Thursday, 3 January 2008

Uzbekistan and South Korea but not US Presidential Candidates.

From January 1st Uzbekistan the death penalty has been abolished in Uzbekistan.

Interfax Politics

"Starting from January 1, 2008, the death penalty in Uzbekistan has been
abolished. In addition, the right to sanction arrests has been delegated to
courts starting from the New Year's," the Uzbek Supreme Court told Interfax.

These decisions are based on the presidential decrees 'On the abolition of
the death penalty in the Republic of Uzbekistan' of August 1, 2005 and 'On
delegating the right to sanction arrests to courts' of August 8, 2005."

On Sunday December 30th South Korea passed a milestone of 10 years since the last execution, becoming an abolitionist state in practice, with a bill pending to make the abolition formal.

The Indian Catholic

On Dec. 30, the country marked 10 years since its last executions, thus becoming an abolitionist country "in practice" as defined by international human rights monitor Amnesty International. The last executions, of 23 death-row inmates, took place on Dec. 30, 1997.

The activists held their public celebration of the occasion in the courtyard of the National Assembly in Seoul. The Preparatory Committee for the Celebration of the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which brings together campaigners from religious, political and civic groups, organized the event. Participants demanded that lawmakers pass a pending bill to abolish the death penalty."

"Catholic Bishop Boniface Choi Ki-san of Incheon told the gathering, "South Korea has become the 134th country to abolish the death penalty in practice or in law. This shows that our country has become 'developed' in human rights.

So, Uzbekistan, a police state, has joined the ranks of countries to abolish the death penalty. South Korea just passed 10 years without an execution. The U.S. is becoming more and more isolated in its use of the death penalty.

What of the American presidential candidates and their views on the death penalty? John Nichols of Madison's Capital Times considers that most candidates are wrong in their support of the death penalty. While Uzbekistan and South Korea join the ranks of abolitionists, and the United Nations has called for a moratorium on state executions, most presidential candidates seem to be in favour of the USA's retaining the death penalty.

Capital Times Madison Wisconsin

The death penalty is a ridiculously ineffective and even more ridiculously expensive tool for fighting crime. It is a permanent punishment, yet it is applied unevenly and unreliably. It is dramatically racist in its application. It is even more dramatically biased along class lines.

It is cruel, and it is unusual. It has been banned by the civilized world."

And, of course, there is the matter of it being immoral when weighed against any moral code that can see beyond the "eye for an eye" fantasy that Mahatma Gandhi correctly observed "leaves the whole world blind."

Yet, for the most part, the candidates for the 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential nominations are death penalty supporters -- or, perhaps even more objectionably, they are death penalty apologists.

One candidate, Mike Huckabee, is a death penalty practitioner. Huckabee notes that, as governor of Arkansas, he had to "carry out the death penalty more than any governor in the history of my state." This is, Huckabee claims, "not something I'm proud of."

Yet Huckabee's embarrassment was not so great as to cause him to follow the lead of a fellow Republican, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, by calling a halt to executions.

Huckabee's hypocrisy is writ large across his every action, so it is not surprising that the self-defined "Christian leader" continues the ancient Roman custom of state-sanctioned slaying of prisoners.

But Huckabee's no worse than proponents of expanding the death penalty. Republican Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, drafted legislation to reinstate the death penalty. Democrat Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, authored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which expanded the federal death penalty to cover 60 new offenses.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a death penalty advocate who, as first lady, lobbied for expanding the list of federal crimes for which a prisoner could be killed.

Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani is another longtime fan of capital punishment, and he has even gone so far as to urge federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in specific cases.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's closest competitor for the Democratic nod, is embarrassingly hypocritical on the issue. With death penalty abolitionists, he cites his work as an Illinois state senator to reform that state's capital punishment system. With death penalty supporters, he says allowing executions is a way of saying that "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage."

John Edwards, who has made a strong play for progressive votes, also favors the death penalty. But Edwards at least says "we need reforms in the death penalty to ensure that defendants receive fair trials, with zealous and competent lawyers, and with full access to DNA testing."

That's similar to the stance taken by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. And it's a whole lot better than another Democrat, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who opposes the sort of moratorium on capital punishment -- in order to ensure that innocents are not executed -- that even some Republicans back.

The leading Democratic contenders are no more responsible or humane when it comes to the death penalty than mainstream Republicans such as Fred Thompson, the senator-turned-actor who played a tough prosecutor on TV, or Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Indeed, of the 16 men and women actively seeking the nominations of the two parties this year, only three have sided with death penalty abolitionists. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democrat, has argued for 35 years in favor of ending capital punishment. Similarly, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who is at odds with his party's leaders on so many fronts, is an across-the-board foe of executions whose campaign says he always has and always will vote against capital punishment.

Once again, that aligns Paul with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a steady and passionate foe of the death penalty, who says, "Morally, I simply do not believe that we as human beings have the right to 'play God' and take a human life -- especially since our human judgments are fallible and often wrong."

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.

John Nichols 1/01/2008 9:11 am

So, there we have it. Of the 16 men and women actively seeking the nominations of the two parties this year, only three have sided with death penalty abolitionists. Uzbekistan has abolished the death penalty, South Korea has not executed anyone in ten years and will probably pass abolition into law, and in the USA, a country which considers itself to be civilised, thirteen out of sixteen presidential hopefuls are supporters of the death penalty. If South Korea has become a country, "developed in human rights," what can be said of the good old US of A and the person its citizens will elect as their next president? Developed in human rights? I think not.