Investigations

SHAMEFUL! The U.S. Ranks 4th in the World for Executions—Behind China, Iraq and Iran

New Amnesty International review shows Texas and Florida are our greatest offenders.

Photo Credit: carlosgardel/Shutterstock.com

A new Amnesty International report reviewing the increasing use of the death penalty worldwide has found that the United States is among the top five nations putting people to death. Only a small number of countries are responsible for the increase in executions around the world, reported Amnesty USA in a press release.

In the annual review, the human rights organization found executions rose by about 15 percent in 2013 with the United States taking fourth place carrying out 39 executions in 2013.  (Only China, Iraq and Iran kill more of their citizens.) While the total number of executions has decreased  in the U.S. compared to 2012 (43), the report found Texas accounted for 41 percent of all executions and that southern states accounted for 82 percent overall.

Florida came in second to Texas and was criticized in the report for passing legislation under the Timely Justice Act in June, a law which has the effect of speeding up the pace of executions.  The law was condemned for being inconsistent with international human rights standards and grossly ignoring the high rate of error in Florida’s capital cases. In fact, Florida accounted for some 15 percent of more than 140 inmates released from death row in the U.S.

“Florida’s Timely Justice Act is 100 percent bad news, because it limits the possibility for challenging the death sentence,” anti-death penalty campaigner Chiara Sangiorgio told The Daily Beast. “We still have unsafe convictions. Quite worryingly we are seeing other states trying to follow suit and speed up executions.”

In addition, the report highlighted the tragic story of William Van Poyck who spent 25 years on death row in Florida.  Despite persistent claims that Poyck had received inadequate legal representation, including his attorney’s failure to present overwhelming mitigating evidence which may have saved his life, Poyck was put to death by lethal injection last year.

Mississippi also expanded the scope of the death penalty last year to include acts of terrorism resulting in death, while seven other states amended their execution procedures to include a one-drug protocol to allow authorities to change the drug used to induce death.

The report also found that the death penalty in the United States continues to be marked by inconsistencies, racial disparities and a lack of adherence to international law which prohibits it.

Similarly, the Organization of America States has expressed its concern about the persistence of the death penalty in the United States, particularly the tendency to ignore precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that have been regarded as serious violations of due process.

Despite the damning report, there are encouraging signs that U.S executions are declining with 10 percent fewer executions compared with 2012. Last year, Maryland became the 18th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

China topped Amnesty’s list of global executions even though information on the number killed remains secretive, estimated in the thousands. Iraq was second. Iran third. 

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.

 

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