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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

UK accused of dropping commitment to oppose death penalty

Foreign Office minister makes case for Britain's re-election to UN human rights council, but no mention of government's objection to death penalty

The UK government has been accused of dropping its commitment to opposing the death penalty as Britain seeks re-election to a United Nations human rights body.

A blogpost by the Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay this week makes no mention of UK objections to the death penalty - a policy once hailed as a human rights priority for the government.

Posted on the eve of International Human Rights Day, the article presents the case for the UK's re-election to the UN's human rights council (UNHRC), a position it has held with the support of Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year WikiLeaks documents detailed diplomatic exchanges and vote-trading deals between Riyadh and London dating back to 2013. Saudi Arabia, also elected to the UNHRC in 2013, has recently increased the number of executions it carries out.

Last month Amnesty International warned that Saudi Arabia is planning to carry out 50 executions in a day. Among those thought to be at risk is Ali al-Nimr, who was only 17 when he was sentenced to death by crucifixion for participating in an illegal demonstration. Saudi Arabia has so far executed more than 150 people this year - its highest figure since 1995.

The human rights organisation Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, said a consistent pattern of Foreign Office statements had emerged. Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "In the past few months we've seen the government steadily row back its commitment to human rights.

"Shamefully, this has included scrapping our commitment to end the death penalty, at a time when countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt are overseeing a surge in executions. The government should be using its seat on the human rights council to address these grave concerns - rather than skirting sensitive issues to spare the blushes of states like Saudi Arabia, where political prisoners face imminent beheading and crucifixion."

Baroness Anelay's blogpost declares: "Our pledges are grounded in UK priorities at home and abroad, and draw on a tradition of democratic and inclusive values: strengthening the protection of human rights in the UN's work; translating the 2030 agenda on sustainable development into action, leaving no one behind; making a stand for freedom of religion or belief at a time when too many are persecuted for their beliefs; working to end violence against women and promoting their full participation and leadership in political and economic life; and promoting open societies and challenging the threats to civil society."

In the past, the Foreign Office has denied that its policy has changed. In the summer, a spokesperson said: "We remain committed to advancing global abolition of the death penalty and it is wrong to suggest otherwise. The government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle and we would like to see the long-term trend towards abolition continue throughout this parliament."

Source: The Guardian, December 9, 2015

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