspended all executions and intends to move swiftly to pass appropriate legislation. The import of this announcement cannot be overstated. Malaysia has been a staunch supporter of the death penalty in a region that has long resisted international trends toward abolition. It has the potential to sway other countries in the region, such as Singapore and Indonesia, who remain in the ranks of retentionists.

Even in countries that seem far from abolition, abolitionists continue their fight to save the lives of those on death row. Our colleagues at Justice Project Pakistan are today screening a reenactment of twenty-four hours in the life of a condemned man in solitary confinement on death row. We are live-streaming this event at Cornell, where we express solidarity with JPP to expose injustice in the application of the death penalty there.

Our colleagues at Penal Reform International have worked with us to research and expose the plight of women on death row around the world, and these efforts promise to bring a new legion of feminist activists into the struggle to abolish the death penalty. (For World Day, we produced a factsheet illuminating prison conditions for women on death row, which is based on our research published in “Judged for More than Her Crime: a Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty.” This research was also cited by ten UN Special Rapporteurs in a statement issued today.) Reprieve continues its efforts to vindicate the rights of persons facing the death penalty in all corners of the world, and we are grateful for their support of our work on behalf of death-sentenced prisoners in Malawi and Tanzania. The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, under the leadership of Aurélie Plaçais, has inspired activists around the world to convene workshops, hold press conferences, and educate the public about capital punishment. A shout out as well to our friends at Project 39A in Delhi, LBH Masyarakat in Indonesia, the Legal Defense and Assistance Project in Nigeria, and the Death Penalty Project in London. And our Makwanyane Institute Fellows across Africa are convening trainings to equip lawyers to effectively defend men and women who are facing capital charges. As I write, a group of Nigerian lawyers have convened in Lagos to attend the first Nigerian iteration of the Makwanyane Institute under the leadership of former Makwanyane fellow Angela Uwandu.

In our current political environment in the United States, it seems appropriate to note that many abolitionist organizations are led by women—including Reprieve, JPP, the World Coalition—and of course, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. As women, we amplify the voices of our colleagues and work with young advocates to train the next generation of lawyers, scholars, and activists. Today, we send strength to all of those who continue this difficult fight around the world, and to the prisoners who remain under sentence of death.

--Sandra Babcock

09/17/2018

New Cornell Study Documents Injustice and Discrimination Against Women Facing the Death Penalty Around the World

Geneva, Switzerland; September 18, 2018): Today the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide (CDPW) launched its new report, Judged for More Than Her Crime: A Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. This groundbreaking study is the first to examine how and when women receive death sentences and the conditions under which they are detained on death row. The report documents widespread discriminatory practices in the capital prosecution and detention of women on death row, with particular focus on India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malawi, Pakistan, and the United States.

Although there are at least 500 women on death row worldwide, they have to date remained a largely invisible population, impeding efforts to understand patterns in capital sentencing and the operation of gender bias in the criminal legal system.  Most activists have assumed that women benefit from leniency in sentencing, but the authors conclude that women who violate gender stereotypes—for example, women who have multiple lovers, or who kill children—are more likely to receive death sentences. One criminal lawyer from Iran noted that courts trying women in capital cases judge their whole lives, not just the offense for which they are charged.  

Moreover, prosecutors and courts have cast women as “femme fatales” or “morally impure” to justify capital sentences. In the case of Brenda Andrews, sentenced to death in the United States, the jury heard details of her alleged extramarital affairs from years before the offense, and the prosecution showed her underwear before the jury during her capital prosecution—allegedly to show that she was not behaving as a grieving widow after the offense.  As an appellate judge noted, Brenda was put on trial not only for murder but for being “a bad wife, a bad mother, and a bad woman.”

Female survivors of domestic abuse are particularly vulnerable to unfair sentencing practices in countries that retain the death penalty. Many women on death row have been affected by gender-based violence and socio-economic deprivation. The report describes several cases of women sentenced to death for crimes committed while they were minors, often against older husbands to whom they had been forcibly married as children. These factors receive little to no attention from lawyers and courts. In Malawi, Alice Nungu received a death sentence for killing her husband after he attacked her and her elderly mother in a drunken rage.  The court never heard or considered evidence of her abuse in sentencing her to death.

Speaking from Ithaca, New York, Faculty Director Sandra Babcock said, “Hundreds of women have been unjustly sentenced to death around the world, yet their cases have been neglected by activists, scholars, and the international community. We hope that this report will draw attention to their plight and inspire courts and policymakers to modify their sentencing practices.”

Click image for full report:

Women on DR Cover

08/21/2018

Public Opinion and the Death Penalty: The Great Deception

As part of its International Legal Issues series, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide recently released a new background factsheet on public opinion and the death penalty

Politicians in retentionist death penalty countries often resist abolition by claiming that a majority of the population supports the death penalty. Understanding the level of public support for capital punishment is therefore crucial to death penalty advocacy. The widespread assumption that public opinion favors capital punishment is not always true, however, and certainly not in such stark, simplistic terms. In fact, politicians often rely on opinion polls that suffer from serious methodological problems. Our new background factsheet therefore proposes a critical framework to assess public opinion polls and evaluate the public’s actual level of support for the death penalty. It does so in part by contrasting the most common types of polls with a recent groundbreaking series of more sophisticated opinion surveys that challenge many preconceived ideas about public opinion on capital punishment.

The first aspect to consider is oversimplification. Questions that seek to obtain a “yes” or “no” answer on the issue of capital punishment cannot fully grasp the complexity of individual positions. As several studies in retentionist countries show, not all those who support the death penalty do so under all circumstances, and many would support abolition in some cases. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between those who support a mandatory death penalty from those who favor a discretionary implementation of this practice, since the latter group of people are open to contemplating alternative sentences even for the most severe crimes.

