“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Gordon Brown drawn into Commonwealth row over laws to punish homosexuals

Gordon Brown was last night drawn into a row over laws punishing homosexuals with death that threatened to overshadow a meeting of Commonwealth leaders. The Prime Minister raised the issue of proposed new laws in Uganda with the country's president Yoweri Museveni. Mr Brown made it clear to him that he was opposed to the laws when the 2 men met in Trinidad.

The country's plans have caused a backlash from other Commonwealth nations and condemnation from gay rights groups who want Uganda thrown out of the Commonwealth unless they back down.

Uganda's parliament is proposing an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which requires the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" defined as any sexual act between gays or lesbians in which one person has the HIV virus.

Life sentences would be imposed on those who touch another with the intention to have homosexual relations.

The bill would even apply to Ugandans who commit homosexual offences, but who live overseas.

A series of other offences in the new legislation, which is being piloted by a government MP and being given parliamentary time by President Museveni, include belonging to homosexual organizations, championing homosexual rights, and promoting homosexuality. All such transgressions would be punished with 7 years in prison.

Those who do not report wrongdoing the witness could face 3 years in custody.

A Downing Street source said: "The Prime Minister did raise it and you can take it that he was not supportive of the idea."

Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, backed Mr Brown's stance.

His spokesman said: "If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights."

The row pits the western Commonwealth countries against some of the African nations who have often held different views on homosexuality. They often attack the west for trying to lecture them on issues of morality.

Peter Tatchell, the prominent gay rights campaigner, accused Commonwealth leaders of failing to condemn "homophobic discrimination and violence."

He said: "Some of the key principles of the Commonwealth are equality, non-discrimination, opportunity for all, liberty of the individual and human dignity,' he said.

"Of the 53 Commonwealth member states, over 40 still criminalise same-sex relations, mostly under anti-gay laws that were originally imposed by the British government in the nineteenth century, during the period of colonial rule.

"They criminalise otherwise law-abiding citizens and contribute to a hostile social atmosphere which demonises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as unnatural, abnormal and criminal."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the bill. The United States and France have also attacked the proposed law, with France expressing "deep concern."

Source: The Telegraph, Nov. 27, 2009

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

A broad coalition of civil society groups in Uganda have united against the legislation, warning that it will severely undermine human rights and the work of human rights defenders in the country. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans are already persecuted under Penal Code Article 145a, which prohibits "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature." The proposed bill specifically criminalizes homosexuality, and punishes anything from sexual stimulation to "touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality" with life imprisonment. Worse, "aggravated homosexuality" – including activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive – would merit the death penalty. More here.

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