The second aspect to consider is that people are generally misinformed about how the death penalty is implemented, and that, critically, their views tend to change according to the information they have. When confronted with the possibility of wrongful convictions, the lack of effectiveness of executions as a deterrent, and the global trend towards abolition, poll respondents in some cases retreat from their initial support for capital punishment. When confronted with real case scenarios, respondents who in theory support the death penalty for such crimes do not apply it consistently. Furthermore, even among those who support the idea of capital punishment, surveys have found that they do not oppose government abolition plans. In other words, support for the death penalty lacks depth, indicating that the death penalty is an unimportant issue to most people in comparison to other social concerns, such as employment and education. Finally, the evidence also suggests that public support for the death penalty diminishes after abolition, as people experience life in an execution-free society. Our research has not uncovered any cases of major political fallout from championing abolition.

In sum, assessing the public’s level of support for capital punishment requires more than confronting individuals with a single binary and abstract question on whether or not they approve of capital punishment. Individual opinions are malleable and depend on the available information. In order to gain a true understanding of current levels of support for the death penalty, it is essential to engage in more in-depth, nuanced analyses like those conducted in the studies we review. If governments that retain the death penalty intend to exploit public opinion on this issue for political purposes, we should hold them accountable to rigorous polling standards that reflect what people actually think about capital punishment.

 

-- Santiago Mollis

08/09/2018

Zimbabwe Should Immediately Release Human Rights Lawyer Tendai Biti

August 9, 2018

Tendai Biti, human rights lawyer and respected public servant, has been arrested by Zimbabwean authorities on trumped-up charges that he incited violence in the wake of the contested Zimbabwe elections. Tendai is an active member of the opposition party and had expressed concerns about the validity of the election results. He had sought asylum in Zambia, and his lawyer there had obtained a court order preventing his extradition. In contravention of international law, the Zambian government disregarded the court order and extradited him. He is now in custody in Zimbabwe.

Tendai was a trainer at the 2017 Makwanyane Institute of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. We know him as a brilliant lawyer who is deeply committed to democracy and human rights.  Together with other African colleagues who attended the Makwanyane Institute, he founded Pan-African Defense Lawyers Against the Death Penalty (PANADEP). We call upon the Zimbabwe government to release Tendai immediately, to guarantee his rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and international human rights law, to ensure his safety and humane treatment, and to dismiss all charges against him. 

 

UP_2017_0755_130

Human rights lawyer Tendai Biti at the 2017 Makwanywane Institute for Capital Defenders

04/19/2018

New Report Finds That Malawi’s Traditional Leaders Oppose the Death Penalty, Favor Rehabilitation

On 18 April 2018, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and Malawi’s Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) released their report on "Malawian Traditional Leaders’ Perspectives on Capital Punishment" before a group of public officials and stakeholders in Lilongwe.

The report analyses data from surveys of 102 traditional leaders in villages across Malawi. Clifford Msiska, the National Director of PASI, informed an audience in Lilongwe that over ninety percent of traditional leaders surveyed did not support the use of the death penalty to punish individuals convicted of murder.  Only six traditional leaders stated that death was the appropriate penalty for murder. The rest preferred a term of years, life imprisonment with opportunity for early release, or (least frequently of all) life imprisonment with no opportunity for release.

The report grew out of the Malawi Resentencing Project. Following the Malawi Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the mandatory death penalty in Kafantayeni and others v Attorney General, the inmates sentenced under the now-unconstitutional law each received new sentence hearings.  Of the more than 150 prisoners who were resentenced, 125 have now been released after serving their sentences. 

In preparation for the resentencing hearings, PASI paralegals observed that many of the village chiefs supported the prisoner’s release.  This ran counter to the popular view that traditional leaders supported the death penalty.  Since no data existed to support or refute this assumption, Cornell Law School’s Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide teamed up with PASI and the London-based NGO Reprieve to carry out a survey to ascertain traditional leaders’ views on the death penalty.  The survey focused on traditional leaders presiding over villages to which released prisoners had returned, sometimes decades after they had been sentenced to death.

The Cornell team that analyzed the survey responses found that traditional leaders opposed the death penalty for a variety of reasons.  The most common explanation was rooted in the belief that people can change—and that prison is a place for reform. Many noted that rehabilitation is impossible if a prisoner is executed. As one traditional leader noted, “There is no reform in death.”  Many traditional leaders also expressed concerns that innocent people could be hanged.

Mtilosera PindaniTraditional leaders also see the death penalty as enormously taxing on the community. Many families did not know whether their loved ones had been executed. For one family, the imposition of the death sentence was so shocking that his mother “mourned him for 2 weeks as if he was already dead.” Other families became convinced that the prisoner had been put to death. Many leaders noted that, rather than providing a sense of justice in the community and acting as a deterrent to others, losing a member of their community to a sentence of death “traumatized” local communities which have been left “in shock” and “depressed”. Members of close communities like those where many of the prisoners returned are often the indirect victims of a death sentence.

Closely linked to their conviction that prisoners are capable of reform is the notion that returning prisoners benefit the community and their family once released. Released prisoners have, according to the traditional leaders, served as mentors for young men and women who might be tempted to commit crime. One released former prisoner, Byson Kaula–who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death–now works full time at Malawi’s only halfway house, counselling other recently released prisoners.

Another man, Mtilosera Pindani, has been elected traditional leader in his home village since his release. Countless others have married, had children, provided support to ailing parents, built schools, maintained roads, started businesses, and provided food from their farming.  The story of Malawi’s released prisoners is a story of individual redemption, and of communities made whole by their return

-- Sandra Babcock

Click image for full report:

Click for full report